A Blog Dedicated to the Study of the Gilded Age, Progressive Era, and history of the environment.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Thanks to a link on HNN's blog Cliopatra, I recently read Ron Rosenbaum's retrospective of William Shirer's classic The Rise and Fall of
the Third Reich posted on Smithsonian.com. Rosenbaum praises Shirer for writing about Nazism and the Second World War, particularly the Holocaust, at a time when many aging participants and some nations were content to sweep all the bad memories and guilt under Father Time's carpet. With great skill and solid historical method, Shirer lifted that carpet and shone the light. Although Rosebaum mentions the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Israel as playing a role in the book's popularity, I think something should be said of the 1960 presidential race towards contributing to a revival of interest in the war. Both John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were war veterans and the former's exploits in PT-109 were the centerpiece of the Democratic candidate's personal narrative.
I am one of those people who read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I read it in high school and it captivated me throughout. Although I did not become a European historian, I would say that this book vastly increased my interest in history. What I found especially interesting was how the author explained the rise of the Nazi's and the path to war. I cannot say how this work holds up in the current historiography, but few writers possessed Shirer's literary skill. It is a well organized work capable of being both concise and deep. Nevertheless, I continue to read about Hitler and the Nazis when I can. As Rosenbaum points out, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, is very critical of the German people for going along Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party's insane rampage across Europe. It is for this reason that I believe everyone should study the period, even if only to get some awareness of the forces at play. It is a worthy civic and historical question to ask why an educated people with a fresh democracy followed their leader into the most destructive war in history. It is one of the most important lessons we can learn from history.