Fede's Reviews > The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
73964263
's review

really liked it
bookshelves: history, american-canadian, essays

A poet recommended this book to me some years ago... without knowing.

Leonard Cohen, the Canadian poet and singer, was among the most tormented Jewish artists of his generation. The wound of the holocaust bled in his soul like a stigmata, and yet he was deeply fascinated by the omnipotent Nazi perpetrators, whose faces were becoming more and more familiar to the public in those years - the 60s - thanks to the greedy attention of the media. Wiesenthal's historical manhunt, Eichmann's trial, the rumors about Doktor Mengele's experiments in his Brazilian hideout, and W. Shirer's "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" inspired and deeply influenced Cohen's poetry, to the point of being mentioned in his 1964 collection "Flowers for Hitler". Hence my decision to finally begin my struggle against the 1200 odd pages of this mammoth.

This book is a classic, and rightly so. Five decades after it was first published it's still the main reference - the sine qua non - for any serious work on the history of National Socialism, a milestone to be reckoned with when dealing with the task of analysing the years 1933-45 (as well as the previous decades, in which several factors and events laid the basis of what would become the Nazi regime).
And yet, among the mostly enthusiastic reviews, some readers declare themselves deeply unsatisfied by Shirer's alleged lack of objectivity: according to these reviewers, the American journalist was too blatantly influenced by the political perspective of the post-war USA to be a truly reliable source of information. As though Shirer was too blinded by a daily amount of American anti-German propaganda to see clearly through the fog.

Now, I hope this won't sound arrogant, but I wonder whether these reviewers have ever read the book. Because some of such comments are so questionable that, well, one can't help but wonder.

Shirer spent a long time searching through the declassified dossiers and military reports that had been kept in American custody since the end of the war; such was the book's genesis. But he was already acquainted with Nazism: his experience was a first-hand knowledge of a country and an era (Germany during the Weimar years and then the Nazi insane government) in which he had found himself living as a journalist, more precisely as correspondent for political affairs. He didn't learn about Nazism watching TV or leafing through "Life" magazine, you know.
In fact what really intrigued me in his account is the unusual honesty of his viewpoint. Because Shirer is more than objective in analysing the social and historical origins of National Socialism, as well as the apocalyptic 'journey to the end of the night' that was WW2.
In the first chapters Shirer is brave enough to describe what it was like living in Germany in the 20s, among millions of desperate, unemployed, often starving people who had witnessed the fall of their country and the end of their cretinous Kaiser's dream of grandeur. He saw Hitler many times and listened to several of his speeches, and he's extremely convincing in describing their effect on such a destroyed nation.
The point is: the Nazi leaders were certainly evil, mentally ill, depraved, often a bunch of nobodies from nowhere, often alcoholic, often fond of cocaine and heroin (I'm not sure whether they knew about Speed, but I'm positive they would have liked it a lot); but they were also shrewd and ferociously charismatic figures to whom history offered a unique chance to take over the debris of the Weimar Republic - a ludicrous sham really - and millions of people who were on their knees.
Thus the author deals with history in the best way possible: trying to understand what lead to the events and how. Maybe even why.
Unfortunately, some readers seem unable to appreciate it.

Most of the book is a painstaking account of WW2, and it couldn't be otherwise; Shirer tells us about the failure of the European democracies in stopping Hitler when it was still possible and the shameful, cowardly bargains between UK, France, Italy, Russia and Germany, a momentous phase in which every government tried to shy away and, in doing so, take advantage of the others' misfortune: see Munich 1938, when the Czech Republic was shared like a pie. Even Poland had its share, by the way.
As for the USA, Roosevelt's bipolar attitude - from political and military shyness to the Enola Gay ('...is mother proud of Little Boy today...') - doesn't make a good impression either; but of course the author is writing a pro-USA pamphlet.
The conquest of the East and the destruction of the west, the Mediterranean and the African desert front, the Russian débacle, Europe's New Order... the German archives were a goldmine through which a generation of historians was finally able to find its way.

