The Coming Of The Third Reich, by Richard J. Evans
Historical writing, I’ve learned, is a conversation over the years, in the hopes of more nearly portraying events as they really happened. Such is the case with Evans’ The Coming Of The Third Reich.
The problem with writing about the Third Reich has been multifold: first, Germany was a closed society during most of its twelve years of existence. Too, following WWII, and despite scrupulous record-keeping by Nazi officials, historians had to contend with these officials creating self-saving spin for their actions. As well, that regime’s heinous social crimes created an emotional atmosphere around National Socialism’s twelve years that colored the facts. It’s been said that had the Soviets lost their war with Germany, their equally heinous crimes against humanity preceding and during WWII would have been seen in the same malevolent light in which we now see Germany’s. I’m an armchair historian at best, my knowledge of this war piecemeal. So as I approached Evans’ book, certain questions remained:
· With anti-Semitism so prevalent in Germany in the run-up to the Nazi years, why didn’t the Jews get out of Dodge? Why were they taken so unawares?
· Did the German people buy into the National Socialist agenda wholesale? I.e., are the German people as a whole as culpable as Hitler and his inner circle for what transpired during these twelve years?
· Given the Nazi Party’s name, how did its approach to socialism compare to other socialistic and communistic experiments in the twentieth century?
This is a book review, not an essay, so I’ll leave it to the reader to plumb Evans’ fine scholarship for answers. Suffice it to say that the author did answer these questions to my satisfaction. And Evans’ book isn’t a grandiose op-ed piece; he provides over a hundred pages of footnotes and bibliography for his detailed perspective on how – and why – the National Socialists came to power in Germany.
It seems proper form in such writing to provide illustrative photos, and Evans does. But he takes visual aids a step further, providing many pages of demographic maps regarding the National Socialist rise to power.
And his prose, while sufficiently scholarly in tone, is very readable. He uses the distancing effects of passive voice, and he summarizes in the opening sentences of paragraphs – things skilled fiction writers won’t do. Still, his writing is hardly dry. I’m tempted to cite examples, but I won’t – –
Still, for those interested in this aspect of European history and culture and are willing to buy the book, but hardly have time to read its nearly 500 pages, Evans provides an excellent summary of his arguments at text’s end.
Were I to summarize his summary: Evans’ depiction of Germany from the Weimar years to the beginning of WWII seems to be a historical anomaly. The Nazis didn’t seize power; they were elected. Yet their representation in the Reichstag was never a plurality. The Nazis rise, in a few words, was due almost totally to the charisma of Hitler in rousing emotions to “renew” Germany following the Weimar experience, and to Goebbels’ propaganda talents in isolating and shutting off dissenting views. And to sheer luck on their part.
This book will be an important one to historians. But it should also be read by everyone concerned with the power of propaganda and charismatic leadership in the modern world.
My rating: 4-1/2 stars of 5
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