I am an avid listener. I listen between 75-100 hours per month on my iPhone: 60% fiction to 40% non-fiction.
Never before had I read a firsthand account, from primary sources, as damning as this book. All of the negative superlatives that one could pen I have not the number of commas in my repertoire to string them together. You get a striking picture of Hitler, who he was, what he did and how he failed. As grotesque as he may be, the intellectual flyweights he surrounded himself with defy understanding. How, intelligent and gifted military leaders allowed themselves to be led into the manifest slaughter of innocent people – well I have no words. Read the book and you too will be speechless.
The book is built on primary reference materials and hence, I confess, unless I had listened to it, I would not have been able to get through it. It is essentially a 50 hour audio documentary. Although I could not listen at my usual three to four hours a day because I was so disturbed and depressed by the subject matter, I had to finish. And, to think, how close Hilter came to winning on at least four occasions makes me breathless about what evil he would have wrought and what the world would have been like today.
Hitler came to power and in twelve short years of rule and conquest - five of them in war - caused over 30 million people to be killed, not mention the number of people forced to kill on his behalf or to fend off those trying to kill them. It is a testament to how a single perverted point of view with power to influence the masses can spin lies and deceit that move ordinary people to be puppets. Looking to today’s world situation, you have to ask yourself whether parallels exist. You must listen to this book! I also highly recommend the Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk which is a true story set with fictional characters. For a Japanese view of history, read Flyboys by James Bradley.
This is must read for a serious historian. Do not expect to find gruesome details; expect to find a documented story that causes you to reconsider history and today’s world.
l'enfer c'est les autres
The book will hit you at a visceral level and be prepared to listen to it beyond your normal listening routine. It's not a history of the war. The war is treated as a background character to the machinations of the political intrigue that transpired.
The book is a series of stories with a narrative that ties them all together. Be prepared to listen to 8 or so hours about a single topic such as the run up to the incursion of Austria or the invasion of Poland. The book is not a set of sound bites but is mostly exhaustive details on the political intrigue surrounding the topic.
Why can't all readers be as good as Grover Gardner?
I had ran out of science books on audible to listen to and had low expectations for this book. My expectations were wrong.
I always buy a long volume with trepidation wondering how many "dry spots" or "dry epochs" will be contained therein. This volume was amazing in that I was fascinated and interested every minute. The story focused on the characters while the overall picture was interwoven in their interactions and lives, particulary Hitler of course. The details added to the interest rather than extend it unnecessarily. This is a book that I will very probably savor again.
I enjoy history and military history and this is probably the best I have read.
Of all the books I have read covering the Nazi era this is simply the best book of its type. Nothing else comes close to its readability and scope, and Shirer's presence in Germany as a reporter at the time allowed him to add many personal observations that add greatly to the authenticity of the book. While the book is now about 50 years old, research since its publication has changed few of its conclusions. It is less academic and detailed than Richard Evans triology of the period, but I found Shirer's book both more complete in its observations and much more readable. The quality of this book is evident from the fact that in all of that time, and with all of the books on the period that have been written, this book has never been out of print.
And though it needs nothing else, Grover Gardiner's flawless reading only makes the book even better. This is easily one of the 10 best books I have ever read from Audible and I recommend it without reservation to anyone with an interest in World War II in Europe.
A word of caution - this is not a dispassionate book. Shirer had definate opinions and those are not hidden. His distain for many of the primary players is clearly evident in his descriptions and that may offend some readers. This is not an academic book (See Richard Evans' Nazi trilogy for a dispassionate academic telling of the period), but no other book comes close to its readability and comprehensiveness. It covers the political events and there is no concentration on the war (see Richard Atkinson's WW II military trilogy for that).
In the 1990's I listened to the older BOT cassette version of this work read by Larry McKeever. He did a good job. To have this redone by Grover Gardner is a HUGE gift to us all (Thank you Grover). He does a much better job and his European pronunciations are very competent. I have read that Shirer's work is not liked by many historians in this field (especially by the Germans) but I find his writing to be on par with the great narrative historians (McCullough, Caro, Chernow, etc.). I am also listening to Richard Evans's Third Reich trilogy and, although its more thoroughly researched, his writing is not near Shirer's in elegance. And the reader is not near the quality of Mr Gardner. One of the lessons learned from this tragic story is that numerous and fractured political parties can lead to disaster for everyone.
Me, myself, and I.
