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Literature / The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich

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The big book on Nazi Germany.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany is a history book on Nazi Germany by journalist William L. Shirer, published in 1960.

Shirer lived in Nazi Germany for a few years before wisely getting the hell out of dodge when things started getting nasty for him, but what he saw (and sometimes was forced to participate in) colored his views on Germany before, during, and after Hitler's rule. After the end of World War II resulted in a flood of secret German documents becoming accessible to the public, and with his memories of his own time in Germany still fresh in his mind, Shirer dedicated a huge amount of time to writing about the Third Reich.

This book is the result of years of extensive research, and yet despite this, Shirer himself bluntly states early on that he is a journalist, not a historian, and thus everything he says must not be seen as absolute fact. He also warns that his personal biases may color his perception of the facts. A number of the book's claims have, as Shirer predicted, been debunked over the years, and historians as a whole are not particularly impressed with it. However, even they tend to find it a pleasant read, and many have argued that it is a good place to get general information on Nazi Germany for those who are interested.


This book contains examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming:
    • Nazi judge Roland Freisler is mistakenly called "Ronald Freisler" in the section describing the Nazis' brutal revenge campaign following the July 20 plot. What makes this particularly unusual is that Shirer got the name right every other time he said it.
    • In the audiobook, Grover Gardner pronounces "Ribbentrop" with a strong "O" (like "trope") at the end, when the correct pronunciation uses a weak "O" (like "trop").
  • Adapted Out:
    • Goebbels' "Total War" speech following the defeat at Stalingrad is never mentioned.
    • Josef Mengele makes no appearance.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Discussed. Shirer makes the highly contentious argument that the German people consider, in his words, "blind obedience to temporal rulers the highest virtue of Germanic man and put a premium on servility." This was a variant on the Sonderweg theory prevalent at the time, attempting to explain Hitler's rise as the natural outcome of German history and culture. Needless to say, this interpretation was already highly contentious at the time the book came out and is almost universally discredited today. That said, Shirer does devote considerable space to the German Resistance and notes that during his own time in Germany, he met a lot of ordinary Germans who privately disliked Hitler's regime, however they might have acted in public.
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  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Deconstructed. When Franklin D. Roosevelt dies, Hitler and his top stooges celebrate, thinking that the Western Allies will abandon their coalition with the Soviet Union and make an alliance with Germany to destroy communism. Nothing of the sort happens.
  • Ascended Extra: Hans Fritzsche is portrayed as this at the Nuremberg Trials. In fact, according to Shirer, he's such an extra that the judges can't think of anything to adequately convict him for and they, as a result, declare him "not guilty" and cut him loose.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador:
    • Joachim von Ribbentrop is a terrible diplomat. In fact, Hermann Goering's disparaging comment about his (lack of) diplomacy skills provides the page quote.
    • Downplayed with Italian Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano whom, while not a great diplomat, is still a lot more down-to-earth than the Nazis, and even his own boss.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Franz von Papen, the conservative politician who convinces Paul von Hindenburg to form a government with Hitler as Chancellor and himself as Vice Chancellor, thinking he'll be able to control the Nazis. Instead, von Papen is marginalized within Hitler's cabinet, narrowly escapes assassination during the Night of the Long Knives and spends the rest of the Third Reich exiled to diplomatic posts.
  • Big Fancy House: The Berghof, Hitler's Alpine villa on the Obersalzberg.
  • Break the Haughty: At the Nuremberg Trials, the 21 defendants are described as having gone through quite an ego-shattering metamorphosis.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Hitler's schoolteachers all said that he had a lot of potential, but his mother's incessant spoiling made him unfathomably lazy and egotistical, to the point of adamantly refusing to learn a trade even when he had no money, instead opting to leech off his relatives until they got fed up and told him to get off his ass and find a job. As a dictator, Hitler preferred to lounge about at his villa in the Oberzalsberg and hated affairs of state.
  • Dated History: Has its own page.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Whenever Shirer quotes a passage made by Hitler or his cronies that is filled with utter nonsense, he starts the subsequent paragraph with a sarcastic question or declaration before proceeding to debunk everything that was just said.
