194 of 200 people found the following review helpful
on March 20, 2009
Richard Evans' three volume masterwork seems destined to become one of the definitive histories of the Third Reich. It is thoroughly researched, enormously detailed, very well written, and extremely grim reading. This third and last volume covers the final excesses of the regime, as it moved through increasingly radical steps to attempt to both win the war and to meet its self imposed racial goals.
As Evans notes, this volume is centered on the Third Reich itself and is not intended to be a general history of WWII. While there is some coverage of key military campaigns, the main focus is on the territory controlled by the Third Reich, with special attention being paid to the dark events in Eastern Europe.
A key part of Prof. Evans' contribution is that he allows us to see the impact of the Third Reich at a local, grass roots level. He makes copious use of diaries, showing the tedium, stoicism, or despair of civilians' everyday lives. In the earlier volumes we saw the creation in Germany of a pervasive Orwellian totalitarian state, which tried to be all-controlling but was also careful to retain a populist base. Now we see that totalitarian state reaching out into territories where the constraints of popular support are both unnecessary and unwanted.
In reading Evans' three volumes, I have occasionally felt exhausted by his detailed descriptions of so many terrible events. But his relentless detail is also key to understanding the real scope of what was happening. It is very tempting to caricaturize the Third Reich by focusing on its senior leadership and reducing its history to a small set of two-dimensional villains in strange costumes, clicking heels and ordering evil deeds. Well unfortunately the reality was much uglier than that. Evans convincingly shows us not just a few aberrant individuals, or even occasional lunatics, but rather an entire vast, well organized totalitarian system of control, with very large scale participation, which committed a whole vast array of callous oppression, so that moving forward to large scale murder seemed an entirely normal step. From sending opposition figures to concentration camps, to deliberately allowing millions of Soviet POWs to starve, to systematically exterminating civilian Jews, was all part of a steady downward progression. It's rather a terrifying insight into humanity, but it is a lesson worth studying and remembering.
To quote from Evans' concluding paragraph:
"The Third Reich raises in the most acute form the possibilities and consequences of the human hatred and destructiveness that exist, even if only in a small way, within all of us. It demonstrates with terrible clarity the ultimate potential consequences of racism, militarism, and authoritarianism. ... This is why the Third Reich will not go away, but continues to command the attention of thinking people throughout the world long after it has passed into history."
Five stars. Grim reading, but valuable history.
88 of 95 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2009
My God, what a horrible book! Not that the book itself is bad -- it is very good indeed. But its subject matter and exposition is unrelievedly hideous. Virtually every chapter seems to have a new statistic detailing hundreds of thousands of people being killed. And the author has almost nothing good to say about its subject -- the Third Reich from 1939 to 1945. That is probably because there is almost nothing good to say about it.
While there is probably not much new in this book, it is a marvellous compendium of what is known about World War II Germany. Naturally, any book on the war years is bound to be selective, and I think Evans does the average reader a favor by accentuating the negative. Not only were the heads of the Nazi heirarchy murderous beasts -- the military leadership were mostly moral cretins, and when they were not moral cretins, were complicit thugs. The civil service and the industrial complex were self-serving cowards at best and more often, complicit vipers. Even the German citizenry, while not quite "Hitler's Willing Executioners," were more than willing to support the regime and overlook its crimes until they were bombed back into the stone age.
On top of everything else, they were strategically and politically stupid. Evans makes it clear, by detailing production and population figures, that there was never a realistic chance that Germany could achieve its wartime goals, much less conquer the world. Taking on three major opponents at once, each of which could outproduce and outman Germany, was madness.
The great virtue of this book is to disabuse anyone who might be tempted to admire the Third Reich -- particularly adolecent males who could be seduced by the Wehrmacht's "heroism" or German military efficiency. Evans does well by devoting 4/5ths of his book to Germany's long, slow decline and less than 1/5th to its early, lucky triumphs. Even before Hitler's insane Russion venture, Evans suggests, the odds were stacked against Germany. Since it could not successfully cross the English channel, the best it could hope for was a strategic standoff, and the voracious Nazi appetite for aggression could not content itself with half-a-loaf.
