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The Third Reich in Power Paperback – September 26, 2006
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Over the course of the book, Evans shows how everything Hitler did in this period was designed to prepare the nation for a war--"a life and death struggle"--whose aim was less geographical conquest than racial purity. Hitler's main objective was "to remould the minds, spirits and bodies of the German people to make them capable and worthy of the role of the new master-race that awaited them." Though Hitler did not work alone, Evans makes it clear that he was the overwhelming driving force behind it all, including policies regarding education, eugenics, and foreign affairs. Well written and logically organized, The Third Reich in Power is an impressive work of meticulous, readable history. --Shawn Carkonen --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top Customer Reviews
The period covered by this book, Volume 2, is also self-contained: defined by the period after the Nazis seized power but before the arrival of war swept away most other considerations. Of the three, I think this is the period that is the least well-covered...perhaps in many ways it is the least dramatic. Most histories tend to be divided up more into "before the war" and "the war" with the bulk of the first part covering the rise of the Nazis and treating their time in power as merely prelude to the war itself.
Evans covers the usual topics from this period with suitable detail and emphasis: the persecution of the Jews, the night of long knives and destruction of the SA, the union with Austria and the final stages of the pre-war period in the confrontations with and over Czechoslovakia and Poland. But these topics have been covered elsewhere. For example Donald Cameron Watt's "How War Came" covers the Czech and Polish situations in a more traditional way, as diplomatic history from the points of views of all the players (and arguably in a more readable fashion). Evans in contrast writes from a very German-centric view, which is a nice departure from the norm (at least of books available in English) but can occasionally leave one with a lack of perspective.
What sets "The Third Reich in Power" apart from previous works is the detailed attention to the social and economic consequences of Nazi policies on German life: from religion (the Nazis tried to establish their own form of Christianity, even proposing dropping the Old Testament from the canon), to education (at all levels, Evans goes into depth on the Nazi Youth, the University system, the various education initiatives), to population policy, to women's rights, to industry and the relationship between business and the Nazi party. The word that comes to mind over and over is "detail". This book is enormously detailed.
If there is controversy about this work, it will center around the author's stance toward whether the German people supported the actions of the Nazis or not, in particular as regards to anti-semitism. Evans clearly does not subscribe to the "German people as first victims of Hitler" theory, but I think he has drawn back from the "German people fully cooperated with the Nazis" thesis that has received so much attention the past decade or so. He never comes down strongly on one side or the other, and at times even seems to contradict himself. This is probably inevitable in a work of this depth, as these situations are complex and he presents much contradictory evidence: people who supported the Nazis in some areas or at some times and fought them or ignored them at others. But it does not make for as exciting writing as some of the more opinionated works.
In the end, it is the amount of detail that will make this book indispensible, but may be a barrier to its readability. I'm not qualified to rate the book on its historiography, but I would certainly give it 5 stars on the amount of data and research presented. However, for the non-professional it may become overwhelming. Your own tolerance for dry detail (I would classify the book as "engaging academic" or "dry popular") should determine if you want to read this book.
First, Evans demonstrates that the German people were extremely ambivalent about the Nazi regime. On the one hand, most Germans genuinely idolized Hitler. On the other hand, they were deeply distrustful of his underlings, and of many things the government was doing to the economy and to national welfare. The picture that emerges is of a people disturbed by the quotidien aspects of Nazi rule -- censorship, police surveillance, low wage rates, labor restrictions, etc. -- but sufficiently sympathetic with the broader aims of the regime to make tolerance for the disagreeable aspects possible. The picture of the German people which emerges is rather unflattering: it was distrustful of the disorder occasioned by the regime's extreme anti-semitism, but disliked Jews and was more than happy to profit from their suppression. It was suspicious of militarism and the march toward war, but happy about the economic recovery rearmament enabled (as long was the eventual war was fought by somebody else). It was unhappy about the restrictions on art, culture and education, but shared the prejudices against modernist tendencies and agaisnt the educated elite which caused most people to shed few tears when the Nazis systematically dismantled Germany's high culture. Above all, Evans paints a picture of a people very queasy about what was happening, but unwilling to do much to save anybody else from the clutches of the Nazis. The Germans were not so much Hitler's willing executioners as Htiler's self-absorbed bystanders.
Second, Evans attempts to paint a picture of the Nazi regime as an attempt to completely mobilize and structure the way society thought and behaved. Evans emphasizes the role of terror and coercion, implicitly disagreeing with other historians who emphasize the small size of the Nazi policing appartus when compared with, e.g., the Soviet Union. He also focuses on something which has received relatively little attention -- the "dumming down" of German society. While Evans notes that the Nazi efforts to change the nature of the German educational system -- particularly its system of higher education -- met with mixed results, his claim that the quallity of the product of that system had dropped considerably by 1939 is compelling. One wonders how the Germans managed to be as successful in World War II as they were; it probably did as well as it did principally to the extent that its efforts to totally transform society were unsuccessful.
Finally, Evans confronts and sheds light on a very important issue. Nazi "philosophy" was, in important way, incoherent. It idealized men who were at once, aggressive, bullying, Darwinian, anti-intellectual, athletic, competitive and warlike, while at the same time obedient, self-sacrificing, other-directed, altruistic, idealistic and dedicated completely to the common "good" (as defined by the Nazis). It is very difficult to create a docile thug. The Nazis were as successful as they were in this endeavor by separating the thugs (who were allowed to do just about anything, as long as they did not threaten the regime) from the sheep (who, if obdient -- and Aryan-- were largley immune from thuggery by a sort of protection racket).
Evans paints a compelling picture of a society whose contradictions were bound to result in fatal instabilities in the absence of an every-victorious state of war. It is also a picture of a regime whose very commitment to physical and intellectual brutality would eventually make it impossible to quit while it was ahead.
The detailed story of how the Nazi leaders of the Third Reich transformed Germany between their assumption of power in 1933 and the outbreak of World War II in 1939 is compelling reading of the highest standard. During that period, the Nazis by decree imposed their political, economic and racial agendas on virtually every aspect of German society--literature, art, music, education, broadcasting, retail sales, land ownership, architecture, banking, recreation, law enforcement, etc. The Nazi's programs affected the everyday lives of EVERY German citizen to a greater or lesser degree.
Mr. Evans' readable, matter-of-fact style, and his reliance on supporting data and statistics from the historical record, make "The Third Reich in Power" perhaps the most valuable work yet written on the subject. While its 700+ pages may at first seem daunting, it is well worth the effort to read. You will definitely come away from the experience with a better understanding of how prejudice, inflexibility, demagoguery and unrestrained nationalism inexorably led to World War II, and of the threat that such attitudes continue to pose to the world today. I give it the highest possible recommendation.