German Propaganda Archive


Interesting Books on Nazi Germany

amazon logoThere are something like 3,000 books listed on on Nazi Germany. This is a list of ones I particularly recommend. In each case, I've usually bought and read the book myself. I keep the list relatively brief. I do not include books that focus on Nazi propaganda, since that is my main interest, and I have another page with books that deal with propaganda.

General History: It takes someone with considerable skills to take on the complex history of Nazi Germany. Here are my two favorites.

Burleigh, Michael. The Third Reich: A New History (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001). This outstanding book brings together a wide range of scholarship on Nazi Germany in one clearly-written volume (even if it does have 992 pages). If you want one good book on the subject, this is it.

Evans, Richard J. The Coming of the Third Reich, The Third Reich in Power, and The Third Reich at War (2003-2009). I'd recommend Michael Burleigh's one volume over Richard Evans three, unless you really want to do a lot of reading. Evans does not have anything particularly new to say, but his triology is the place to go if you want a synthesis of the enormous literature on Nazism. As he puts it: "These three books are addressed in the first place to people who know nothing about the subject, or who know a little and would like to know more. I hope that specialists will find something of interest in them but they are not the primary readership for which the books are intended."

Biographies: We buy books about bad people. There are certainly enough biographies of Nazi potentates to keep the reader busy. I particularly recommend:

Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997). First published in 1969, Speer's autobiography really does provide an inside account of the Third Reich. He knew everybody, and reading his book helps understand the appeal Hitler had, even for intelligent people. The book does have a self-justificatory purpose, and now and again one feels that, in his mind, Speer is thinking: "If only the Führer had followed my advice, we would have won the war." For a dissection of Speer, see the powerful biography by Gitta Sereny, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth (New York: Vintage, 1996), She presents Speer as a "morally extinguished" man —an interesting concept. If you read Speer's book, you should also read Sereny's.

Hitler: Why and how did this strange man transform history and spread destruction? Of the many, many, books that attempt to answer that question, my recommendations are:

Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (Mariner Books, 1998). Hitler's semi-autobiographical book sold 10,000,000 copies in the Third Reich, and is a good way to get a sense of what Hitler thought. The book makes turgid reading, but everything Hitler intended is contained within its pages. This is Ralph Manheim's translation, which is the one to get. There is a recent translation by one Michael Ford, self published and displaying quite curious translations, that should be avoided.

Hitler, Adolf. Hitler's Table Talk (Enigma Books, 2000). Hitler's Mein Kampf is a rather turgid book to read. His table talk, on the other hand, shows him at his ease, talking with his closest associates between 1941 and 1944. It hops all over the place, covering just about every topic. There is some controversy as to its complete reliability, but in general it is a good way to see Hitler's mind at work.

Kershaw, Ian. Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris (New York: Norton, 1999). This is a lot of reading, and it only covers Hitler up to 1936, but it is the best account of Hitler's life you'll find.

Kershaw, Ian. Hitler: 1936-1945: Nemesis (New York: Norton, 2001). The rest of the story. Again, a long book, but one unlikely to be surpassed for a long time.

Spotts, Frederic. Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics (Overlook Press reprint, 2004). This remarkable book takes Hitler seriously in an area critical to his nature: as an artist, or at least someone passionately interested in the arts. Even at the very end of the Third Reich, nothing got Hitler as excited as the arts. Spotts shows how Hitler's art and politics intertwined. It leaves one with a different understanding of Adolf Hitler.

The Holocaust: The literature on this area is huge. Here are two books I particularly recommend:

Browning, Christopher R. Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (New York: Perennial, 1993). This remarkable book follows a group of ordinary Germans, part of a police battalion in the east, who participated in the murder of Jews. What makes this book work is its narrow focus. The Holocaust is a huge subject. This brings it down to the level of normal human beings, who did abnormal and dreadful things.

Browning, Christopher R. The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy, September 1939-March 1942 (Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 2004). This is part of a larger series, not yet completed. If Browning's Ordinary Men looked at the Holocaust close up, this takes the broad view. It considers how Nazi policy changed from "simple" hatred of the Jews to mass murder. This is a long book, one you will want to buy only if you want a lot of detail. Browning, however, brings order to a mass of data in this book, and it's worth the read.

Life in the Third Reich: Nazism enjoyed real popularity with the German public. It wasn't universal, of course, but here are some good books on various aspects of life in the Third Reich that help to explain why Germans supported, or at least accepted, Nazi rule.

Allen, William S. The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town 1922-1945 (New York: Franklin Watts, 1984). Allen lived in the the German town of Northeim while researching his dissertation, which become this book. He interviewed many people, and read the newspapers of the period. He follows ordinary people, some who fell under the Nazi spell, some who didn't. A lot has been written along similar lines since this book first appeared, but it remains my favorite.

Johnson, Eric A. Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans (New York: Basic Books, 2000). Although most Germans didn't live in fear, the Nazi state excelled at making people aware that stepping outside the lines would result in rapid unpleasantness. Johnson's book uses Gestapo and legal records to illuminate life in the Third Reich. Johnson has a new book (co-authored with Karl-Heinz Reuband) titled What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany: An Oral History (New York: Basic Books, 2005). It is based largely on interviews with Germans who lived during the period, both Jews and Gentiles. It's a good book that gives a vivid portrait of individual lives.

Fritzsche, Peter, Life and Death in the Third Reich (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008). This is an excellent book on the appeal of Nazism. Fritzsche examines what was appealing about Nazism, and how people came to terms, in varying degrees, with it.

Kater, Michael. Hitler Youth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004). I think someone will write a better book on the Hitler Youth some day, but this is the latest on the subject, and a good one. Kater looks at the whole range of youth under the Third Reich, including those who tried to stand aside.

Klemperer, Victor. I Will Bear Witness : A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941 ( New York: Modern Library, 1999). Klemperer was a German Jew, saved by his marriage to an "Aryan." Like any good diary, it helps us see history through the experiences of one person. Diaries are harder reading than a coherent book, perhaps, but this is a book worth the effort it takes. The second volume covers the years 1942-1945 (published in 2001). After the war, he chose to stay in East Germany, where he began to see similarities between Nazism and Marxism-Leninism — but he did stay. Those diaries are titled The Lesser Evil: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1945-1959 (Phoenix, 2004). I don't recommend them as highly, but it is interesting to see what became of him. Klemperer first came to my attention with his Language Of The Third Reich: LTI: Lingua Tertii Imperii A Philologist's Notebook (Continuum, 2005), an outstanding study of the language of the Third Reich.

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On an entirely different line, I recommend my colleague Quin Schultze’s book Résumé 101 for anyone looking for a job.

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