Inevitably in a book on such a vast topic, there are weaknesses. One could have wished for more emphasis on the German home front, which is a relatively obscure topic, and less on the fighting of the war, which has been endlessly chronicled. It would have been helpful to have more analysis on the degree to which the German people benefitted from Nazi conquests in the first three years of the war -- a hot topic recently. And one could wish that Evans had spent a bit more time on the big philosophical questions, such as why the German people tolerated, much less supported, these marching morons as long as they did. And even if it is granted that most of the German people would not have supported the massacres, how did Germany ever manage to produce so many bullies and sadists who were more than willing to conduct them?
In the final analysis, this is a cautionary tale about the potential depravity of the human spirit. There are Germans everywhere in the Western World, including millions of German ancestry in the United States. Arguably, the greatest (ethnically) German general of World War II was named Eisenhower. The great majority of ethnic Germans, including those in Germany and Austria before 1900 and after 1950, behaved much like other decent and rational human beings. The fact that some of them, for a few decades, could behave like monsters is warning to us all.
Incidentally, while I can see how one reviewer could rate this book as a "1" because of techical difficulties in the Kindle edition, I cannot for the life of me see how reviewers could have given such a superbly written and researched book a "1" or a "2" on the merits.
48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
"The Third Reich at War" represents the final installment of Richard J. Evans' panoptic on the Second World War. All three volumes are scholarly masterpieces.
Hitler's war has probably spawned more articles and books than could possibly be read and absorbed by even the most insatiable professional historian or dedicated lay reader. In other words, even excepting the barrage of sensational fictional works on television, in the print media and on the "silver screen", there's just far too much serious literature and research for consumption. So, out of the cornucopia of works, even those of that attempt an historical synthesis on a "grand scale", why this one? In a phrase, because its probably the best overview of Hitler's Reich so far published.
Contrary to the title's implication, this book does not present a detailed battlefield analysis of Wehrmacht strategy and tactics. The emphasis instead is on the Nazi motives for the war of aggression; how matters were handled; how ordinary (and extra-ordinary) Germans reacted and perceived events as they unfolded: the how and why, in other words.
As it happens, the central ideological tenants used to justify the invasion of Europe and later the USSR, were far from rational calculations undertaken by reasonable, pragmatic and logical thinkers. Rather, the war was an integral component of a Nazi goulash of popular current eugenic theory, "racial science" and really rank anti-Semitism viewed through a lens of Social Darwinism. As Evans explains it, the ideologies then current in Nazi Germany were so weird, so bizarre, so fantastic and so overweening as to be blinding. Thus, Nazi true believers evidently could not realize the toxic and fatal consequences for Germany which would follow from actually implementing these beliefs. Considered in retrospect, the story of the Third Reich seems like a very bad and frankly unbelievable spasm of poorly conceived fiction. The adherents of Nazi thought and their accommodating fellow-travelers were completely unwilling and perhaps unable to understand the consequences of their actions, even as they witnessed the debacle befalling Germany. Even the feeble (but laudable) eleventh hour efforts against Hitler undertaken by the "Operation Valkyre" conspirators by and large illustrate this observation as well as the hubris repeatedly demonstrated by the Volksgemeinschaft and its aristocracy. Naturally, there were also strong elements of opportunism, mendacity and convenience operating in the Third Reich as elsewhere, but the sense of aggrieved and self-righeous entitlement was perhaps unique to the Germany of that time period. On the other hand, maybe those observations only serve to illustrate the apparently unchanging nature of humanity and to highlight the fact that it could happen once more. Regardless, its all nicely summarized here in Evans' three volumes.
The ineluctable outcome of Hitler's scheme is glaringly evident from reading Evans' the chronolgy developed in this history. While Evans' books lack some of the immediacy of William Shirer's eyewitness account ("Rise and Fall of the Third Reich") and the intricate quotidian detail of Victor Klemperer's diaries, Evans successfully conveys a barrage of factual information, pithy insights and incisive judgments in a highly readable fashion.