  • Depraved Homosexual: How Shirer portrays Ernst Röhm, noting that Röhm abused his position to procure male lovers.
  • Dirty Communists: Stalin and his top cronies aren't going to end up on Santa's "nice" list anytime soon. Averted regarding the Soviet generals and soldiers, whose tenacity and valor are hailed as being greater factors in the Soviet victories than the brutal Russian winter and their overwhelming numbers.
  • Dirty Coward:
    • Even when it's clear that the war is lost, Hitler and his lackeys force the German people to keep fighting because they know they can't expect any undeserved mercy from the Allies.
    • Shirer regards the German military, particularly the officer caste, as this following the 20 July Plot. He ruthlessly pours scorn upon them for throwing the conspirators under the bus while simultaneously groveling before Hitler, even though they knew that the war was lost and that Hitler's continued existence would lead to the destruction of Germany and foreign occupation for God knows how long.
  • End of an Era: Shirer believes that Hitler will be the last "great conqueror" and World War II the last "great war", as modern weaponry can reduce countries to ashes without any actual fighting.
  • Epic Fail: The Nazis' initial attempts to dominate German culture and media go rather poorly due to their (especially Hitler's) lack of taste. To wit:
    • The movies they produce are so bad that Wilhelm Frick, Reichminister of the Interior, issues a law threatening harsh reprisals towards anyone who starts booing at the film. The populace responds by going to see American B-movies.
    • Goebbels opens two art galleries, one being a grandiose building filled with stuff Hitler likes, but everyone else thinks is junk; and the other being a ramshackle gallery filled with fantastic pieces of modern art. He specifically designed the latter to showcase what Hitler was "protecting the German people from", but the German people prefer the run-down gallery so much that Goebbels eventually closes it out of anger and embarrassment.
    • Nazi-controlled newspapers are initially used to line the bottom of bird cages because the content is so boring, and radio broadcasts are ignored in favor of listening to music. At least initially: Goebbels does manage to use the radio as an effective weapon of pro-Nazi propaganda, eventually.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Deconstructed. On one hand, Hitler did love his mother and was devastated by her death; but on the other, he still refused to support her and his siblings by getting a job after his father's death made him the man of the house, preferring instead to waste time and money on his passion for art.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: As the Allies rampage through Germany, Hitler and his top cronies convince themselves that Britain and the United States would prefer to make an alliance with Germany in order to prevent the Soviet Union from gaining more territory. To their bewilderment, the Western powers don't consider the Third Reich to be the lesser evil to anyone.
  • Fantastic Racism: No surprise there, what with the whole Master Race nonsense.
  • General Ripper: Hitler hates the idea of retreat under any circumstances, and right up to the end insists that his troops fight "to the last man and the last bullet." He also constantly preaches endsieg ("final victory"), and it's not until the Soviets are less than a block away from his position that he finally realizes there is no hope of winning the war.
  • The Good King: Haakon VII of Norway. Shirer heaps praise upon the king for his democratic mentalitynote  and refusal to be intimidated by Hitler's bullying.
  • Ironic Nickname:
    • Hitler is referred to as "the Supreme Warlord" whenever he makes a stupid military decision.
    • "Der Treue"("The Loyal") Heinrich Himmler tries to take power in the closing days of the war, thinking the Western Allies will make an alliance with Germany to fight the Soviet Union.
    • The Third Reich itself is often referred to as the "Thousand-Year Reich". It lasts only 12 years, 4 months, and 8 days.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Shirer argues that, while Hitler's father may not have been nice about it, he was right to condemn his son's laziness and lack of a proper work ethic.
  • Kill 'Em All: Hitler tries to do this to all "inferior races", a list that eventually includes the German people themselves for "failing" him. In the latter case, several of his top cronies refuse to do his bidding.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: Mussolini sees the writing on the wall almost immediately and repeatedly tries to convince Hitler to negotiate with the Allies, but Hitler always refuses and bullies Mussolini into sticking with him.
  • La Résistance: The book devotes a fair amount of space to the German Resistance and the various coup and assassination plots against Hitler. Shirer shows mixed feelings about them: he doesn't deny Resistance leaders' sincerity or courage, but criticizes them (particularly Germany's military leadership) for not doing more to oppose Hitler earlier, when they stood a greater chance of success.
  • Moral Myopia: The Nazis commit all sorts of atrocities, and yet they labor under the childish delusion that no one would do the same thing to them. When reality smacks them in the face, they throw a tantrum.
