The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany

Hitler boasted that The Third Reich would last a thousand years. It lasted only 12. But those 12 years contained some of the most catastrophic events Western civilization has ever known. In The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer gave us the definitive book on Hitler's German Empire. Based on his personal experiences as a war correspondent as well as the vo...

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Title:The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany
Author:William L. Shirer
Rating:
ISBN:0671728687
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Mass Market Paperback
Number of Pages:1614 pages

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany Reviews

  • Wyatt Nordstrom
    Nov 06, 2007

    Well, I did it. After two years, I have finally finished this beast. The first 600 or so pages are pretty slow, but it flies after that...

    We all know the story- a misanthropic, racist, vegetarian, megalomaniac failed artist writes a book that taps into age-old German prejudices, seizes power, and embarks on a quest for European domination. In the process he starts the biggest war in history leading to the deaths of tens of millions of people, subjugates about a dozen other countries, and systema

    Well, I did it. After two years, I have finally finished this beast. The first 600 or so pages are pretty slow, but it flies after that...

    We all know the story- a misanthropic, racist, vegetarian, megalomaniac failed artist writes a book that taps into age-old German prejudices, seizes power, and embarks on a quest for European domination. In the process he starts the biggest war in history leading to the deaths of tens of millions of people, subjugates about a dozen other countries, and systematically exterminates the majority of European Jewry. The "Thousand Year Reich" only lasted a total of 12 years, 4 months, and 8 days, but during that brief span it wrought havoc and destruction on scale never witnessed before or since.

    William Shirer was a journalist, *not* a historian, but his narrative style coupled with the fact that he lived in Germany during the majority of the time Hitler was in power lends this book both readability and a level of believability that no historian could possibly achieve. Several parts are indeed personal narrative in which Shirer lends his own perspective on what he saw happening, though he is careful to point out which sections are taken from historical records and which are colored by his own experience. The book is thoroughly footnoted (to the tune of about a footnote per page- it takes almost as long to read the notes as it does the main text), indexed, and overflowing with "I didn't know that" moments. It doesn't dwell on minutiae, nor does it give a blow-by-blow account of the war, but nevertheless it attempts to tell a huge story, and the result is a huge (1300+ pages in the printing I own) book.

    The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was published in 1957, a bare 12 years after the "Fall" that occurs at the end of the story. However, it is very easy to see why it remains today- 50 years after its release- the definitive work on the Nazi regime. I highly recommend it to anyone who shares a passion for history or who is fascinated by the factors that lead to societies devolving into statist forms of government. I also recommend it to anyone who believes that appeasement and "negotiation" is an acceptable means for handling such regimes (that means you, Barack Obama...). Sections of it (if not the entire book) should be required reading for all high school students. Only by understanding the past may we secure our future.

  • Erik Graff
    Mar 21, 2008

    This was the first, really serious grownup book I ever read.

    My sole brother being almost eight years younger and no cousins being in the States, I was virtually an only child, condemned to the weekly dinner parties of my parents and paternal grandparents and their friends, most of them held elsewhere than our own home. At one particularly excruciatingly boring party held at Great Aunt Synnove's I was scanning the magazines and bookshelves for something to occupy the time. Being ten, the great sw

    This was the first, really serious grownup book I ever read.

    My sole brother being almost eight years younger and no cousins being in the States, I was virtually an only child, condemned to the weekly dinner parties of my parents and paternal grandparents and their friends, most of them held elsewhere than our own home. At one particularly excruciatingly boring party held at Great Aunt Synnove's I was scanning the magazines and bookshelves for something to occupy the time. Being ten, the great swastika on the cover of one otherwise unknown book caught my eye. Nazis! I picked it up, checked out the maps on the inside covers and started to read . . . When, finally, they, the Old Ones, were ready to go, I was far enough into it to not want to stop. Aunt Synnove was kind enough to loan it out.

    The reading went on for probably a couple of weeks. I recall reading about the Lutheran pastor, Niedemeyer (not looking it up--it may be misspelled, but I remember this in detail after all these years), who, almost alone amongst German churchmen, stood up publicly against the Nazis--and this in the backyard, at the juncture of our rickety garage and decaying white picket fence amidst the early flowers of springtime. I recall, days later, now on my sun-warmed bed downstairs at grandmother's cottage in Michigan, reading with fascinated horror about the death camps and the "scientific experiments" conducted in them.

