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The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy Paperback – February 26, 2008
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*Starred Review* Tooze's economic history of the Third Reich is, in a word, monumental. Lately, social and ideological analyses of Hitler's strategic choices have prevailed; in part because of the volume and complexity of available data, even the most economically savvy historians of World War II have generally provided only fragmentary glimpses of the myriad ways in which economics influenced German rearmament and aggression. As Tooze argues, however, the choices made by the Nazi war machine were as economically driven as they were Hitler driven. The author challenges a number of commonly held assumptions, among them the notion that successful rearmament was caused by the Nazi state's job-creation efforts and the idea that Hitler did not intend to start a continental war in attacking Czechoslovakia. Tooze also addresses the relationship between economics and ideology at Auschwitz. The net result, emerging from more than 800 pages of genuinely readable macroeconomic analysis, is an original and comprehensive thesis that couches the strategic choices of the Third Reich firmly within an increasingly American twentieth century. Originally released to broad acclaim in the UK in 2006, Tooze's tome sets a high bar for the historians of the twenty-first century. Brendan Driscoll
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"One of the most important and original books to be published about the Third Reich in the past twenty years. A tour de force."
"Tooze has produced the most striking history of German strategy in the Second World War that we possess. This is an extraordinary achievement, and it places Adam Tooze in a very select company of historians indeed ... Tooze has given us a masterpiece which will be read, and admired; and it will stimulate others for a long time to come."
-Nicholas Stargardt, History Today
"It is among Adam Tooze's many virtues, in "The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy," that he can write about such matters with authority, explaining the technicalities of bombers and battleships. Hovering over his chronicle are two extraordinary questions: how Germany managed to last as long as it did before the collapse of 1945 and why, under Hitler, it thought it could achieve supremacy at all."
-Norman Stone, The Wall Street Journal
"Virtually every page of his book contains something new and thought-provoking, making the whole an impressive achievement, in which original research has been combined with critical scrutiny of a vast literature that seems ripe for such a re-examination."
-Michael Burleigh, The Sunday Times (London)
"A magnificent demonstration of the explanatory power of economic history."
-The Times (London)
"Masterful . . . Tooze has added his name to the roll call of top-class scholars of Nazism."
Top customer reviews
The Wages of Destruction is divided into 20 chapters and has 22 supporting tables and 22 additional figures. The first section covers the German economic recovery after Hitler came to power; Hitler wanted to spend 5—10 percent of Germany’s GDP on rearmament, but the economy was wobbly. Tooze makes interesting points in these opening chapters about how Hitler, Goring and friends coerced German businesses to adapt to their rearmament priorities, including forcing the coal industry to capitalize synthetic fuel production in 1934 and the nationalization of aviation companies like Junkers. Indeed, the ramp-up of aircraft production in Germany from 1934 to 1939 was phenomenal, but also expensive and wasteful. The author’s discussion of the Volkswagen program as a disastrous flop – but which was touted by Hitler as a great success – was also very illuminating about how the Third Reich ran industrial programs.
The book’s second part covers the period 1936-1940. Tooze focuses on three levers that inhibited German rearmament in the lead-up to war: the scarcity of foreign currency (which made it difficult to purchase raw materials overseas), the shortage of critical raw materials such as copper and rubber, and the persistent shortage of skilled labor. These are all good points, but Tooze does not always provide the supporting data to fully evaluate these issues. For example, he mentions copper several times as a key material, but fails to provide data on imports or sources. Thus, I could not figure out how badly Germany was short of copper or how this reduced armaments production. A number of the tables that are provided are not well explained and lack x- and y-labels, which makes it hard to understand a graph with ambiguous number values. Another interesting point that Tooze makes is the Nazi failure to invest in railroad development, which led to persistent transport issues during the war as demand greatly exceeded supply. However, Tooze also has a tendency to offer opinions as fact, such as his claim that, “the task [to dominate the British Isles] was simply beyond Germany’s industrial resources.” While the Luftwaffe clearly made operational and tactical mistakes in the Battle of Britain, the idea that Germany industry could not compete with Britain manno I manno is a bit absurd. Britain was on the winning team because it had the US and USSR as allies, not because of its innate industrial superiority over the Reich. Had Hitler delayed Barbarossa a year and focused on defeating England, the British would have been in real trouble in mid-1941. Another opinion is that Allied Lend Lease “did not begin to affect the balance on the Eastern Front until 1943,” which is highly contentious and offered without supporting evidence.
The third and final section covers 1941-1945. This section is the best in the book and has interesting details about how all the weaknesses in Germany’s economy undermined industrial performance. There is some discussion of specific programs, such as tanks and U-Boats, but the evidence presented is less than conclusive. For example, Tooze does not examine German assembly line practices, which were not very efficient, or the tendency to “over-design” weapons until they were too complex to mass produce. One chapter is focused on Albert Speer and the alleged “miracle” of production in 1943-44, which Tooze dismisses as mostly propaganda. Overall, Tooze’s thesis is that Germany’s economy was not ready to wage a global war and was badly mis-managed, which e does a fairly good job of supporting, even though specifics are sometimes insufficient. The fact that Germany was badly out-produced even by the Soviet Union appears ipso facto to support Tooze’s conclusions. However what Tooze fails to do is to show why – if the Third Reich’s economy was such a mess – that it took its enemies so long to defeat it. Somewhere in here, there is an economist’s over-estimation of the economic levers and an under-estimation of the human factors, which the Third Reich actually did an exceedingly good job of organizing.
I bought this book a few years ago but was hesitant to read it because I was afraid it would be a very boring read...in fact, while maybe not a page-turner, the book is rather interesting and fairly easy to read. The author makes several many very interesting points about the German economy before and during the war. But the book goes beyond economics in describing the author's view of the strategic rationale for the war, and why it unfolded the way it did.
The biggest take-away for me was just how resource-starved the Germany economy was even before the war began--from foreign currency, to steel, to food, to oil, to labor--Germany just didn't have the resources to conduct a sustained war effort. However, because Hitler figured that things would only get worse in the future, he decided the launch the war to grab resources while his enemies were relatively weak.
The author's description of the people involved in the Germany economy--including of course Albert Speer--is also very interesting.
In any event, a highly recommended read for anyone interested in World War II.