New thoughts on dark deeds

September 18, 2008

MASTERING MODERN GERMAN HISTORY 1864-1990

Author: John Traynor

Edition: First

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Pages: 392

Price: £16.99

ISBN 9780333987100

John Traynor has managed the difficult feat of providing a quick reference overview of major aspects of German history over the past 150 years. It can be read in full as a general introduction but is also useful as a handbook for quick orientation, pointing to major historical questions and different perspectives of interpretation. It provides a good start for students finishing school or starting university, making them aware that history is less about "facts" and more about their interpretation.

Who is it for? Students interested in a quick and nimble summary of important personalities, structural elements and a glimpse of sources of German history from the foundation of the Empire to the present.

Presentation: Very detailed structure with short summaries on topics, many extracts from historical and historiographical sources, adequate chronological overviews, but a rather dense layout.

Would you recommend it? Yes, as a quick general introduction to many decisive aspects of the period covered. Students should progress from here to essential further reading.

A CONCISE HISTORY OF THE THIRD REICH

Author: Wolfgang Benz

Edition: First

Publisher: University of California Press

Pages: 331

Price: £26.95 and £11.95

ISBN 9780520234895 and 53834

This is a translation from a successful German work by one of the most erudite and prolific historians of the Third Reich. With his analytical portrait of the most important structures and concepts of Nazi Germany, Wolfgang Benz has produced an excellent critical summary. The particular strength of his book lies in the combination of general history with examples from everyday life, enabling the reader to view the Third Reich from a multidimensional perspective.

Who is it for? Undergraduate students and general readers seeking a clear and balanced formulated, atmospheric overview.

Presentation: Clear structure with excellent illustrations, but a lack of maps. Although the original colour illustrations are monochrome in this translation, they nevertheless still offer an extra dimension to the argument.

Would you recommend it? Yes, as one of the few single-authored comprehensive introductions in English.

THE ORIGINS OF THE SECOND WORLD WAR

Author: Richard Overy

Edition: Third

Publisher: Pearson Longman

Pages: 192

Price: £14.99

ISBN 9781405824699

This is an established introduction, which Richard Overy has updated ten years after the last edition was published. The main chapter presents a reflective and straightforward analysis of the major aspects from the international pre-war crisis to the expansion from European conflict to full-scale world war. Short chapters on background and assessment provide useful general perspectives, and 41 documents enable the reader to gain insight into the views and thoughts of political players and observers of the time. The materials and insight combine to offer a compelling presentation.

Who is it for? A-level students, undergraduates and general readers seeking a concise narrative combined with exemplary documents.

Presentation: An excellent concept combines a who's who, glossary, maps, narrative and source documents. A suggestion for the next edition: rather than offering eclectic colour plates with photographs placed somewhat accidentally in the middle of the book, placing coloured maps throughout the text would prove more useful.

Would you recommend it? As a concise and reliable starting point, yes.

THE THIRD REICH: CHARISMA AND COMMUNITY

Author: Martin Kitchen

Edition: First

Publisher: Pearson Longman

Pages: 424

Price: £19.99

ISBN 9781405801690

Any new book on the Third Reich should seek to offer either fresh material (which is difficult) or inventive perspectives (which is challenging). It should at least cautiously reflect the present-day level of discussion and make clear why the author felt driven to write it. Why write the book at all, and why write it in this particular way? Martin Kitchen's text, stressing "charisma" and "community" in its subtitle, falls short in several respects. On charisma, readers will doubtless prefer the books by Kershaw and Wehler, and on community they will prefer those by Evans and Wildt. Kitchen's text gives a lot of (not always very precise) details on aspects that often tend to divert rather than form a coherent comprehensive approach. Both newcomers and scholars are likely to be disappointed.

Who is it for? Those who have already read all the important books on the topic and still have the appetite for more.

Presentation: Ten chapters narrating figures and events; seven maps, 16 illustrations.

Would you recommend it? No.

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