    Now a thirteen year old friend of mine has picked up Shirer, buying it in hardcover himself at a local used bookstore. He, not normally a big reader (he has a sister, two brothers and lots of cousins and friends), says he likes it because Shirer writes so clearly. Now, while all of us are, as citizens, in moral positions uncomfortably similar to those occupied by Germans sixty years or so ago, it is good to see that a book like this and the story it tells can still be read with interest by the young.

  • Trevor
    May 07, 2010

    The detail with which this book deals with the Third Reich and the unspeakable evil that was Hitler's Germany is almost too much to take. Some of the discriptions, particularly towards the end of 'medical' experimentation, are simply too shocking and too challenging to read in one sitting. If you need to be reminded of just how evil the bastards in charge of Germany in the 30s and 40s really were then this is the book you need to read.

    Like I said, the detail is mind-blowing - the story of this

    The detail with which this book deals with the Third Reich and the unspeakable evil that was Hitler's Germany is almost too much to take. Some of the discriptions, particularly towards the end of 'medical' experimentation, are simply too shocking and too challenging to read in one sitting. If you need to be reminded of just how evil the bastards in charge of Germany in the 30s and 40s really were then this is the book you need to read.

    Like I said, the detail is mind-blowing - the story of this period of history still seems incomprehensible. I dare you not to be horrified by this remarkable book

  • Julie
    May 15, 2011

    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, bu

    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

    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

    , an allegorical tale shaped largely by Mann's reaction to World War I; last year, Tolstoy brought me

    , 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

    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.

    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.

    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

    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.

  • Zachariah
    Jan 21, 2012

    Excellent.

    The book is really long and goes into a lot of details, but that shouldn't be held against it. It seems like general knowledge about this subject is kept to the antisemitic atrocities, and stories tend to focus on concentration camps, military conflict, or underground movements and hiding. This leaves the Nazis as just some mystical thing that happened once upon a time. If there is any contextual knowledge known it is probably just remembered from highschool that the German people were

    Excellent.

    The book is really long and goes into a lot of details, but that shouldn't be held against it. It seems like general knowledge about this subject is kept to the antisemitic atrocities, and stories tend to focus on concentration camps, military conflict, or underground movements and hiding. This leaves the Nazis as just some mystical thing that happened once upon a time. If there is any contextual knowledge known it is probably just remembered from highschool that the German people were down and Hitler promised to lift them up.

    The book really gets into the socio-historical and upper level political action that led to the regime, its process, and collapse. It does a great job covering all the related material. Shirer both narrates the historical facts and progress of events and, when relevant, he discusses particular topics (e.g. Philosophical roots, the church in Germany, resistance movements, assassination plots, etc.).

    I'm no historian, but this is a worthy read, and I've seen no fault in it.

  • Esdaile
    Jul 21, 2012

    I have a very strong feeling of enthusiasm and at the same time of aversion for this book, which I read when I was 16. William Shirer wrote a no-holes barred account of the rise of Adolf Hitler from the perspective of a fanatical (in the full sense of the word) opponent of everything Hitler stood for. Shirer was also a journalist writing as though he were a historian, so his writing reads easily and persuasively but is not necessarily a font of historical accuracy. Whatever one's own position, t

    I have a very strong feeling of enthusiasm and at the same time of aversion for this book, which I read when I was 16. William Shirer wrote a no-holes barred account of the rise of Adolf Hitler from the perspective of a fanatical (in the full sense of the word) opponent of everything Hitler stood for. Shirer was also a journalist writing as though he were a historian, so his writing reads easily and persuasively but is not necessarily a font of historical accuracy. Whatever one's own position, this is far and away a more honest book than many of the cold cynical assessments made after the events by historians who also have a private agenda but who unlike Shirer do not make it obvious or claim to be objective when they are no such thing. Shirer is however in my opinion,right to stress more than is often stressed, the novelty of the Nuremburg Laws, which essentially disenfranchised a large section of the population on the basis of a postulated alien ethnicity. These laws undermined the fundamental principles of citizenship as understood in Europe since the American and French revolutions and were profound and potentially murderous in their implications. Shirer also laid stress on medical experimentation on human subjects, which in my humble opinion is as close to Hell as human beings are likely to get on earth. I do not think there are any medical experiment "deniers" : of course, medical experimentation on human beings is in no way something unique to the Hitler dictatorship, but Shirer is right to highlight it as a particularly pernicious abuse of power by politicians and doctors, one which should serve as a reminder to us, if we really need a reminder, of the arrogance and ever lethal potential of the notions of so many representatives of both. It is all very well talking about controlling decadence, crime or whatever, but who controls the controllers, is a question that should never be for a moment forgotten.

