Führer's legacy, as seen with new eyes

September 18, 2008


Editor: Jane Caplan

Edition: First

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Pages: 344

Price: £50.00 and £16.99

ISBN 97801996868 and 6875

Among the plethora of books with "Third Reich" or "Nazi" in their title, there are surprisingly few comprehensive and up-to-date summaries in the English language to introduce students and graduates alike to the main historical and historiographical perspectives of this incessantly researched period. There is, of course, Ian Kershaw's excellent overview, The Nazi Dictatorship, which gives a balanced account of major controversies, but it is for advanced readers and specialists and its latest edition dates back to 2000.

The English version of another standard text of this kind, Klaus Hildebrand's Third Reich, is only in its second edition in English, dating to 1984, while the German original has been continually updated and extended and in 2003 entered its sixth edition. There is no English equivalent of similar breadth, although, on the Holocaust, there is Dan Stone's distinguished historiographical overview from 2004.

Among recent general accounts, the massive books by Michael Burleigh (The Third Reich: A New History) and Richard Evans (The Third Reich in Power, 1933-1939) are certainly worth reading. But for impatient newcomers they have two disadvantages: their length is bound to deter time-pressed undergraduates, and despite their plethora of information they do not provide detailed historiographical overviews of major discussions.

Oxford University Press, in its Short History of Germany series, has now filled a good part of this gap. Jane Caplan's book encompasses overviews on the most important topics on an up-to-date level by experts who have established reputations from major research publications on their area.

The chapters and their authors are Richard Evans on the emergence of Nazi ideology, Peter Fritzsche on the Nazi Party's history until 1934, Jeremy Noakes on Hitler's role, Jill Stephenson on the attempt to build a national community, Nikolaus Wachsmann on exclusion and repression in the prewar years, Richard Steigmann-Gall on religion and the churches, Adam Tooze on the economic history of the period, Gerhard L. Weinberg on Nazi foreign policy, Doris L. Bergen on the occupation and genocide during the war and Robert G. Moeller on the Third Reich in postwar German memory.

In their effort to combine precise information with balanced reflection of historiographical perspectives, most of those chapters achieve a remarkably high level of density while still being readable. This is no small achievement. Historiographical developments are embedded in two ways: most authors explicitly reflect past arguments and their present status, and these authors provide further reading overviews for each chapter. Unsurprisingly, these reflect preferences of each author, and one might argue about some of their chosen titles while others are missed out. But overall, readers get an excellent start to make up their own minds.

Who is it for? Anyone interested in a comprehensive overview of present-day knowledge on decisive aspects of the Third Reich.

Presentation: Concentrated, solid blocks of information that are nevertheless readable.

Would you recommend it? A must for every student starting on the topic.

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