Julie Christine's Reviews > The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer
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it was amazing
bookshelves: classic, war-conflict, history-non-fiction, read-2012, best-of-2012

Three years ago I implemented a personal tradition: to read a "Monster Classic" each year. This is my term, referring to a piece of writing that is great in reputation and girth. The how and when of it is to begin the Monster mid-summer and read it in fits and starts over the course of several months, with a goal of finishing before the end of the year. The why of it isn't so simple. Most avid readers I know have daunting lists of books they want to or feel they should read. I'm no different, but life is too short for shoulds. I'm after something that will change the way I look at writing, at storytelling, at the world.

Without intention, my Monster Classics have been built on the premise of, or are greatly informed by, war. Two years ago I read Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, an allegorical tale shaped largely by Mann's reaction to World War I; last year, Tolstoy brought me War and Peace, that gorgeous and profound tale of Russia during the Napoleanic era.

This summer I turned from fiction to narrative non-fiction. World War II has long fascinated and disturbed me. I've sought, without success, to reconcile the incongruous romance of this war - the films, music, literature that conjure a sense of the heroic and of solidarity, the "Greatest Generation" united as Allies - with its human suffering so incomprehensible that the mind struggles against its limits to accept what the eyes witness in words and photos.

I selected The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich for perhaps the same reason that millions before me have: to understand how one man created a machine of slaughter out of a country in shambles. After 1264 pages in six weeks, I am still bewildered. Of course I knew the external conditions: the carving up of Germany after WWI, the political disaster that the Treaty of Versailles put into motion, the desperate economic conditions in Germany as the Depression ground what little economy it had left into grist. But this diminutive Austrian who so captured the imagination and bent the will of a once-proud nation -- how did he do it? Why did he? And why did so many follow him into the hell of his creation?

William Shirer, a longtime foreign correspondent, worked in the Third Reich from 1934 to 1940, leaving only when it became clear he and his family were no longer safe. He returned to Germany in 1945 to report on the Nuremberg trials. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was published in 1960, barely a generation after the end of the war.

Because of Shirer's proximity and access to the majors players of the Third Reich and certainly because war was exploding all around him, the book has an immediacy and intimacy that sets it apart from a traditional historical examination of events. It also contains Shirer's interpretations, suppositions and ruminations.

As an American of German-Italian-Norwegian descent, I had a very hard time with Shirer's characterization of Germans as possessing a predilection for cruelty and war. There are few nations that remain exempt from this pointed finger. But it begs the question that even Shirer could not answer: how did the atrocities of the war escape the outrage of the German people? Shirer presents clues and circumstances which serve as a caution to us all. And many of which I recognize in today's socially and politically polarized America that feeds on propaganda and is increasingly indulgent of politicians' idiocy and rejection of facts.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is thick with military history - this is a book about war. That may seem obvious, but do not expect a sociological narrative. Shirer is a great journalist, which assumes certain skill in telling a story that will appeal to a lay audience. But this book, after its introduction to Hitler and his early life, uses the major events, invasions and battles of World War II to show the creation of an empire.

It is a testament to Shirer's skill that I became so caught up in the details of Hitler's conquests and defeats. Although I have read books about individual battles, I have never followed a comprehensive history of the European theatre. It was astonishing to read on-the-ground reports as nearly all of Europe fell at Germany's feet in a short period, then to sit above it all and witness Hitler's increasing megalomania that spelled out his downfall.

It is dense. It is detailed. It is exhausting, exhaustive, overwhelming and shattering. To read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is to have your heart broken again and again. Yet, to hold history at arm's length is to guarantee that it will be repeated.