So, if it isn't already obvious, Why read this long and detailed history? Prior to WW-II, Churchill observed that "wars between peoples will be worse than wars between kings". What this war, a real venichtungskreig, illustrates is that wars between ideologies are worse still. As such, this war deserves careful, scholarly scrutiny. But, will there be another worldwide ideological war, undertaken with genocidal intent, like the Hitler War and, if so, is that the final reason for reading this book? Obviously anticipating this question, Evans, in the concluding chapter to this volume, notes that there will "never be a Fourth Reich". Hopefully, he's correct in that assessment and, while we may never see a Fourth Reich, we'll witness plenty more ethnic, religious, inter-communal conflicts, some of which (in my estimation) have the potential to ignite a global conflagration. If for no other reason than that one, the Third Reich deserves intelligent study and it always will. There is another reason, to wit the irrational atavistic mindset that lies just beneath the veneer of civility. In other words, Hitler's war illustrates Goya's adage that "The sleep of reason breeds monsters". Evans' trilogy is probably the best place to start realizing that fact and to consider its implications, past and future.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 22, 2009
After reading Jonathan Littell's "The Kindly Ones," the story of overwhelming Nazi atrocities visited upon Europe seen through the eyes of an SS officer who is active on both fronts, I thought I had been engulfed by the darkest events of human history. As grotesque as the protagonist's odyssey through the events of WW2 is, it is simply no match for the reality of the vast killing field Europe became during the War as documented in great detail by Richard Evans.
Peering into the heart of darkness that was Nazi ideology, Evans finds hatred of the jew at the very core of that twisted thinking. Most chilling is just how pervasive anti-semitism was among ordinary Germans as documented by Evans in detailed accounts of individual German's lives during the War. Even when most German's knew the war had been lost after the defeat at Stalingrad, jews were rounded up in huge numbers and slaughtered. Three extermination centers at Sobibor, Treblinka and Belzec were responsible for the murder of 1,700,000 jews. Evans methodical approach to laying out the facts is both riveting and thoroughly disgusting. The murders continued until Germany surrendered, as the Nazis attempt to destroy the evidence of their bloody deeds.
The truth is too painful to bear. But, if you want to know- read it.
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2009
Richard J Evans concludes his monumental history of the Third Reich with a monument in itself: 764 pages (not including notes) treats the experience of Germany and the Germans from the lightening fast invasion of Poland and its brutal occupation that commenced the second world war through to a concise and thoughtful treatment of the Third Reich's aftermath - in part an account of what happened to some of the personalities that recur in his narrative (famous and not so) and a consideration of Germans' coming to grips (or not, as the case may be) with their devastating recent past.
Evans' view is broad: we get more than a military-political narrative (nor is that narrowly focussed on Hitler), but a panorama of the activities of the Third Reich at home and abroad during the conflict, and responses to those activities by Germans. One central theme is that the economy doomed Germany's chances of winning: they were simply never going to outproduce the USSR, let alone the Americans. One consequence of this thesis (which is convincing to my mind) is its exposing the delusions of the German generals who argued after the war that Germany could have won had Hitler allowed them full control over the military conduct of the war.
Maps prove a useful aid to the narrative - visualising military-political developments but also, e.g., the targets of the Allied bombing raids and the locations of concentration and extermination camps. Evans exploits well the letters and diaries of contemporary Germans (ranging from Field Marshals to `ordinary' folk), Poles, and Jews (Klemperer's diaries are worth reading in their own right) and appears up-to-date in his secondary reading (some titles from 2007 are cited). Never afraid to question a received argument or assumption Evans' judgements are nevertheless carefully weighed and executed without undue polemic.
This final volume can be read alone as a history of Germany during the war - but the first two volumes, executed with the same narrative clarity and breadth of treatment, are well worth the read.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2009
The Third Reich at War is a comprehensive book; very educational. Any student learning the history of WWII or any veteran or individual who remembers or witnessed the events of that tragic war will still learn from reading this book. I had been subjugated to the Third Reich's occupation of Poland. As a teenager I saw the German looting, expropriating, beating, torturing, shooting, hanging, burning alive, starving innocent people. However, as a captive in concentration camps for three years, I had no access to a newspaper or radio. Ergo, I could not have been aware of the many phenomenal events that took place, in and outside Poland or Germany, which the above book transmits.
I knew that Germans had been living in fear; there was no freedom of expression. Nevertheless, it was stunning to read (p.542) how Frau Hoffman's husband was sentenced to death, because in letters to his wife he had written that "Germany would never win the war." He was executed for a political offense, undermining popular moral. Such extreme verdict is just indicative how immoral Hitler's dictatorship was and how appreciative we should all be enjoying personal freedom, in democratic countries.
