Publisher description: From one of the world's most distinguished historians, a magisterial new reckoning with Hitler's rise to power and the collapse of civilization in Nazi Germany. In 1900 Germany was the most progressive and dynamic nation in Europe, the only country whose rapid technological and social growth and change challenged that of the United States. Its political culture was less authoritarian than Russia's and less anti-Semitic than France's; representative institutions were thriving, and competing political parties and elections were a central part of life. How then can we explain the fact that in little more than a generation this stable modern country would be in the hands of a violent, racist, extremist political movement that would lead it and all of Europe into utter moral, physical, and cultural ruin? There is no story in twentieth-century history more important to understand, and Richard Evans has written the definitive account for our time. A masterful synthesis of a vast body of scholarly work integrated with important new research and interpretations, Evans's history restores drama and contingency to the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazis, even as he shows how ready Germany was by the early 1930s for such a takeover to occur. With many people angry and embittered by military defeat and economic ruin; a state undermined by a civil service, an army, and a law enforcement system deeply alienated from the democratic order introduced in 1918; beset by the growing extremism of voters prey to panic about the increasing popularity of communism; home to a tiny but quite successful Jewish community subject to widespread suspicion and resentment, Germany proved to be fertile ground in which Nazism's ideology of hatred could take root. The first book of what will ultimately be a complete three-volume history of Nazi Germany, The Coming of the Third Reich is a masterwork of the historian's art and the book by which all others on this subject will be judged.
Evans suggests that, aside from the consumption of World War II historical as pulp with no properly historical academic value, accounts of it are often riddled with the subjective moralizing of its authors. For Evans, this tends to get in the way of the proper obeisance to history that all historians should pay. In a way, he also wrote the book for the mind-bogglingly stupid “historian” David Irving who claimed during a trial for libel (that he lost) that there was “no general history of Nazi Germany” he [Irving] could recommend - which is of course not to say that a book of clear-minded history has ever disabused a mindless ideologue of his willful abuse of history and disgraceful rape of the public record.
The scope of the book is gigantic, covering pre-Weimar Germany through the beginning of 1933, so it covers approximately fifteen years of German history – culture, art, politics and political opinions and society. In the introductory chapter, Evans attempts to trace certain trends back to the end of the nineteenth century. While it two generations of history doesn’t sound like a tremendous amount, it makes for awfully portentous reading especially when that history, despite the avidity of the historians trying forever anew to revisit it, seems raw and fresh. In tackling so much, however, Evans does a uniquely good job in abbreviating the national “German character” of the time – if such a thing can be imagined divorced from the Nazis’ sense of the term.
While this volume does not cover the gas chambers or the labor camps that the Nazis built, it does show the careful way in which they destroyed the few legal protections that the Weimar Republic had put in place for all citizens. They then used their combined power of both the police state and their mass media/propaganda machine to destroy long-time political friendships and bonds. Over time, social life in the public sphere consisted of fewer and fewer activities that we not explicitly affiliated with the National Socialist Party. Evans also covers the complicated history of the Church’s role (Protestant and Catholic) in sharing Nazi sympathies.
It would be easy for a book like this to turn into simply a critical biography of Hitler’s rise to power, but to its credit it is so much more than that. It presents, in a word, a “zeitgeist” – not necessarily the only one that could have built up to World War II, but one that allowed history to run the course that it did. Is there a lot of new unearthed information here? No. Is it particularly brilliantly written or historically insightful? I didn’t find it to be either. In fact, it highly resembles many other histories of the time period in subject matter, form, and tone. This doesn’t, however, I think detract from its value as an authoritative, exhaustive historical account by an established scholar with impeccable credentials who has made it his job to fight against the ideological bigotry and hatred of willed historical blindness that can be the only causes of Holocaust denial.
The book begins with a discussion of the unification of Germany in 1871. This was brought about by Bismarck whose conservative nationalism set the tone for German politics for years to come. The author shows how these ideas served as the foundation for the Third Reich.
The humiliation of the German defeat in World War I was an important factor in the rise of the Nazis to power. I have always thought it was significant that when Germany signed the armistice in 1918 there were no foreign troops on German soil. The German people never felt that they had been defeated and the myth of the "November criminals" and the "stab in the back" crippled the legitimacy of the Wiemar Republic from it's beginning.
Beginning with the Spartacist uprising in 1919 Germany experienced a series of crises until the end of the Wiemar Republic in 1933. In 1923 French and Belgian troops occupied the leading industrial district because Germany had fallen behind on reparation payments. The inflation that began mildly in 1918 became hyperinflation by 1923. The price of a rail ticket could go up while you stood in line. The Great Depression devastated the German economy. The growth of the German economy had been based on borrowing and when there was no money to borrow the economy collapsed.
