I mean…what do you say?
I’ve spent most of the summer reading Shirer’s legendary tome on and off. When books failed to inspire or when I had a long drive, I’d put it on audio and knock off two or three sections. It was easy because it never lost its focus despite its grotesque subject matter.
Trillions of words have been written about Nazi Germany and trillions more are likely to be written. I don’t have anything unique to say there, though I learned a lot from this book. It is the book itself I wish to discuss.
This is considered a landmark historical account of Nazi Germany, and yet the main criticism seems to be that it wasn’t written by a historian. To which I say…so? History is not medicine, requiring a skilled practitioner. An astute journalist who could provide a rare non-German firsthand account of the rise of Nazi Germany is just as capable of bringing the story to life.
And bring it to life he does. While Shirer focuses most of it on how the German High Command fought the war, the earliest parts are the most valuable to me: how the Nazis seized and obtained power. Shirer is thorough but not to the point of being overly detailed. It’s a tragic, painful, necessary read.
Two beefs I have that I do need to address…
- Shirer’s views on human sexuality are terrible and don’t give me the For the times rationale, considering it was obvious even back then what Nazis did to homosexuals. Berlin had a thriving openly gay scene which Shirer would have certainly been aware of having lived in the city pre-Nazi. He talks about how the “sexual immorality” of Ernst Roehm and other openly gay men in the SA contributed to “moral degeneration.” No no and no. The sexuality of Hitler’s thugs is immaterial to what they did and an especially twisted rationale given to what the party did to gay folk post-Night of the Long Knives.
- There is a long, dispiriting section on the Holocaust and, while thorough, I think it would have been better served to seed the developments and operations of the camp through the narrative rather than just address them all in one chapter. Addressing it came across to me as an obligation.
Otherwise, this book is as good as its reputation. It’s a grueling read but an essential one to understand one of the worst times in human history.