Although I have, after the war, read many books about WWII, I find the voluminous book "The Third Reich at War" most informative. Many of the direct quotes from Hitler and others are new to me. So are the captured documents and diaries. Even Holocaust deniers will not be able to ignore those authentic documents. How ironic and painful it is to read in today's (9/1/2009) NY Times, the seventieth anniversary of WWII outbreak, that Hamas leader, Yunis al-Astal had said "Adding the Holocaust to the curriculum would amount to marketing a lie and spreading it."
I am grateful to Richard Evans for his extensive research to share it with me as well as contemporary and future generations. Evans graphic description of the atrocities committed against defenseless civilians from numerous nations, besides the Jews, once more corroborates that every Jew was a victim but not every victim was a Jew. Racial prejudice is contagious. As a Jew, the Nazis categorized me as subhuman, (untermentch) so were all Slavs, denizens of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia and other European countries. Almost all Rabbis in Europe were annihilated. Many Priest and Pastors were persecuted and some murdered. Hitler's dogma was that "Christianity was a drug, a kind of disease." Evan is proving that Hitler was a fanatic anti-Semite but also a rabid anti-Christian. Hitler's war of conquest and the imposition of a pernicious regime would not have stopped in Europe if the Allies had not won the war.
Alter Wiener, author From A Name to A Number A Holocaust Survivor's Autobiography
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2009
While this book treads along familiar ground, it is the logical sequel to the two books that have provided a readable compendium of insights not readily available to most of us.
We glean insights from ordinary German soldiers and civilians and come to some sort of understanding of the attitudes and thought processes that sustained the war effort in the face of overwhelming odds.
The only aspect I wish Evans had covered more thoroughly is how Hitler was able to so totally co-opt the generals who knew all along what folly this undertaking was. Indeed, that is why the "Hitler publishing industry" continues to thrive all these years - how this flatulent psychotic, so totally unimpressive in hindsight, could impose his will so effectively and tragically.
Again, I only recommend this book to those who have read the first two. By itself, there is little new. But if you wish to have a good insight on the whole appalling set of circumstances, this book with the others will not disappoint
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
This is the final and best volume of Evans' trilogy on the Third Reich. This volume must have been particularly difficult to write because of the complexity and breadth of the events described. The relevant military and diplomatic history of WWII, the Holocaust, the social history of the Reich, and the experience of occupation are only some of the topics addressed. Evans does a particularly good job of balancing narrative and analysis. The literature on the Third Reich is enormous and Evans does very well in his attempt to produce a comprehensive analysis. I suspect that some readers will find the coverage of the war per se a bit disappointing because there is less detail about the military history of WWII. This is, however, a history of the Third Reich, not the war, and Evans' narrative is adequate in this respect.
Important themes running through this volume, and indeed continuing from the prior volumes, are the importance of Nazi ideology, the chaotic nature (polyocracy) of the Nazi state, the primacy of Hitler, the penetration of the Party throughout German society, the severe economic limitations faced by the Nazi war machine, the radicalizing effects of initial wartime success, and the devastating effects of the war throughout Europe, though especially in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. As good as this book is, and it is very, very good, it is particularly impressive in the context of Evans' prior volumes. The quality of writing and scholarship is sustained at a high level in all 3 books. Knowledgeable readers will be familiar with many of the individual themes and topic covered by Evans but the integration and balance of many complicated subjects is outstanding. The thematic continuity and consistently thoughtful analysis across all volumes make this series more than a merely excellent survey.
30 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on March 19, 2009
This magnificent book completes Evans' trilogy on the Third Reich. It covers all aspects of the war including the home front: morale, the role of women, the effect of the bombing, food, wages and conditions. He also examines the roles of the air force, navy and army, and gives us shrewd portraits of the leading personalities in the Nazi state.
Nazi ideology blamed the Jews for all ills, including the Second World War itself, and saw communism and socialism as essentially Jewish. Hitler created a genocidal mentality and justified a genocidal policy.
The Nazis committed countless atrocities. They killed thousands of handicapped children. They killed as many Gypsies as they could. They deported Jews from all the countries they occupied to death camps like Auschwitz. They murdered six million Jews and four million Soviet prisoners of war. The war they started killed 50 million people.
