I picked up the famous book “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” a few months before going to Germany on exchange. I was planning on studying mostly history while in Germany and I figured I needed a refresher course before I arrived. Unfortunately, the book is so long, so convoluted and so boring that I didn’t finish it until well into my exchange. Even taking into account the 1280 pages, the book took me an abnormally long time to read. I found myself making any and all excuses to put it down, and I even finished two other books while I was reading it.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is the work of William L. Shirer, a noted American war correspondent, historian and an original “Murrow Boy”. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich covers much of the history of Germany between the ascent of Hitler in 1934 and the end of National Socialism in 1945. Shirer was stationed in Germany from 1934 until 1940, and much of this book relies on his own diary entries and first hand knowledge of events and feelings within Germany during this tumultuous time. Shirer also translates many diary entries by prominent Nazi officials, as well as proclamations and government documents issued by the Third Reich.
However, this is where the positives of Shirer’s book stop. The book is positively mind numbing in a way that I have never experienced before. Normally I am a quick reader, and I am quite adept at forging through slow books, or slow parts of books. However, Shirer completely fails to string together any narrative at all. At best, this book could be considered a scrapbook of notable events and diary entries from within the Third Reich. And as such, fails to completely grasp the reader’s attention. It is remarkably easy to get sidetracked reading this book, as I found out during the 3 or so months that I was technically “reading” it. Shirer’s knowledge of his subject is remarkable, as is much of his analysis, however he quite easily digresses into the mundane minutiae of day-to-day life within the Third Reich, much of it completely pointless, and distracting, to those of us who want a big picture view of these turbulent times.
If I wanted to learn history by reading a long list of dates, events and quotes, I would use the internet. The reason I read books on history is that I learn and enjoy it a lot more when history becomes a narrative. Granted, Shirer does use a lot of quotes from both his and other prominent diaries, which are incredibly interesting, but Shirer fails to capture that “continuous narrative” element that I look for in a successful history book. This is definitely a good book for someone studying German history to use as source material, especially since much of the work consists of translations of German diaries as well as Shirer’s own first hand accounts, but for the regular history buff I would look elsewhere.