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How Could This Happen: Explaining the Holocaust

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  114 ratings  ·  23 reviews
The Holocaust has long seemed incomprehensible, a monumental crime that beggars our powers of description and explanation. Historians have probed the many sources of this tragedy, but no account has united the various causes into an overarching synthesis that answers the vital question: How was such a nightmare possible in the heart of western civilization?

In How Could Thi
Kindle Edition, 290 pages
Published April 8th 2014 by Basic Books
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3.88  · 
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 ·  114 ratings  ·  23 reviews

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Jill Hutchinson
This is a very short book (213 page) on an immense topic....the Holocaust. which frightens people like no other event in history. The particular horror of it was the way the Nazis denied the worth of human life and their credo that Jews were vermin that needed exterminated from the earth. The author attempts, to dissect the reasons why the population of Germany could be capable of such boundless inhumanity. He posits that it was the perfect storm...a broken people after the humiliation of their ...more
May 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In this thought-provoking and engaging book, historian Dan McMillan presents a synthesis of Holocaust literature and research to present the reader with a well-structured and clearly written account of an event that still seems incomprehensible. He examines how a whole series of events, circumstances and personalities all conspired to create such an unimaginable scenario. Extremely well-researched and demonstrating an astute and deep knowledge of his subject, McMillan has written an accessible a ...more
Jerry Delaney
Jul 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

McMillan is very logical, laying out the reasons the Holocaust came about and why, without these special circumstances all working together, it can never happen again. These circumstances include many we've heard before: the punishing aspects of the Treaty of Versaille, a long history of German anti-semitism, the brutality of WWI had desensitized people to suffering and murder. But there are chapters on how the lack of experience with democracy led the German elites to favor dictators.

McMillan b
Gregory Barron
Good book although it doesn't really do anything more to answer the question. Just restates info and opinions both from then and now. Gives a little history but mostly of pre WWI Germany. I was expecting some history of the Jewish people's settlement in Germany and Europe. And maybe some insight into why it was so easy for the govt to be anti Semitic. Obviously not to place blame on the victims but was there anything about the way they participated (or not participated) in society that made them ...more
Very interesting read and glimpse into what led up to Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party's rise in Germany. It was a combination of deep political division, hatred that was based on a concept called "Darwinian" racism in which the belief is that the strongest race of people does what is necessary to survive and overall dysfunction of a civilization. I chose to read this book to get educate myself about some things about the Holocaust and Nazism. It opened my eyes about a lot of things, notably, it ...more
May 07, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very thoughtful and insightful book on an extremely difficult topic.
Jerry Smith
Jul 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war, history, 2015-read
The Holocaust is a difficult historical event about which to read but we really ought to do so to gain an understanding and be on the lookout to prevent it from happening again. At least that is my view of this monumental crime against humanity. This is interesting because it is an attempt to dig into the events and explain how they could take place in an ostensibly advanced 20th Century society.

I think that McMillan succeeds pretty well in his aims and it is refreshing to see so many strands co
Aug 28, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2014
There just isn’t an answer... and I think that’s part of what makes it such an intriguing subject to learn about. It just boggles the mind. It’s scary to think that something like this is possible – still possible; call me a cynic but I don’t think humanity is immune from a repeat.

Paraphrasing myself from another book review: Institutionalized racism is insidious. What starts off as a guideline (often times misguided) for the alleged benefit of the community can quickly devolve into an us versu
Jerry Harmon
Dec 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A thorough examination of the root cause of the Holocaust. McMillan doesn't paint the German people with the broad brush of evil, but doesn't let them off the hook either. He provides a multi-faceted explanation with the lense of a historian, not placing the value judgement of 75 years of history on the perpetrators of the greatest crime against humanity, rather setting up the unique series of events that made it possible. There is hope in the fact that so many factors had to happen at just the ...more
Lena Rotmensz
Reading Dr. Dan McMillan's book was truly an eye opener. I've read a lot of books about the Holocaust but none have ever given such a clear explanation of how it really happened and why. The evil events of the 2nd World War did not teach humanity a better behavior. All over the world we still have wars and the atrocities are still the same. We all have to do better. We will all have to try harder. I am the daughter of Holocaust survivors and lived with many terrible and heart wrenching stories t ...more
May 30, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history, wwii
Nicely researched and succinctly written. Adequately illustrates how events that happened before (going back to how Germany was created) Hitler's rise to power attributed to the Holocaust.
This is one of those books that everybody should read!

However, I would have enjoyed more of an explanation/statistics (since it sounded too much like conjecture) after the author makes the assertion on pg. 88 that, "before 1918 only the much-maligned socialist party had demanded that the country become a democr
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A one of a kind book, that is truly important and leaves a mark.

The book is incredibly well researched and written. The topic can lead to either very dry or difficult to read texts, but this one flows with simple beauty and truth.

Each chapter takes the reader through a different topic to explain the Holocaust, ranging from a historical overview of German politics, Hitler's history, social background of the time, economic climate, the pulse of other European countries and anti-Semitism in various
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A fairly academic and fairly dry assessment of the social and economic factors behind the holocaust. The author claims that he is discussing points that previous authors have not in other books about the holocaust, but I found his arguments pretty run-of-the-mill. Still, not a bad book by any means. There was a lot of emphasis in explaining how the holocaust was unique compared to other genocides, which I found interesting.
Nov 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great summary of the history and other background relevant to the Holocaust. Falls a bit short of its goal of being the first general work to explain the reasons. I don't buy the author's claim that there's a consensus among historians as to the reasons and the only need is a good general wok on the topic. But this book is a great start in that direction and a great addition to the discussion. A quick read and well worth the time.
Apr 27, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
In school, we were taught that WW2 happened because the Germans were humiliated after WW1 and the Treaty of Versailles. This book delves farther back (before WW1) and pinpoints Germany's late conversion to democracy (i.e., later than England and France) that led up to WW2.

Donald Schopflocher
Historical examination of the causes of the Holocaust, perhaps of great relevance in 2016 America where muslims and Mexicans are being scapegoated by political demagogues.
Bethany Hansen
Aug 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
good for overarching ideas but left some questions.
On BookTV, Dr. Dan McMillan presented his well-researched book on "How Could This Happen." Here is a book review: (
Jan 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, and really puts the events leading to the Third Reich and it's terrible consequences in a scarily realistic light.

It happened once, therefore it can happen again.
Rhema Suresh
May 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very informative book. A must read for anyone who wants to know why the holocaust happened.
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Carlos Useche
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Angela Hathikhanavala
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“One problem with making moral compromises is that doing the right thing becomes increasingly difficult: it requires admitting that one’s earlier acts were wrong. In effect, to get clean, one must first get dirtier, a step that few proved willing to take.” 1 likes
“In almost every society, several sturdy barriers stand between a people and the perpetration of mass murder. Only a very long and violent chain of events managed to shatter these barriers in Germany. This book should show its readers why the” 0 likes
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