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The Third Reich: A New History
ISBN 080909326X / 9780809093267 / 0-8090-9326-X
Publisher Farrar Straus & Giroux
List price $19.00
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Humans have a fascination with evil. We long to identify it, quantify it, and understand it. To this end, newspapers frequently splash photographs of murderers with the caption "The face of evil." Heading most lists of the 20th century's most evil people would be Adolf Hitler, but, as Michael Burleigh's tour de force makes clear, evil is not always as cut-and-dried as we would like. The Nazis could not have come to power and committed Germany to a policy of war and genocide without the tacit consent of the German people. This makes Germany as a whole responsible for the crimes committed in its name, but it is clearly wrong to label every German as evil. Through his painstaking research and direct prose, Burleigh slowly builds up a picture of a people desperate for identity and economic prosperity, who, bit by bit, closed off their conscience as the price of their dreams. There was no one cathartic moment when Germany, under the Third Reich, lapsed from goodness into badness; rather, there was an incremental realignment of a collective morality. Burleigh's explanation of this phenomenon is so simple, yet so obviously right, that you can only wonder that it didn't become the generally accepted currency years ago.
Instead of viewing Nazi Germany in purely social, political, and economic terms--though he doesn't ignore these spheres--Burleigh wraps them all into a picture of a country gripped in a religious, messianic fervor, and that which had previously felt inexplicable suddenly seems clear. If you want the nitty-gritty details of the Second World War and the genocide, they are here, retold as well as, if not better than, many of the other histories of this period. But it's Burleigh's take on the people of Germany that makes this book so special. Above all, with similar genocidal wars currently being fought in Kosovo, Rwanda, and Iraq, it makes you think, "Would I be able to resist becoming complicit in such regimes?" This is a must for every 20th-century historian. --John Crace, Amazon.co.uk [via]