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Masters of Death:
Masters of Death is Richard Rhodes's chronological account of the Third Reich's Einsatzgruppen (a hand-picked task force) and its death work--the executions of 1.5 million people, Jews and non-Jews--in Russia and Eastern Europe from 1941 through 1943. Rhodes sees these operations (the victims were, almost exclusively, shot) as a ghastly prelude to the subsequent (and much more written-about) horrors of the death camps. In chilling--and occasionally excessive--detail, Rhodes describes the killings and the reasons behind the Reich's cautious, rather than precipitous, escalation of the same: the military's "concern for German and world opinion"; the need to improve methodology; and finally, the need to "condition" the troops, thereby avoiding "disabling trauma." Rhodes makes good use of firsthand accounts and outlines the effects the larger war (Pearl Harbor; the failure to defeat Britain) had on Hitler's attempted obliteration of European Jewry. His chapters on the nature of evil seem hurried and not particularly fresh. --H. O'Billovich [via]