Third Reich Historians

I don’t recall exactly how my obsession with the Third Reich started, but I think it was sometime in 2007 after I read Lothar Machtan’s book The Hidden Hitler, which was more about the Fuehrer’s sexuality than anything else. The subject fascinated me for a reason I do not entirely understand. Maybe it was the psychological underpinnings or the motivations behind Hitler’s mass slaughter of humanity.

So I read as much about the Third Reich as I could, just to learn more about it and the psychology behind the whole thing. (If I had not picked English as my college major, I probably would have picked either psychology or history.)

These are the top four authors/historians that I enjoyed the most out of what I’ve read on the subject so far:

William Shirer

Notable Works: Berlin Diary (1941), End of a Berlin Diary (1947), The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), and The Nightmare Years (1984)

I loved Shirer’s work because as an American journalist and war correspondent, he was fairly objective in terms of how he saw the entire National Socialist regime. His commentary is different from anyone else’s that I’ve read. He’d met many of the head Nazis and got to know them firsthand. The two Berlin diaries are extremely insightful and not only portray the cruelty of Hitler and his men, but also portray the difficult life of a foreign correspondent.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is a nonfiction account that I would consider definitive and in-depth, for anyone who wants to learn more. The only reason I would not recommend it is because it was published in 1960 and may be considered “old” and not the most up-to-date research.

Even so, Shirer’s firsthand account is extremely valuable. His writing style is clear and precise.

Daniel Goldhagen

Notable Works: Hitler’s Willing Executioners (1996), and A Moral Reckoning (2002)

Where Shirer’s works are easy to read and written in a relatively simple and emotional language, Goldhagen’s are definitely more “academic” and less friendly to the lay person. Both of his books read like doctoral theses and require concentration. I wouldn’t recommend reading them right before bedtime – they are dense. I would also not recommend them to anyone just starting research on the Third Reich. I’d consult them to verify facts – everything in the books is extremely accurate and Goldhagen puts forth well-evidenced claims.

Goldhagen is the son of a Holocaust survivor and an academic currently teaching at Harvard, which makes his point of view very different from Shirer’s. His works are worth reading for an intelligent and insightful account of how the psychology of Hitler’s regime burned into the minds of the German people and the Catholic Church.

Ian Kershaw

Notable Works: Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris (1998) and Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis (2000)

The two books mentioned constitute a two-volume biography of Hitler; it is the new definitive study, replacing Alan Bullock’s Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1952). Kershaw definitely knows what he’s talking about; his biography represents masterful and meticulous research.

Both volumes are written in an academic language, but it’s nowhere near as dense as Goldhagen’s. Some parts of Kershaw’s books are written almost like a novel, leaving the reader wanting to continue into the next chapter. Both books are extremely long, but they captivate an audience easily. Kershaw uses an excellent and extensive bibliography and his writing is clear and precise. His biography is definitely a starting point to any Third Reich research and it’s where I got my start.

Albert Speer

Notable Works: Spandau: The Secret Diaries (1976) and Inside the Third Reich (1982)

I read these books solely for the point of view of the author; Speer was Hitler’s architect and armaments minister who was known as “the good Nazi”. There is speculation about how much he knew about the Holocaust; both of his autobiographical books above do not include much on it. Speer stood trial at Nuremburg after World War II and was sent to Spandau Prison for 20 years, during which he wrote his books.

Both read well – they’re like novels and they go rather quickly. What is most interesting about the books is how the imprisoned author views the passage of time in prison in relation to what happened in the past with the Third Reich. Both books make great primary sources for research and are good to read for pleasure – Speer writes with insight on the human condition.