    I give this two stars but the two stars award is misleading in the sense that I would give his work 4 or 5 stars for readability as a breathtaking introduction to the history of the Third Reich, and 4 or 5 stars for highlighting certain aspects of that history so full of suffering and desolation, but 1 star for reliability, balanced view, veracity, objectivity. Shirer will have no track with the notion that Polish fears of Russia could have been justified, that Churchill wanted war, that in a sense whatever one thinks of him, Hitler was right in claiming that the war was between a Jewish and anti-Jewish world view, that Roosevelt was deeply anti-German and pro-Jewish, that the Soviet Union was planning a preemptive strike on Germany, that the Poles had been put up to provoking Germany and did provoke Germany and that Hitler in this case as later, with the British bombing of civilian targets, fell into a trap and allowed himself to be provoked just in the way his enemies planned he should be provoked; Shirer says nothing as I recall, about the appalling condiitons which induced many to vote for the NSDAP, and there are plenty more imbalances in this work, and half-truths and untruths besides, for there is plenty of history that Shirer does not mention, but I do not have the book any more and I read it 40 years ago. Shirer's is a book to be read by anyone interested in the time, but to be read with rather more than the proverbial pinhc of salt. I was going to award this book three stars but I'll put that down to 2 to counter-balance the wave of quasi psychophantic enthusiasm with which so many Goodreads readers have greeted it. It is a deeply flawed book after all, for readibility it is up there in the top rank, for historical balance, down far below.

  • Lyn
    Oct 31, 2013

    Darkness.

    You boil this book down, strip it to the foundations, and what the reader finds is darkness of the human soul. Bred in the alleyways and gutters of Vienna before the first World War, this was the angry and hateful opposite of God’s shining light, the ancient shadows that live in the basement of our souls, given life and expression on the palette of a failed artist.

    Shirer’s scholarly, exhaustive masterpiece paints the portrait of the Third Reich from its beginnings in the back rooms an

    Darkness.

    You boil this book down, strip it to the foundations, and what the reader finds is darkness of the human soul. Bred in the alleyways and gutters of Vienna before the first World War, this was the angry and hateful opposite of God’s shining light, the ancient shadows that live in the basement of our souls, given life and expression on the palette of a failed artist.

    Shirer’s scholarly, exhaustive masterpiece paints the portrait of the Third Reich from its beginnings in the back rooms and beer halls of Munich to the terrible, gruesome end in all its grisly, dark detail. The author, a journalist in Germany before and during the early years of the Nazi regime, describes how this political movement began and how it came to power on the backs and in the bloodied fists of brown shirted ruffians.

    To draw a modern parallel, it would be as if our country was taken over by a street gang, as if the Bloods and Crips gained political power and ascended the White House and took over. From the September 1938 Sudetenland grab and the failings of Neville Chamberlain, to the horrid crimes that went on behind the lines, to the final days that saw a once proud Europe reduced to rubble, Shirer also details World War II from the Nazi perspective.

    Like Milton’s Paradise Lost and Shakespeare’s Richard III, the central figure in this epic tragedy, the most intriguing character, is a villain. But unlike Satan and the House of York English King, Hitler rose from the depths of poverty and mediocrity. Shirer reveals Hitler as intelligent and deterministic, but pathologically, sociopathically twisted to evil. The author also shows the German leader to be hopelessly, and in the end, pathetically, delusional.

    Perhaps Shirer’s most compelling observation, though, is his uncompromising portrait of the German people who allowed the monstrosity of National Socialism to come to power and to become accomplices with the Nazis in horrors on a scale previously unimagined.

    Finally, Shirer begs the question of whether we owe a higher duty than to our country, and his answer is an affirmative and decisive “yes”.

  • Michael
    Dec 08, 2013

    I actually do hate this book, which would earn it 1 star according to goodreads' rating system, but my personal ethics prevent me from going quite so far. The reason I hate it, really, is because it remains wildly popular (you can find it in pretty much any bookstore that has any non-fiction in English at all), in spite of the fact that literally mountains of far better works on the subject have been written.