Beginning in the early 1920's the Nazis had a simple message. Down with the Wiemar Republic, overthrow the Versailles Treaty, make Germany strong again. The Nazis opposed the Communist Party who gained strength in Germany from the ranks of the poor. Beginning in 1930 the country was in constant crisis. The governments of the Republic ruled by Presidential decree further weakening the process of democratic government.
The last third of the book is a detailed narrative of how the Nazis came to power. In the elections of 1930 and 1932 extremist parties, Communists and Nazis gained seats while those in the center lost. All during this time violence increased as the political parties bully boys engaged in pitched battles in the streets. The government was disintegrating and President von Hindenburg, a relic from World War I, allowed his cronies to rule by decree. On January 30, 1933 Franz von Papen persuaded von Hindenburg to form a government with Hitler as Chancellor. The conservative nationalists planned to manipulate Hitler and use the power of the Nazis.
On February 27, 1933 Marinus van der Lubbe a young Dutch construction worker, who was quite insane, set fire to the Reichstag. The Nazis portrayed this as an act of the Communists and Hitler used it to grab for power. Immediately a decree was signed and the stormtroopers and SS took over the streets of Germany. The Communists were outlawed and when the jails became full the first concentration camp at Dachau was created to hold the excess prisoners. One more election without the Communists and on March 23, 1933 an Enabling Act was passed by the Reichstag and Hitler became the dictator of Germany. The Nazis became the sole political power in Germany. As the book ends they are imposing their ideology upon the country.
In his summing up the author shows how the elites in Germany were predisposed to accept the nationalistic ideas of the Nazi Party. The Nazis were a party of protest. From the end of World War I and throughout the period of the Weimar Republic the German people felt humiliated and betrayed. They still sought their "place in the sun" and that is what Hitler and the Nazis promised them.
This was an excellent book. The author told a fascinating story with great skill. He artfully portrayed the tension and suspense of the final days of the Nazi takeover.
This book, the first in a trilogy, covers the period from the unification of Germany and the formation of the second 'Reich' in 1871, to the Nazis full assumption of power and declaration of the 'Third Reich' in 1933. Any investigation into 'why' has to of course look a lot further back than the period after WWI and the manufactured feeling of being 'stabbed in the back' and being hard done by, by the terms imposed upon Germany by Britain and France at Versailles. Why the Germans felt so wounded, so determined to exact revenge and so determined it should never happen again, requires some pretty exceptional vision and scholarship - and Richard J Evans provides it. And then some.
'The Coming Of The Third Reich' covers everything before, after and during the Nazis rise to power. He looks at every level and aspect of German society. Sounds like tough going, eh? It isn't. Despite the book's dry-sounding thoroughness, Richard Evans' style of writing is always open and inviting - the only way I can think of describing it. Reading never feels like a chore. It is presented in a satisfyingly logical manner and interesting details and insights are always just around the corner. The clear, patient and concise style is never tiring and never feels like it's saying 'Academics Only.' Just thinking about how he began researching this and how he managed to hold control of the whole in his mind, is just awe-inspiring. This really is, setting the subject matter aside, an incredible work of art. However you want to look at it.
It isn't going to be a book for everyone. It isn't a book you're going to read in one or two sittings and say 'a real page turner - couldn't put it down.' The range and amount of information is very nearly overwhelming. But stick with it and it will reward you in the end. To use a cliche, it reads rather like watching a car crash. Where you know the outcome. And you know the outcome is bad. But you can't take your eyes off it.
If anyone wants to go deeper, much deeper into the background surrounding and the history behind the Nazi's becoming the dominant party in German government in 1933, then this is the book for them. There is so much here to wonder at, marvel at, puzzle over and understand, that it will surely help make reading of other World War II histories more rewarding.
The second in Richard Evans' series is 'The Third Reich in Power 1933-1939, How The Nazis Won The Hearts And Minds Of A Nation', the third 'The Third Reich at War, How The Nazis Led Germany From Conquest To Disaster.' As this one is so rewarding, it seems churlish not to follow on with the others.
It is impossible to give this anything other than five stars. Though this feels nowhere near enough for such a book.
Evans constructs a clear, persuasive account of the Nazi's rise to power that contextualizes and explains (rather than dismisses) certain misconceptions and displaced emphases of prior histories. It is often alleged that the simplest explanation of a phenomenon is often the correct one, and Evans' telling of the political complexities of the Weimar Republic tends to reinforce the truth of this axiom. Abstract theorizing on the nature of evil gives way to a cold (and profoundly sad) reality: dictatorship and war would likely have occurred even in the absence of Hitler and his Nazi machine. This is not a book about Hitler, or the Weimar Republic, or the culpability of any specific segment of the German population; it is, instead, a panoramic history that touches on a multitude of causal factors in the story of the Third Reich. As a popular history, it's hard not to view it as the best - and perhaps most definitive - overview on the subject. I highly recommend it.
