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The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945 Paperback – April 14, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


Exhaustive and harrowing … Friedrich's aim seems to be not only to wrest the history of German suffering from the clutch of the far right but to rescue the glories of German history from the twelve years of Hitler's thousand-year Reich.

(Ian Buruma New York Review of Books)

The Fire represents the continuation of Friedrich's generation's indictment of National Socialism—except now the finger is pointed at the Allies, and sympathy is extended to the civilian Germans who were their victims.

(The Nation)

What W. G. Sebald lamented about the lack of open discourse on the air war appears to have been blown apart with the publication of The Fire.

(Noah Isenberg Bookforum)

Jörg Friedrich's achievement in The Fire has been to tell this tale of death and destruction with a rare plasticity and vividness.

(German Historical Institute London Bulletin)


(TIME Europe)

[Jörg Friedrich] describes in stark, unrelenting and very literary detail what happened in city after city as the Allies dropped 80 million incendiary bombs on Germany.... There is … an edginess to Friedrich's writing and commentary, an emotional power.

(New York Times)

Jörg Friedrich tells the story from the viewpoint of the bombed with... great skill and objectivity.

(Paul Johnson The American Spectator)

Thorough and methodical... Friedrich's book underscores that precision bombing is anything but a scientific enterprise.

(Stanley Hoffman Foreign Affairs)

Mr. Friedrich deserves credit for both his diligence and his descriptive powers.


An indictment both of Hitler's appropriation of German history and of the Allies' destruction of a nation's culture... Thoughtful and detailed.

(Library Journal)

This is a book that demands to be read, no matter how uncomfortable the experience.

(David Cesarani The Independent)

[A] haunting book… forceful, incendiary.

(Atlantic Monthly)

A well-documented piece of historical writing... [that] is also a poignant, lyrical and terrible account of human suffering.

(Adam R. Seipp Houston Chronicle)

A vivid and powerful critique of war... [The Fire is] fascinating, ground-breaking, and thought-provoking.

(Roger Moorhouse BBC History Magazine)



A contribution to the German literature of remembrance; it is also a passionate denunciation of the excesses of the air war.

(Harold Dorn Technology and Culture 1900-01-00)

About the Author

Jörg Friedrich was born in Tyrolia in 1944 and grew up in the Ruhr District (Essen). A broadcaster in Berlin, Friedrich became a historian after he reported on the Majdanek Trial during the 1970s. His first comprehensive history of the prosecution of Nazi criminals in Germany, The Cold Amnesty (1984), was a bestseller in the Federal Republic. In 1993 he published a monograph on the forgotten Nuremberg Trial of the German High Command titled The Law of War: The German Army in Russia, which earned him a honorary doctorate from the University of Amsterdam. The idea for The Fire came to Friedrich accidentally one night in February 2002, and since its publication, the book has been translated into ten languages, sparking debate worldwide.

Jörg Friedrich was born in Essen, Germany, in 1944 and spent most of his career writing about Nazi atrocities before orienting his research toward an analysis of Allied military tactics. He lives in Berlin.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 552 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (April 14, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231133812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231133814
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #218,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 67 people found the following review helpful By A. Carey on May 6, 2007
Format: Hardcover
As a veteran of WW II and a member of the Fifteenth Air Force, based in Italy, I always saw the bombing campaign from the bombers' point of view. But, there was always a gnawing question about what was happening to the cities and people on the receiving end of our efforts. Friedrich's wonderful book provides the answer and it's not a pretty one.

Friedrich's book has made me question the ethics of armed conflict, whether we're speaking of "The Good War" or not.
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104 of 113 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a different kind of history than one I am used to. I found no discernable structure. Nor did I find an explicit thesis. The narrative runs at random across time and space, from pre-Roman history to 1945, from one city to another and back. The only common thread is death, destruction and the bombers themselves. Even the chapters seem to be arbitrary breaks in one long stream of consciousness.

This stream is unremitting dispassionate fury, quiet but relentless through all 480 plus pages of narrative. Like the bomber streams themselves, you begin to feel its pounding bombardment page after page after page. Then suddenly, like the war, the stream stops and all that is left is the wreckage as you consider what you have endured.

Never actually stated, the theme is nonetheless clear enough. The allied bombing of Germany - in particular that of Bomber Command - brought massive death and destruction to Germans, destroyed priceless artifacts built and preserved for centuries, yet made little contribution to actually winning the war.

The author makes no excuses for Germany and, from time to time in passing, acknowledges both the evil done by Germans and that the Germans themselves were the pioneers in bombing defenseless cities. The author fully admits that the Germans would have eagerly done worse with bombers - if they had had the power.

The author's point is that the Germans did not have the power. By late 1944, when the war's outcome was no longer in doubt and the destruction began in earnest, they were so totally overmatched by the allies so as to be at the mercy of the bombers. And the bombers showed no mercy, just as readily destroying libraries and the medieval churches of anti-Nazis as factories and the homes of war workers.
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62 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Horst H. Freyhofer on March 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I am retired history professor and always had problems to get my students to deal with books about WWII that would not in one way or another condemn Germany and praise the U.S. I have taught and lectured in many countries and have never seen such as strong a need, not just among students, to protect a received, generally positive view of history. Even the traditional "left" and "right", often bitterly devided over other issues, find much common ground here. Many of my studens knew before I started lecturing what their assigned WWII paper would say, and what they heard in class or read in assigned material was of help only to the degree that it would confirm what they already knew. Books such as Alfons Heck's "A Child of Hitler", for example, generally aroused distrust and even anger because very little in them seemed of any help. Although Heck's book talks about WWII, it primarily offers descriptions and explanations and not condemnations. The reviews I have read here of Friedrich's book express, on the whole, a similar sentiment.

From personal experience, I know that Friedrich's book is as accurate a desription of what happend to the inhabitants of German cities during allied bombings as you may find anywhere. As a scholar, I can see flaws in its style of representation that a good book review (which this is not) should address. As a German immigrant, I can only note that it will take much longer than I had hoped for cooler heads to prevail when it comes to discussing and representing WWII and its epoch. As a human being, I have problems realizing that some people will base their judgment of the suffering of innocent people (children) on the views they hold of those who inflict the suffering.
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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The harrowing aspect of this book is the quoted attitudes of the Allied (primarily British) leaders. Bomber Command, as I understand it, was the only branch that was not commended for its service after the war. Arthur "Bomber" Harris was the only one not to receive a peerage. During the war, the political leaders were eager to tell Harris "Go to, go to!" like spectators at a rape. But afterwards, they didn't want it booted about that they were intentionally targeting civilians against our own traditions and public statements ("We are only bombing military targets" Bomber Command repeatedly said) and the vast majority of the civilian leadership, including Churchill, was cheering them on. Even Churchill was keen on ordering anthrax bombs for use against the Germans.

After the war, the Allied Bombing Survey found that the bombing was relatively disappointing, especially in its avowed goal of destroying German industry. German war production peaked in the last quarter of 1944 and it wasn't until the ground forces arrived that production was effectively stopped. According to J. F. C. Fuller, in his "The Second World War," there was only one plant in German producing the necessary lead additive to raise fuel octane but it was never bombed. He also opined that the vast fortune in money and materiel expended on the bombing offensive would have been better used in the production of landing craft, the shortage of which, time and again, delayed the decisive ground attacks that defeated Germany.

There was no point in destroying the German cities turned to dust and ashes in the last few months of the war. At that time what made a city a target was that it hadn't been bombed before.
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