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Reading Progress

May 15, 2011 – Shelved
July 14, 2012 – Started Reading
July 14, 2012 – Shelved as: history-non-fiction
July 14, 2012 – Shelved as: war-conflict
July 14, 2012 – Shelved as: classic
July 15, 2012 –
page 50
3.1% "What if Hitler's grandfather had not recognized Hitler's father's paternity? Historians think it unlikely that "Heil Schicklgruber" would have frenzied the masses into madness."
July 16, 2012 –
page 239
14.81% "I can do about 200 pages over a couple of days, then I'll need a break. And time to scan what I've just read, to keep it all straight. Freakin' footnotes."
July 25, 2012 –
page 239
14.81% "Time to dip back in. Timing is everything. Reading about 1936 Berlin Olympics on the eve of 2012 Games in London...."
July 25, 2012 –
page 275
17.04% "P 248 parallels to nazi propaganda & network /cable news "...seemingly educated and intelligent persons...parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the papers.""
July 27, 2012 –
page 390
24.16% "P 292: March 1936, Hitler marches into Rhineland. France appeals to Britain for support. No go. To me, this, not Austrian Anschluss or Sudetenland, was the start of WWII. So many chances to thwart Nazis & so many kept on blinders. Chamberlain was a wanker. P 341 Austria gives in. Helpless. Not a shot is fired- Hitler's threats enough. P 362 1st directive of propaganda warfare. Czech intends to resist."
July 28, 2012 –
page 455
28.19% "Czechoslovakia handed over to Hitler by Chamberlain. Hitler upset because he didn't want an easy victory. He wanted a smash Czechoslovakia and grab the Sudetenland. He falls to the carpet when Czechoslovakia resists, tearing it with his teeth. Then sulks when he can't fight back. \n \n Poland is next. Time to take a break for a couple of weeks."
August 11, 2012 –
page 480
29.74% "Lithuania- last bloodless conquest. Now sights set on Poland, which won't give in without a fight. Britain finally offers support. No one trusts Russia."
August 12, 2012 –
page 556
34.45% "Mussolini tells Hitler, Italy will support your attack on Poland only if you send us the military supplies we need to fight the inevitable counter attack on Italy by France & Britain. "Yes, but..." doesn't sit well with Adolph."
August 13, 2012 –
page 634
39.28% "Page 597 Paragraph 2 my heart just breaks."
August 14, 2012 –
page 701
43.43% "Poland is lost. More than any other country, it was Poland he sought to annihilate. A crossroads of West & East. It has suffered so much. Denmark cedes, Norway puts up a fight."
August 16, 2012 –
page 792
49.07% "May 1940, Belgium & Netherlands surrender. June 4, Dunkirk falls & German Army barrels through to Paris. Swastika unfurled on Eiffel Tower June 14. France signs Armistice in same spot where German empire capitulated to the West on November 11, 1918. By Hitler's design, of course. From Sept 7 to November 3, 1940, London bombed every night, an average of 200 bombers. Yet here, Hitler fails."
August 20, 2012 –
page 903
55.95% "Hitler assumes he can conquer Russia in a matter of weeks, pg 812 "Egomania, that fatal disease of all conquerors, was taking hold."\n \n March, 1941. Hitler delays Russian invasion to take on Yugloslavia, which just pissed him off. This decision would be the start of his undoing. "Barbarossa" was doomed to fail, but not before millions of lives were sacrificed. Two monsters are destined to meet."
August 26, 2012 –
page 1014
62.83% "Stalingrad, North Africa: defeats for Hitler that crush his offensive. A devastating chapter detailing the Nazi death machines. And Mussolini's fall. I'm exhausted."
August 28, 2012 – Shelved as: best-of-2012
August 28, 2012 – Shelved as: read-2012
August 28, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-43 of 43 (43 new)

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Julie Christine My "Monster Classic" pick of 2012. Considering the size of this monster, I should have started in January.


message 2: by Jenine (new)

Jenine Just read HHhH and it made me want to know much more WWII history and Euro history in general. Not bedtime reading but inspiring. You will be proud when you finish that Shirer tome.


Julie Christine And then there were none.


message 4: by B0nnie (new)

B0nnie congratulations! I need to read it. You might like this one:
The Tunnel by William H. Gass


Suzanne It's interesting how you made comparisons to the political tone in America today. I have found that to be true, also. I am deeply disappointed to see the political parties play on people's emotions, rather than encourage rational discussion of the issues. As is evidenced in Nazi Germany, Rwanda, Bosnia, etc., it only leads down a very dark path.


message 6: by Jill (new)

Jill Julie, after reading books like Shadow of the Banyan, Perla, Malena, etc., it's evident that the Germans were not alone in a "predilection for cruelty and war"; given the right -- or wrong -- circumstances, so many other nations would fall suit. When given the opportunity to take in a million of Germany's Jews, FDR deferred. Humankind, even now, needs to do better.


Julie Christine Bonnie- thank you- this looks like an extraordinary book.


Julie Christine Nancy wrote: "Exhaustion is temporary, lessons learned are for a lifetime. So impressed with your review and your quest for knowledge of the world outside the USA borders."

This has long been one of my favorite quotes - “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

Although Twain refers to a literal voyage, I think it applies to literary voyages, as well...


Julie Christine Suzanne wrote: "It's interesting how you made comparisons to the political tone in America today. I have found that to be true, also. I am deeply disappointed to see the political parties play on people's emotio..."

Shirer examines Hitler's methodology, which relied heavily on propaganda. It is chilling to see the parallels in today's media...


Julie Christine Jill wrote: "Julie, after reading books like Shadow of the Banyan, Perla, Malena, etc., it's evident that the Germans were not alone in a "predilection for cruelty and war"; given the right -- or wrong -- circu..."

So very true. Sadly, the timelines of world history seem to be marked predominately by wars waged. The 20th century conflicts seemed endless. 21st doesn't seem to offer much hope that we'll be any different..


message 11: by Jill (new)

Jill Too much of history is about man's inhumanity to man and it pops up over and over again, in Rwanda, in Argentina, and yes, right here in the U.S. We ALL need to be careful; propaganda plays right into sick minds.


message 12: by Barbara (new)

Barbara I've got this on my iPod. I know the 55 hrs will be well worth my time...