Also, I would like to add that the prior review by gmicksmith is entirely insane (particularly given that, nearly two years later, nothing like what he's predicting panned out) and is, unfortunately, an example of a very common misuse of history (both on the left and the right). What happens is that people take the old adage "history repeats itself" far too literally and, building upon one or a few similarities, they look for the recurrence of a formally equivalent scenario. We don't usually see that at all. History is only cyclical in the sense that historic potentialities can be retrieved: we can take a second look at democracy after Greece and Rome and "do it again" in a sense, but when we found the American Republic, we should not be on the lookout for Julius Caesar himself nor even from someone, say President Obama, who will perform formally equivalent deeds. History isn't the execution of certain programmatic commands on a platform: we're not running the democracy operating system and Hitler, Bush, or Obama aren't all the same application running again under different names.
To say it again in a more traditional form: The study of history hooks you up with a consciousness of how different possibilities can work out: it is a repository of human possibilities. It is *not* a catalog of human actualities.
Indeed, I think this book has numerous examples of the bad use of history I'm bringing out. The mythologization of Bismarck and then the subsequent search for a strong uncompromising leader to "do what he did" detailed by Evans was problematic not only because it worked with a mythologized history but also because it treated history as a catalog of types or programs which can be found and executed in the present in the very same way they were executed in the past: it sees that A B C D happened in the past and it searches for A again in the certainty that B C and D will follow. That kind of certainty only makes sense if A (the historic individual) is treated as a thing which necessitates the series A B C D: sort of like the strong correlation between 'Water hitting boiling point' and 'water boils' or the necessary correlation between 'All As are Bs' 'All Bs are Cs' and 'All As are Cs', but historic individuals are complexes entirely unlike any of these simple examples. We can reason historically, and use historic example, but we don't get anything like the strong correlation of 'water at boiling point & water boiling' or the necessary deduction of the syllogism. Too much is going on in a thing like Hitler to treat him like 'Water reaching the boiling point' never mind to try and superimpose that logic on top of another complex thing like, say, Obama in order to predict similar results. History *does not* do that, sorry, and if there *are* basic laws of history, they don't look like that.
And yet. Here are some parallels to make you nervous: “Voters were not really looking for anything very concrete from the Nazi Party in 1930. They were, instead, protesting against the failure of the Weimar Republic. Many of them, too, particularly in rural areas, small towns, small workshops, culturally conservative families, may have been registering their alienation from the cultural and political modernity for which the Republic stood …. The vagueness of the Nazi programme, its symbolic mixture of old and new, its eclectic, often inconsistent character, to a large extent allowed people to read into it what they wanted to and edit out anything they might have found disturbing.” Also, a timely quote from one of Hitler’s opponents: “Referring to Hitler’s constantly reiterated assurances that he intended to come to power legally, Brüning said: ‘If one declares that, having come to power by legal means, one will then break the bounds of the law, that is not legality.’”
Goebbels, soon after coming to power, told newspapermen attending his first official press conference, “You are to know not only what is happening, but also the government’s view of it and how you can convey that to the people most effectively.” Goebbels also mocked “The stupidity of democracy. It will always remain one of democracy’s best jokes that it provided its deadly enemies with the means by which it was destroyed.” The Nazis opposed academic freedom because, as Heidegger told academics, “this freedom was not genuine, because it is only negative.” It didn’t have anything to do with the mission of following the leader. When the Chairman of the Board of I.G. Farben, the Nobel-winning chemist Carl Bosch, met Hitler in 1933, he complained about the damage that dismissal of Jewish professors did to German science, Hitler told him that “Germany could go on for another hundred years without any physics or chemistry at all” and kicked him out.
This work of history takes on the task, in the author’s words: “to recount the Nazi’s rise to power through a combination of electoral success and massive political violence”. It also sets out to clarify “how the Nazis managed to establish a one-party dictatorship in Germany within a very short space of time, and with seemingly little real resistance from the German people.” In this it does an admirable job.
I, for one, have many times puzzled over the moral and philosophical quandaries presented by the existence and early “success” of the Nazis in 20th century Germany. The Germans that produced Brecht and Kant, Goethe and Hesse, Beethoven and Bach also produced and developed Hitler and the Nazis and Buchenwald and Auschwitz. I’d hoped that a well-written and well-documented history, such as this book, would help me to better understand questions that are, after all, more metaphysical, ontological, and moral--than historical.
But I think that the eternal puzzles posed by any essentially metaphysical or moral question always seem to present “answers” that are so enigmatic, contradictory, and frightening that one is frequently left with a feeling of deep dissatisfaction, fear, and confusion. That, unfortunately, is my problem here.
