Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Coming of the Third Reich: Richard J. Evans

After reading this book in fits and starts for five months, I finally completed The Coming of the Third Reich by Richard J. Evans.

This book, published in 2003, was the first book of a three-volume history of the Third Reich. It is followed by a second volume, The Third Reich in Power (2005), which covers the peacetime years of Nazi rule between 1933 and 1939, and a third volume, The Third Reich at War (2008).

From a capsule review at Foreign Affairs:
This first part of what will be Evans' three-volume history of Hitler's regime is the most comprehensive and convincing work so far on the fall of Weimar and Hitler's rise to power. Unlike past accounts suggesting that things could have turned out differently had some of the key players been less foolish, Evans builds, stone by stone, a monument to prove that Hitler's ascent was the only possible outcome even though the Nazi Party never captured an absolute majority of votes. ...

The last part of the book is a detailed, depressing account of Hitler's transformation of Germany in a few months in 1933, including the "cultural revolution" in which both Martin Heidegger and storm troopers played key roles.

I read this book because I know so little about the history of Germany and I am very interested in  Germany during World War II and how Hitler came to power. I wanted to understand how a nation was taken over by a concept like Nazism. Evans attempts to answer that and other questions in this book. Per Evans, "These three books are addressed in the first place to people who know nothing about the subject, or who know a little and would like to know more. I hope that specialists will find something of interest in them but they are not the primary readership for which the books are intended."

Did I get answers to my questions? For the most part, yes. But, as I say above, I wanted to understand, and I still don't understand why it all happened. I have explanations and a lots more background, and that is a big step forward. I probably will never understand fully (and that is OK).

One area that has hampered a lot of my reading (of historical fiction set in this time) was a confusion on the various police and paramilitary groups in Germany, beginning with the rise of Hitler through World War II. There were a lot of different groups, and their functions and power did change over those years. Now I do have a clearer picture of that.

Did I enjoy reading the book? No. I think it would have taken less time to finish had I found it more enjoyable. There was too much detail for me. I guess I wanted more of an overview.  Also, it was a depressing subject (which I knew going in).

Would I recommend this book? Yes, very much. First, because it does provide the overview and background that it sets out to do. As I mentioned above, there are many areas in this book where I picked up a lot of knowledge about this time and place. Second, because my husband enjoyed all of the books in the trilogy. He is not a historian but history and social history are among his favorite subjects.

In closing, I offer two reviews of The Coming of the Third Reich, should you wish to know more about the book.
          At Handful of Sand


Anonymous said...

Tracy - I'm glad you found this book worth the read, even if you couldn't say you actually enjoyed reading it. I know exactly the difference you mean, too, between being glad you read something and enjoying it. I like the idea that the book is thorough and detailed. At least for me, when I read something to learn, I want detail. It may be a lot to wade through, but still... Thanks for sharing this one.

TracyK said...

Even though I had problems with this one, I still want to read the next two in the series. This time I will know what I am getting into.

Sarah said...

I have a book that I have been reading for months but shame stops me from mentioning the title here. I do read non-fiction more slowly than fiction and I usually get a sense of satisfaction from finishing it. I have to confess though that my flat is littered with half finished non-fic books.

TracyK said...

I have that problem too. I have a book about Churchill that I have been reading for a year... and I may have to give up on.

Anna said...

I hope to get to these books someday. Like you, the more I read, the more questions are answered, but I don't think anyone will every really "get" why it all happened.

Katrina said...

You have to go back to World War 1 to understand how Hitler came to power. The Germans felt they had been badly treated at the end of the war, as they were because the allies wanted to punish them, but the Germans also felt that they hadn't been beaten even although they had been, and Hitler was so furious that he was determined to put Germany back to the position of power in Europe that he believed it should have. Mix in poverty, unemployment, hunger and you have a perfect breeding ground for extremists to gain power. It was just like it is now with all this austerity, only worse, so look out for extremists now! If you prefer fiction then you might like to try Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy.

TracyK said...

He does cover how WWI had so much of effect on the people of Germany, and reading this did help my understanding of that. I looked into the Balkan Trilogy a bit just now and it does sound like it might be a good read and cover the time period I am interested in. Thanks for the suggestion.