Evans nails the lie that Nazism was in some sense socialist; he shows how "Germany was still a capitalist economy, dominated by private enterprise." Hitler's policies were not `autarchic', which means `self-sufficiency as an economic system'. Nazism was not contained in one country but expansionist, predatory and aggressive. It never relied on its own national resources but on stealing other people's equipment and materials. Nazi Germany extracted more than 30% of the wartime national production in the occupied countries of Western Europe.
Nazi Germany "invaded Russia, unprovoked, and caused an almost unimaginable degree of death, suffering and destruction." But Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union caused his downfall.
The battle of Stalingrad was the decisive turning-point of the whole war. As Evans writes, "What happened on the Soviet Front dwarfed anything seen in France, Denmark, Norway or the Low Countries. From 22 June 1941 onwards, at least two-thirds of the German armed forces were always engaged on the Eastern Front. More people fought and died on and behind the Eastern Front than in all the other theatres of war in 1939-45 put together, including the Far East... It was in the end on the Eastern Front, more than any other, that the fortunes of war were decided."
18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2009
Dr. Richard J. Evans of Cambridge has just published this new book on the Third Reich at War. it is the sequel to his two earlier books: The Cominig of the Third Reich and The Third Reich in Power. Those two grim volumes make palpable the horror of Nazism's rise in post-World War I Weimar Germant. They also portray the ruthless godless government led by Hitler which built Germnay into a power prior to the invasion of Poland on September 1
1939. The attack on Poland launched World War II resulting in over 50 million worldwide deaths.
In this final volume of the distinguished series Dr Evans paints in lurid detail the horrors of the Nazi machine during the most murderous war in human history. During its macabre course the Nazis murdered over six million Jews and millions of other enemies in such extermination camps as Aushwitcz, Buchenwald, Treblinka, Sobibor and auxilliary camps. The brutality and murders recounted by Evans will make you sick at your soul's core. Never was man's inhumanity to man seen on such a vast, mechanized and brutal way. It is incomprehensible to those of us who have lived in Western culture and democracy all of our lives.
Evans not only covers the holocaust but also deals with key turning points leading to the ignomy of Nazi defeat. Such turning points include:
1. The failure of Germany to defeat England in the Battle of Britain in 1940.
2. The war against the Soviet Union ended in total Nazi defeat at Stalingrad as over 1.8 million German troops died, were taken prisoner in Soviet gulags or were wounded. At least 11 million Russian soldiers and millions of civilians were killed by the Germans. This war began on June 22, 1941 and ended with the capture of Berlin by the Red Army in the spring of 1945. The clash between the two brutal dictatorships of Hitler and Stalin was a fight to a death between two totalitarian regimes which had no compunctions about killing their own citizens to say nothing of their hated enemies.
3. The Germans were unable to withstand the production capacity and weaponry of the United States, the British Empire and the Soviet Union.
4. Major defeats for Germany include D-Day on June 6, 1944, the Battle of the Bulge and their defeat on the open seas.
5. The German Air Force and Navy had dismal records in competition with the democracies and the Soviet Union's advanced weaponry.
What makes the book so sad is that Evans not only recounts the terrible death tolls but his text is replete with stories and eyewitness accounts by many participants from generals to the man or woman on the street. He also examines what was the fate of each nation's Jews in captured Europe, how the civilian population dealt with Nazi rule, culture during the period and the development of weaponry. We also have good sketches of such odious henchmen of Hilter as Goebbels, Himmler, Goering and Hans Frank. It revolts one to read of such repulsive excuses for human beings.
This great and essential book on Nazi Germany can be read with profit on its on but better yet as the third installment of the story told by Evans in this and his other two classic works. Along with Ian Kershaw's two volume biography of Hitler is is a good place to begin a study of World War II in Europe. Even someone like the reviewer who has read about the war for many years came away shocked, awed, maddened and saddened by what these many pages revealed about a tragic era of death, blood, prejuidce and suffering.
The book is well illustrated with period photographs, maps and an extensive bibliography including many primary sources. Evans has done a brilliant work of scholarship in this magisterial work on a gruesome time. It is not pleasant reading but should be read as a warning of the need for vigilance against dictatorship, militarism and the worship of dictators who lead their people over the brink into chaos and death. An essential book on the World War II shelf! Richard J. Evans is my favorite author on this period. We are thankful for his years of research and writing to produce this classic sine qua non of Nazi era scholarship!