The last chapters are equally good; the fall of National Socialism and, tragically, of a whole population that, once again, had deluded itself - paving the way for its evil messiah of doom.

A LONG read that I definitely recommend.
Beware though: it's very detailed. If you're not into modern history, pick a shorter book.
14 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

July 3, 2018 – Started Reading
July 3, 2018 –
page 25
1.98% "My hair will turn white before I'm finished with this one: 1264 pages, in a sadistically small print. A literary cat o' nine tales. This is not reading, it's sheer perversion."
July 3, 2018 – Shelved
July 3, 2018 – Shelved as: history
July 3, 2018 –
page 28
2.22% "My hair will turn white before I'm finished with this one: 1264 pages, in a sadistically small print. A literary cat o' nine tails. This is not reading, it's sheer perversion.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=RLd6DUZ... "
July 4, 2018 –
page 57
4.51% "https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GOBhjls...

BDM girls.
God forgive me."
July 4, 2018 –
page 80
6.33% "Julius Streicher, a depraved sadist who started life as an elementary-school teacher, was a famous fornicator who made his fortune as a fanatical anti-semite. His weekly 'Der Stürmer' thrived on lurid tales of Jewish sexual crimes and 'ritual murders'. He was also a noted pornographer, always carrying a whip in his hand.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=HTcYPg7...

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pFG21wx..."
July 6, 2018 –
page 113
8.94% "I'm enjoying this book so much. This is how history MUST be told: trying to understand the events instead of judging them, which is easier but intellectually pointless. The author is brave enough to remind us that Hitler was certainly a psychopath, but - alas - a terribly spellbinding one. Shirer lived in 1920s Germany, so he understood the effect Hitler's personality had on a desperate, starving nation."
July 7, 2018 –
page 150
11.87% "p. 121:

While shaping his party, Hitler had his fill of troubles with his chief lieutenants. (...) He was strangely tolerant of a man's morals; no other party in Germany came near to attracting so many shady characters. A conglomeration of pimps, murderers, homosexuals, alcoholics and blackmailers flocked to the party as if to a natural heaven. Hitler did not care, as long as they were useful to him."
July 8, 2018 –
page 188
14.87%
July 9, 2018 –
page 226
17.88% "H. Göring, Frankfurt, March 3, 1933:

"My measures will not be crippled by any judicial thinking. I don't have to worry about justice; my mission is only to destroy and exterminate. I shall use the power of the State and the police to the utmost, my dear Communists. The struggle is to the death, and my fist will grasp your neck."


https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=9cL67US..."
July 10, 2018 –
page 279
22.07% "p. 230:

One could see that, whatever his crimes against humanity, Hitler had unleashed a dynamic force of incalculable proportions which had long been pent up in the German people. To what purpose, he had already made clear in the pages of 'Mein Kampf' and in a hundred speeches which had gone unnoticed or unheeded or been ridiculed by so many - by almost everyone - within and especially without the Third Reich."
July 12, 2018 –
page 308
24.37% "Incompetent and lazy, vain as a peacock, Ribbentrop was the worst possible choice for the post of ambassador, as Göring realized. "When I criticized Ribbentrop's qualifications to handle British problems, the Führer pointed out that Ribbentrop knew Lord So and So and Minister So and So. To which I replied: Yes, but the difficulty is that they know Ribbentrop."

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=KsBG34T..."
July 14, 2018 –
page 357
28.24% ""Thank God, Adolf Hitler has created a communion of German will and German thought.
Not a single person will find a future with us who is not wholeheartedly for Hitler. The Reichsbank will always be nothing but National Socialist.
Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!"