    When I come back and look at it objectively, however, I have to admit that it’s not rea

    I actually do hate this book, which would earn it 1 star according to goodreads' rating system, but my personal ethics prevent me from going quite so far. The reason I hate it, really, is because it remains wildly popular (you can find it in pretty much any bookstore that has any non-fiction in English at all), in spite of the fact that literally mountains of far better works on the subject have been written.

    When I come back and look at it objectively, however, I have to admit that it’s not really as terrible as I imagine it to be, it’s just outdated and flawed. As an introduction to the lay-reader about National Socialism, it’s probably a decent enough starting-point. It gives a reasonable chronology and narrative of events which, if you know nothing at all about Germany or World War Two (and I didn’t when I read it, really), gives you a pretty good handle on the basics. Beginners have to start at the beginning, and this is pretty much it, so far as most people are concerned.

    Shirer was working primarily off the masses of documents collected for the Nuremberg trials, which contained much important material, but had not been properly indexed or sorted, so to a large degree he looked for things he was already familiar with, “where the light was better,” as it were and missed anything that would have problematized his account. In fairness, he avoids giving credence to some of the wilder ideas that were current in the fifties and sixties, referring to the death of Geli Raubal as a “suicide” for example and does not completely buy into the theory that the SS planted a bomb at the Bürgerbräukeller that nearly killed Hitler. He states that there is “ample evidence” that the Nazis were responsible for the burning of the Reichstag, but even here he is more cautious than some writers of the period.

    The reason that this book continues to appeal to Americans, however, is bound up in its flawed nature. It is written from an extremely biased pro-American perspective that verifies the myth of the “greatest generation” and the heroism of the Allies, and unquestioningly demonizes the other side. Ironically, it manages to do this without really delving into the actual horrors of the Holocaust, presenting a rather more cartoonish version of the evil of Nazism: the bad guys are Darth Vader and his Storm Troopers, while the good guys are Indiana Jones and GI Joe. It’s easy enough to see how that would appeal to people looking to be “entertained” by history, but it doesn’t constitute actual historical study.

    Shirer was an American journalist, who lived in Germany until he had to leave as an “enemy alien” after Germany declared war following Pearl Harbor. He has a certain perspective on events, for that reason, but not necessarily an un-biased one. He often can’t help slipping invectives and personal feelings into the text. Ribbentrop, we are repeatedly told, was “stupid”, while Röhm is consistently described as a “homosexual pervert.” Other redundant tropes include the use of “much-vaunted” to describe the Luftwaffe and, of course “fanatical” to describe the loyalty of Hitler’s closest followers. These adjectives add little to our understanding of the time, are not justified by historical analysis, and serve to tell us more about Shirer and his audience than about the Third Reich and its leadership. On the whole I would recommend reading other, less partial accounts, but must admit that this is not the worst one available.

  • BAM The Bibliomaniac
    Nov 18, 2016

    I went into this believing I had a well-grounded understanding of Prussian history and a basis of the Hitler regime. Ummm this book is everything I don't know.

    I feel way over my head. There are so many layers to peel like some history-containing onion. Shirer wrote an entire college course worth of information. I regret that I will not retain it all. An impressive collection of memories and experience, we should feel so privileged to have this thorough documentation of one of the most horrific e

    I went into this believing I had a well-grounded understanding of Prussian history and a basis of the Hitler regime. Ummm this book is everything I don't know.

    I feel way over my head. There are so many layers to peel like some history-containing onion. Shirer wrote an entire college course worth of information. I regret that I will not retain it all. An impressive collection of memories and experience, we should feel so privileged to have this thorough documentation of one of the most horrific eras in modern history to remind us how easily a society can fall prey to manipulation when it believes all hope is lost and all value is expended.

    I was startled to find that the experiments discussed in a previous read, Doctors in Hell, were spot on. All of them are delved into more deeply on this book. The horror takes on greater proportion when one hears it in audiobook format.

  • Joseph
    Jan 07, 2017

    Listened to as an Audible audiobook.

    A very detailed history of the entity of the Third Reich. It is not a biography of Hitler or a war history, but a comprehensive study of the entire organization. Shirer was witness to many events as a reporter and uses original source material. The resistance to the Third Reich is also covered in great detail along with the many deeply disturbing aspects of the concentration camps. A definitive history of on of mankind's greatest evils.