    • Germany as a whole suffers this, as it spent the entirety of its existence up to the end of the war wreaking havoc on the continent and forcing punitive treaties on defeated enemies; and yet they had the gall to throw a tantrum over the Versailles Treaty (which was actually quite lenient compared to treaties they liked to enforce on others).
  • Meaningful Name: While Hitler is obviously the central character of the book, Shirer argues that every horrible thing that happened was not just his doing—the German people willfully went along with everything he did, even at times when they didn't have to and shouldn't have.
  • Never My Fault: Hitler's constant mindset. Shirer also argues that Germany's hostility towards the Treaty of Versailles is this, believing that they were throwing a tantrum over a peace treaty that really wasn't all that harsh.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: Hitler's personal physician, a quack doctor named Theodor Morell, keeps pumping his master with increasingly addictive drugs, ensuring that Hitler's behavior and, more importantly, his decision-making are erratic and ridiculous.
  • Only Sane Man: Albert Speer is depicted as such.
  • Professional Butt-Kisser: Hitler's top lackeys tend to focus less on doing their jobs (which they, for the most part, suck at anyway) than on sucking up to him.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Hitler is quick to throw a tantrum when things don't go his way.
  • Purple Prose: Mein Kampf is described as being so dry and boring that, according to interviews Shirer conducted, even staunch Nazis had a hard time reading it. He even declares that some people would buy a copy out of loyalty, but would never bother to pick it up. Getting through it himself was no easy task, and yet he forced himself to read it multiple times.
  • The Quisling: The Trope Namer himself appears, naturally, along with the Austrian Arthur Seyss-Inquart. Ironically, the latter came first, and yet is referred to as "the Austrian Quisling".
  • Satellite Love Interest: Eva Braun is described as "interesting for her role in this narrative, but not interesting in and of herself."
  • Shocking Defeat Legacy: The battle of Stalingrad is where the tide of Nazi victories comes to a screeching halt, and from then on, things all go downhill for the Third Reich.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: The Nazis in general, and Hitler in particular, believe that a woman's place is at home, being a housewife and producing healthy children (preferably strong, healthy boys). Hitler believes this so strongly that, when he plucks skilled factory workers from their jobs to fight on the rapidly disintegrating fronts and Albert Speer argues that woman should work in the factories to keep the production going, he throws a tantrum and refuses.
  • Smug Snake:
    • Hitler fancies himself as a flawless genius, perhaps even something like a god. He's nothing of the sort.
    • Joachim von Ribbentrop. Whenever he appears in the narrative, Shirer always makes sure to emphasize what a pompous idiot he is.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Shirer spends a lot of the book citing the memoirs or trial testimony of various Nazi officials while also noting that they weren't exactly reliable in their recollections. He's particularly critical of Franz von Papen, who tried distancing himself from the Nazis despite arranging Hitler's appointment to the chancellorship; and Hjalmar Schacht, who played a peripheral role in the German economy in the early days of the Third Reich until he was replaced by Walther Funk.
  • Villain Ball: When Germany invades the Soviet Union, a number of its westernmost provinces throw their doors open for the invaders and welcome them as liberators because they're sick of Stalin's rule. A number of the more pragmatic Nazis suggest playing along with this notion in order to get more manpower and, hopefully, cause the Soviet government to implode; but the top Nazis in general, and Hitler in particular, are so fanatically anti-Soviet that they refuse to even pretend to do this and try to exterminate the Soviet people down to the last child, motivating them to stick with Stalin and fight to the death.
  • Villainous Breakdown: As the war turns badly for Germany, Hitler becomes increasingly unhinged and begins going on long-winded rants, culminating with "the greatest rage of his life" on 22 April 1945 after being told that a counterattack he ordered to take place on the previous day could not be carried out. You know the one.
  • Yes-Man: Hitler, being a Control Freak who Can't Take Criticism, surrounds himself with these, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel being the most infamous.
  • You Have Failed Me: When it becomes clear that Germany is going to lose the war, Hitler feels that the German people are "no longer worthy of his greatness" and hopes that they will all die for not being able to conquer the world for him. He even issues a decree ordering the complete destruction of the nation's infrastructure, though fortunately, Albert Speer sabotages it.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Hitler tended to do this to underlings. If you incurred the Fuhrer's disfavor, you were lucky to be fired (like Werner von Blomberg or Hjalmar Schacht) or Reassigned to Antarctica (Franz von Papen). Being imprisoned or even murdered, like Ernst Röhm (whose SA became an embarrassment to Hitler upon taking power) or Gregor Strasser (Hitler's biggest rival within the Nazi Party), was not uncommon.

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