Dr. H. Schacht, Reichsbank manager, 1938"
July 16, 2018 –
page 385
30.46% "p. 377: On August 23, 1938, Hitler entertained aboard the liner Patria the Regent of Hungary, Admiral Horthy, and the members of the Hungarian government. If they wanted to get in on the Czech feast, Hitler told them, they must hurry. "He who wants to sit at the table", he put it, "must at least help in the kitchen." Of Poland they were now sure. The Polish were casting covetous eyes on a slice of Czech territory."
July 16, 2018 –
page 385
30.46% " p. 377: On August 23, 1938, Hitler entertained aboard the liner Patria the Regent of Hungary, Admiral Horthy, and the members of the Hungarian government. If they wanted to get in on the Czech feast, Hitler told them, they must hurry. "He who wants to sit at the table", he put it, "must at least help in the kitchen." Of Poland they were now sure. The Poles were casting covetous eyes on a slice of Czech territory."
July 17, 2018 –
page 414
32.75% "p. 394: Hitler refused to modify his position and concluded that war 'now appears to be the case'.
"But this is nothing less than an ultimatum!" Chamberlain exclaimed.
"Nothing of the sort", Hitler shot back. When Chamberlain retorted that the word Diktat applied to it, Hitler answered, "It is not a Diktat at all. Look, the document is headed by the word 'Memorandum' ".

***oh my what a couple of jerks ****"
July 18, 2018 –
page 455
36.0% "Göring: "After the pogrom, the Jew shall get the refund from the insurance company but the refund will be confiscated. There will remain some profit for the company. If you're bound to pay 5 millions and all of a sudden an angel in my corpulent shape appears before you and tells you that you can keep one million, for heaven's sake isn't that a profit?"

* Now I know: my ex boyfriend is this man's reincarnation. *"
July 19, 2018 –
page 484
38.29% "p. 477: The weakness of the democratic powers was evident from the fact that they had abandoned the principle of collective security and had turned to a policy of nonintervention and neutrality. Underlying this policy was the wish to divert the aggressor States to other victims."
July 20, 2018 –
page 512
40.51% "A. Hitler: "The idea that we can get off cheaply is dangerous; there is no such possibility. We must burn our boats and it will no longer be a question of right or wrong but of to be or not to be."

May 23,1939"
July 20, 2018 –
page 545
43.12% "p. 219: Heydrich ordered to simulate an attack on the radio station in Gleiwitz, near the Polish border. 12 condemned criminals were to be dressed in Polish uniforms and left dead on the ground of the scene of the incident to show they had been killed while attacking. They were to be given fatal injections and then gunshot wounds. The code name by which he referred to these criminals was 'Canned Goods'."
July 23, 2018 –
page 569
45.02% "p. 532: A. Hitler: "I shall give a propagandist reason for starting the war - never mind whether it is plausible or not. The victor will not be asked afterward whether he told the truth or not. Whoever has pondered over the order of this world knows that.""
July 24, 2018 –
page 603
47.71% "B. Dahlerus: "Hitler stopped in the middle of the room and stood there staring. His behaviour was that of a completely abnormal person. He spoke in staccato phrases: 'I shall build U-boats, build U-boats U-boats U-boats U-boats.' Then he shrieked: 'I shall build airplanes, airplanes airplanes airplanes'. I stared at him in amazement and turned to see how Goering was reacting, but he did not turn a hair."

* Heroin *"
July 25, 2018 –
page 638
50.47% "p. 620 Letter from Hitler to Mussolini, September 3, 1939:

"Duce, destiny will bind us one to the other. If national socialist Germany were to be destroyed by the western democracies, fascist Italy also would face a hard future. I was always aware that the future of our two regimes were bound up, and I know that you, Duce, are of exactly the same opinion.""
July 26, 2018 –
page 672
53.16% "p. 662: When he heard that Neurath, the Protector of Bohemia, had put up posters announcing the execution of seven Czech students, Hans Frank told a journalist: "If I wished to order that one should hang up posters about every seven Poles shot, there would not be enough forests in Poland with which to make the paper for these posters.""
July 28, 2018 –
page 713
56.41% "p. 691: Disloyal as he had been to some of his closest associates, a number of whom he had had murdered, Hitler maintained a strange and unusual loyalty to his ridiculous Italian partner that did not weaken, that indeed was strengthened when adversity and then disaster overtook the strutting, sawdust Roman Caesar."
July 30, 2018 –
page 793
62.74%
August 3, 2018 –
page 856
67.72%
August 4, 2018 –
page 902
71.36%
August 5, 2018 –
page 956
75.63%
August 6, 2018 –
page 995
78.72% "Almost finished (last 100 odd pages are notes)."
August 7, 2018 – Finished Reading
August 30, 2018 – Shelved as: american-canadian
November 4, 2019 – Shelved as: essays