Richard Evans has indeed produced a formidable work. It is well presented, well documented, and fills a seriously needed gap in modern historical writing. It is not difficult reading; and it clearly places the Nazi’s rise to power in the context of European and World Historical Events of the early twentieth century. It provides an almost step-by-step recounting of each of the events that not only made the Nazi’s rise to power possible, but almost inevitable. Many of my own questions surrounding the facts of importance, such as the Reichstag Fire, are dissected and displayed for “viewing”. This is a service to the historical record that is difficult to overestimate.
And, perhaps, my hope for answers to those metaphysical questions have been confused in my own mind by my hope to better know the chronology of the events as well as facts as they are able to be known. This is a result of a confusion between the metaphysical and the physical.
But the chronology is not the same as the cause. Ontogeny does not really recapitulate phylogeny as expressed in that now discredited theory. In other words one cannot really understand the “cosmic why” of an event by knowing the when of an event. This is why this work is so dissatisfying to me through no flaw in the considerable talents of Richard Evans.
But if a better understanding of the historical record, and the economic tensions of the times, and the historical background of the German peoples’ predispositions, and the pandemic political climate afflicting post-World War One Germany, etc. is your goal—then you can hardly do better than this very admirable work.
But if you want to understand better why we as humans can behave in an organized, barbaric, racist, and criminally political fashion—then maybe God can tell us. But maybe even He (She) doesn’t know.
The Nazi's rise to power and the tactics they used to achieve it contain both similarities and important differences with the situation today. Those are not called out in the book (it was originally published in 2003), but a careful reading will nonetheless provide an important cautionary tale. Highly recommended!
The historical circunstances that precede the Third Reich are examined in this well researched and written book. Richard J. Evans analysed the main factors that caused the end of Weimar Republic and the birth of the Nazi Regime. German political development in the end of XIX and the beginning of the XX century is considered. The fate of the First World War and the consequences experienced by german people are linked with the economic and social environment of the time, in order to explain the progressive advance of such a violent and totalitarian regime. Along the way, the central figures of the Nazi Regime - Hitler, Goebbels, Göring - are caracterized and situated in the events of the time. Combining facts descriptions with narratives, the author gave a good portrait of this pivotal moment in western history.
The maps are useful, and though a little sparse, the material doesn't easily lend itself to a graphics-heavy approach.
But which book to read about the intervening years between WWl and WWll? Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" was clearly the most popular (over 1660 Amazon reviews), but Evans book (200+ reviews) appeared to be favored by critics and students of 20th century world history. One of the most significant criticisms of Shirer seemed to be that he traced origins from Hitler's early years to explain how the third Reich came to be whereas Evans believed that events must be traced back further(Bismarck, 1870s) into German history to explain the German mindset post- WWl. Another reason I did not choose Shirer was that his book concludes with the end of WWll and the scope I was interested in was pre-WWll. Therefore Shirer's book is more than twice the length of Evan's 461 pages.
Evans book is very comprehensive. Much of the emphasis is on the political parties, and their ups and downs. There were many of them and hence coalitions changed constantly. Leadership was weak, elections were frequent. Economic conditions were appalling, unemployment was high, hyperinflation set in and citizens purchased bread, when it was available, with wheelbarrows full on marks; the next day the same loaf of bread might cost twice as much. And the Bolsheviks were attempting to get a foothold in German Government. And so Hitler's Nazi party was able to gain control of the government after a 10 year battle though winning less than 38% of the vote in every election. And Germany was bound to pay reparations to the WWl victors. Hitler as we all know didn't win because he ran a slick campaign. Violence grew more and more each year. Many opponents were beaten to death by stormtroopers. Many were sent to concentration camps, mostly for months at a time although others had long sentences for their political opposition. Many died in the camps, forerunners of the camps of the Holocaust.
The story of course is not just about Hitler's political successes. It covers the economic problems and recovery made by Germany, Germany's focus on nationalism, the origins of eugenics, and of course the steadily increasing portrayal of German Jews as the enemy, an enemy to be driven out of Germany. But not all Jews, at least not right away. Apparently, Hitler was a bit of a pragmatist, and did not want the country to suffer economically with a devastating loss of doctors, bankers and some other professions, at least not immediately. A complex story, told in great detail by Evans. This book ends mid 1933. Evans has two companion books, one on the 3rd Reich in power, and the third at war.
I found it difficult to hold my concentration with this book for very long. Lots and lots of text. At times it felt nothing was left out. There were some charts, but most showed how well political parties did from one election to the next. I would like to have seen more economic data, particularly over the 1920-40 span. I would like to have seen less about political parties #6,7,8,and 9 and more about the economy. Especially how a country who lost a major war and owed millions in reparations, suffered hyperinflation, yet managed to have resources in place to launch another major war 20 years later.