Authoritative, comprehensive and compelling. Mar 5, 2009
It is unusual to find a book which, whilst universally viewed as an important historical resource, is difficult to lay aside once begun. William Shirer's magnum opus fits the bill on both counts. I first encountered "The Rise and Fall..." through a textual reference in a book by Robert Fisk and have been ever thankful that I followed up.
Within this book, the historical background to events is well explained, and the personalities of those involved are properly explored and vividly presented. The author, it should be noted, was present in Berlin throughout the rise of the National Soclialist Party, working as a journalist; following the collapse of the Third Reich, he had the first civilian access to (literally) tonnes of paperwork left behind by the Reich's perpetrators. Such is the stuff of dreams for historians, and Mr Shirer made good use of his extraordinarily good fortune.
The resulting book, whilst neither glib nor lightweight, is enjoyable and fluent, the writing style narrative and engaging. This is, hands down, the finest history I have yet encountered of what must be the pivotal series of events of the 20th century.
I would not so much recommend this book as exhort you to read it. Neither judgmental nor forgiving, its continual subtext is, as Jorge Santayana famously opined, that those who forget history are condemned to relive it. This book goes some way to maintaining memory, and for that may we all be thankful.