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The Third Reich at War

This history of World War II from a German perspective is a superb study of a society at war.

By Terry Hartle / April 11, 2009

Several years ago, Richard Evans, the Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, was asked to suggest a good general history of the Third Reich. He couldn’t think of a book to recommend – so he decided to write one himself.

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It took him eight years and three volumes. “The Coming of the Third Reich,” published in 2003, recounts the Nazis’ rise to power through a combination of political violence and electoral success. “The Third Reich in Power” (2005) describes how the regime worked and follows its path to war.

Now with The Third Reich at War, Evans provides an exhaustive analysis of every aspect of the Second World War from the German perspective. This superb book is not simply a military history; it is a comprehensive portrait of a society at war.

Evans begins on Sept. 1, 1939 when 60 highly trained German divisions raced across the Polish border. This and the other early victories were the result of “surprise as much as anything.” Eventually the German military machine bogged down. Evans identifies three central turning points: the Nazis’ inability to win the Battle of Britain in 1940, their failure to capture Moscow in 1941, and their catastrophic defeat at Stalingrad in 1942.

More than a single battle or engagement, however, it was the vast economic and human resources that Russia and the United States brought into the conflict that sealed Germany’s doom. Evans contends that most high-ranking Nazis and professional soldiers realized that there was no way they could win the war after Stalingrad. Yet the fighting continued for another two and a half years.

The story ends with desperate warfare in the ruined streets of a Berlin defended by 16- and 17- year-olds who had received only perfunctory training. The casualties were astounding: Evans reports that nearly one-third of all German troops killed during the Second World War died in the last four and a half months of fighting.


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