I'm not quite sure how I ended up on this path. It started with a book about WWII in general, then a few that touched on specific people or incidents during the war, and it has circled back to this epic account of Hitler and his twisted designs for the world. This is a work that feels so comprehensive, though I suspect that scholarship since the 1960s has produced a bit more detail, that I feel like I just spent several days of my life walking down the path of destruction that seemed so inevitable throughout the recounting of the Third Reich. An amazing book and experience, it is not for the faint-hearted -- those either daunted by size or by content. It is for the truly intrigued among us, who often see in historical events a reflection of who we are today, and how to address challenges in the world around us.
Clocking in at 60-ish hours, this book takes commitment. But that investment comes with a grand payoff. You never feel cheated. The sheer volume of leftover records and accounts of daily life in Germany during the timespan covered here ensures that the reader walks away with a belief that no stone has been left unturned. There are so many things that I recall from previous exposure to World War 2, and almost all of these are told again here, but with a specific focus on the motivations and reactions of Hitler and his cronies. While I would never suggest that I am an expert in such things, I do feel like I can speak confidently about what happened, why it happened, and perhaps draw a little from that to talk intelligently about how to identify and react to modern day despots and lunatics.
Grover Gardner does a fantastic job with his narration. I had to repeatedly remind myself that he, himself, was not the author. It is easy to make this mistake in a book of this nature, which has a number of self-reflective moments by William Shirer, but even when acknowledging that, of course, Grover was not actually there, it still felt like an intimate conversation with someone reflecting on their days in Berlin during the 30s and 40s. Great quality throughout.
A final note -- one criticism that could be leveled at this book is that William Shirer often interjects his personal opinion, both on Hitler, and on the Germans in general. And actually, on many others as well. These personal opinions sometimes disrupt the natural storytelling flow of the narrative, and pull the listened/reader out of the depths of listening for content into a level of critical analysis of the author's intent. When he characterizes Germans in a specific way, it sounds more like stereotyping than it does educated analysis. While I understand the personal nature of this book, I could have done without some of the antiquated beliefs expressed within. And yes, I acknowledge that writing this book in the 50s and 60s might play a part -- our system of political correctness many not have been as refined then as it is today -- but it still strikes the reader today, and should be noted.
All in all, a fantastic, sweeping, and important work, that should appeal to anyone even remotely interested in what happened to the world 80 years ago.
My reading and listening tastes are eclectic.
Mr. Shirer wrote this book in the '50's, while the second world war was still very fresh in everyone's mind. While some of the advantages to examining the events that occurred after many of the principles involved had passed are clearly evident, I was very enlightened about the events that led to the rise and fall of the Third Reich. It is very evident that Mr. Shirer has certain biases that were widespread during that period. However, even that frames the events in a way a more open acceptance would not be able to do. This was a great listen, and I found it captivating.
It might be 50 years old, but William Shirer's book is just as gripping and just as important today as ever. It is amazingly well researched and the perspective of someone that was a close and personal observer to much of the Nazi period.
Yes, it is long. At 57 plus hours, my wife reckons I've listened to Grover Gardner more than I've listened to her in 15 years of marriage. But Mr Gardner stays claim and steady throughout and never gets upset at my "what?" His narration is absolutely first class. One can't imagine a better combination than Shirer and Gardner.
I don't normally have much interest in books about wars, but bought this book out of a primarily historical interest. I found it well written, interesting, long and perhaps having greater detail than a mediocre level of interest would require. For a general-interest listener, it may be a little too long and cumbersome. However, interest is maintained most of the time. (I am looking forward to getting back to a lighthearted novel now!) :-)
The audio book is well read by Grover Gardner.
My only qualm is that - as a listener specifically interested in historical facts - the author intersperses the book with too many of his personal feelings and impressions. Initially, we are bombarded by his concept of Hitler as the village idiot, and later he calls him the "insane genius". As a thinking being, I would prefer, after 7 Parts of accurate historical facts, to draw my own conclusions. In all likelihood, Hitler was neither of the two.
The book is focussed primarily on military history. I would perhaps have enjoyed more about the daily lives of civilians, and what they were experiencing, as opposed to minute military details. But that's just my personal preference, and as i've mentioned - I'm not too interested in wars.
Overall, a very good and interesting read.
Max Fisher of Rushmore Academy
I've spent my life hearing important WWII stories, but never managed to have quite the sense of context needed to understand how they all fit together. This book analyzes the most important factor of the war -- Hitler's Third Reich -- in minute detail from the beginning to the end. And in so doing, provides the reader with a amazingly thorough understanding of exactly how the world landed in the mess it did.
This work of exhaustive research, beautifully composed and narrated, should be required reading for anybody who values democracy and peace.