Sherri Great review! I am nearly 25% finished and you have already summed up my feelings on this book. The author's personal experience really adds to the experience. Impressed you read it in 6 weeks. It will take me 6 months!


message 14: by Annie (new)

Annie Brilliant review! I'm currently reading this one and your words echoed my sentiments so far.


message 15: by Heather (new) - added it

Heather Fineisen I am very close to taking the plunge. Reading a sample now...your review is swaying...


Julie Christine Take it on, Heather! It is fascinating. I found taking it in manageable chunks worked best- having other books to retreat to when this got too awful or overwhelming really helped.


Julie Christine Nick wrote: "Given your love of World War II, you should take a look at The Kindly Ones. I'm reading it at the moment and very much enjoying it." Nick- thank you so much for the recommendation! I will seek this out.

Cheers, Julie


message 18: by Bulelwa (new) - added it

Bulelwa How do i read the book


Jen Hamon I love the idea of tackling a "monster classic" each year.


Nandakishore Varma Julie, I have taken upon myself the task of reading this book this year. There is a specific reason - the rise of populist leaders who came to power using fake nationalist rhetoric in India and now, in America. And I must say the methodology of fascism has not changed much from the 1930's. Frightening.

Fine review!


Julie Christine Nandakishore wrote: "Julie, I have taken upon myself the task of reading this book this year. There is a specific reason - the rise of populist leaders who came to power using fake nationalist rhetoric in India and now..."

That this book is so relevant now is sickening. I understand and agree completely. These are dark, frightening times. And I rise up in anger and conviction. We, warriors for justice and compassion, will prevail.


Nandakishore Varma Julie wrote: "Nandakishore wrote: "Julie, I have taken upon myself the task of reading this book this year. There is a specific reason - the rise of populist leaders who came to power using fake nationalist rhet..."

May the force be with you!


message 23: by Amy (new) - added it

Amy Yingling Fantastic review Julie!


Julie Christine Amy wrote: "Fantastic review Julie!" Thank you, Amy!


Rossbrew Just cracked it open- finally! My grandpa was a Canadian soldier fighting in Europe from 42-45.


message 26: by David (new) - added it

David Ansara Your review has inspired me to try the one "Monster Classic" a year approach (and also to read this book during one of those years).


Julie Christine Rossbrew wrote: "Just cracked it open- finally! My grandpa was a Canadian soldier fighting in Europe from 42-45." How was the reading? Have you finished?


Julie Christine David wrote: "Your review has inspired me to try the one "Monster Classic" a year approach (and also to read this book during one of those years)."
Hah, David- that's great! I still need to select my "MC" for 2018, and here it is August, already!


Nandakishore Varma I will also try this Monster Classic business this year, Julie.


Julie Christine Nandakishore wrote: "I will also try this Monster Classic business this year, Julie." Ooh, let me know what you decide to read. I'm in need of inspiration!


message 32: by Layth (new) - added it

Layth I'd decided to follow more or less the same tradition -- a Monster Classic followed by some lighter fare during the recovery period, then another MC, and so on. Currently I'm halfway through my first monster: Robert Fisk's "The Great War for Civilisation". Shirer is definitely next in line.


Julie Christine Layth wrote: "I'd decided to follow more or less the same tradition -- a Monster Classic followed by some lighter fare during the recovery period, then another MC, and so on. Currently I'm halfway through my fir..."
Excellent, Layth!


message 34: by Gloria (new)

Gloria McKeague Great review, it's on my list to read this winter.


Julie Christine Gloria wrote: "Great review, it's on my list to read this winter."

Thank you, Gloria.


message 36: by Gonzo (new)

Gonzo Punkstick Bravo. Great review. I'm on my second go with this massive book. Important read. This horrific event in our past must never be forgotten.


Julie Christine Gonzo wrote: "Bravo. Great review. I'm on my second go with this massive book. Important read. This horrific event in our past must never be forgotten." Thank you, Gonzo. And wow to reading this a second time. Yes, we must never forget. But I fear that those in power have the most selective of memories :(


message 38: by Julian (new)

Julian Snitcher Try The Kindly Ones by Jonathan LIttell for your next Monster Classic


message 39: by Marina (new)

Marina What about Proust’s « A la recherche du temps perdu »?


Jamie rothenberger this book is very scary and cool


message 41: by Pegs (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pegs Written almost 8 years ago this comment is so true "to hold history at arm's length is to guarantee that it will be repeated." It is certainly being repeated now and in our country......


Michael Jasenak Great review. I share many of your thoughts. I found it scary how many points in the rise of Hitler correspond with what's happening in our politics today.


Ewandro So, if you were living in 1936 U.S.A. or some other "liberal" regime, what would be so different? By creating monsters we don't see the humanity of violence and hatred. We don't see their real structures and how to build new ones. See this.


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