Comments Showing 1-10 of 10 (10 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Guille (new)

Guille Fantástica reseña, Fede. Un tiempo, aquel de la primera mitad de siglo, muy interesante y que desgraciadamente parece que estamos condenados a olvidar y repetir a poco que nos descuidemos.


Fede Guille wrote: "Fantástica reseña, Fede. Un tiempo, aquel de la primera mitad de siglo, muy interesante y que desgraciadamente parece que estamos condenados a olvidar y repetir a poco que nos descuidemos."

So true. We can only hope the experience of such scientifically planned destruction won't be used as a blueprint for the future... because if it almost worked back then, it would certainly be accomplished nowadays.


message 3: by Markus (new)

Markus Thanks, Fede. Your review is a brilliant exposé of a book I have not read yet. But it seems I will have to. I cannot escape my interest in history.
What staggers me is the parallel of history I am reading just now." Memoires d'Outre Tombe."
Bonaparte's utter destruction of Europe at the beginning of the 19th century; another monster tyrant with nobody to stop him. All European nations instead try to make an ally or hesitantly turn one way or another. Until finally his crazy Russian War broke his teeth.
I still have to read on...


Fede Markus wrote: "Thanks, Fede. Your review is a brilliant exposé of a book I have not read yet. But it seems I will have to. I cannot escape my interest in history.
What staggers me is the parallel of history I am ..."


Thanks a lot, Markus!
An interesting parallel indeed: Hitler was fascinated by Bonaparte's life and deeds, "the only Frenchman he respected and admired" (his own words). And yet he made exactly the same mistakes: starting a war on two fronts, allowing the Russian army to retreat deeper and deeper into their frozen territory, ignoring his generals' advice... a good example of how little we learn from the past, though in this case ignorance and arrogance eventually determined the end of a madman's omnipotence.


message 5: by Markus (new)

Markus Fede wrote: "Markus wrote: "Thanks, Fede. Your review is a brilliant exposé of a book I have not read yet. But it seems I will have to. I cannot escape my interest in history.
What staggers me is the parallel o..."

Yes, exactly that. If you haven't read Chateaubriand, you must have read War and Peace.


message 6: by Fede (last edited Aug 07, 2018 09:13AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Fede Yes, I have read it... and liked it a lot. A real monument to Russia and an all-time masterpiece.


message 7: by Robin (new)

Robin I love that Leonard Cohen influenced you to read this book, Fede. Your review is excellent. I’m totally obsessed with fiction so I’m not sure if I will be pulling this one off the shelf anytime soon, but I admire your tenacity and curiosity about the world’s history.


Fede Robin wrote: "I love that Leonard Cohen influenced you to read this book, Fede. Your review is excellent. I’m totally obsessed with fiction so I’m not sure if I will be pulling this one off the shelf anytime soo..."

Thanks Robin!
I like Cohen's poems and lyrics. He was attracted to the Nazi depravity like a moth to the flame, as a way to exorcise his demons I guess. Maybe we all feel like that; we need to 'look into the abyss' in order to know what we would find at the bottom... just in case.
Now that I think of it, my reading schedule is a real mess. Fiction, history, art... at random. At least Amazon has given up sending ads; they just can't find their bearings.


Paul Scarily I read this before you were born Fede!! It is one of those must read history books in my opinion


message 10: by Fede (new) - rated it 4 stars

Fede Paul wrote: "Scarily I read this before you were born Fede!! It is one of those must read history books in my opinion"

Well, I read a used copy that must have been printed decades before you were born - it almost fell to pieces, and I was still on chapter 1!
My, this copy of mine is so old that Shirer could have had it autographed by Goering's father.


back to top