The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany is a book by William L. Shirer chronicling the rise and fall of Nazi Germany from the birth of Adolf Hitler in 1889 to the end of World War II in 1945. It was first published in 1960, by Simon & Schuster in the United States. It was a bestseller in both the United States and Europe, and a critical success outside Germany; in Germany, criticism of the book stimulated sales. The book was feted by journalists, as reflected by its receipt of the National Book Award for non-fiction,[2] but the reception from academic historians was mixed.

Rise and Fall is based upon captured Nazi documents, the available diaries of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, of General Franz Halder, and of the Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano, evidence and testimony from the Nuremberg trials, British Foreign Office reports, and the author's recollection of his six years in Germany (from 1934 to 1940) as a journalist, reporting on Nazi Germany for newspapers, the United Press International (UPI), and CBS Radio. The work was written and initially published in four parts, but a larger one-volume edition has become more common.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Cover of the first edition
AuthorWilliam L. Shirer
CountryUnited States
SubjectNazi Germany
PublisherSimon & Schuster
Publication date
October 17, 1960[1]
Media typePrint (hardcover and paperback)
ISBN0-671-72868-7 (1990 paperback)

Content and themes

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is Shirer's comprehensive historical interpretation of the Nazi era, positing that German history logically proceeded from Martin Luther to Adolf Hitler;[3][a] and that Hitler's ascension to power was an expression of German national character, not of totalitarianism as an ideology that was internationally fashionable in the 1930s.[4][5][6] The author summarised his perspective: "[T]he course of German history ... made blind obedience to temporal rulers the highest virtue of Germanic man, and put a premium on servility."[7] This reportorial perspective, the Sonderweg (special path or unique course) interpretation of German history, was then common in American scholarship. Yet, despite extensive footnotes and references, some academic critics consider its interpretation of Nazism to be flawed.[8] The book also includes (identified) speculation, such as the theory that SS Chief Heinrich Müller afterward joined the NKVD of the USSR.

Development history

The editor for the book was Joseph Barnes, a foreign editor of the New York Herald Tribune, a former editor of PM, another New York newspaper, and a former speechwriter for Wendell Willkie. Barnes was an old friend of Shirer. The manuscript was very late and Simon & Schuster threatened to cancel the contract several times; each time Barnes would win a reprieve for Shirer. The original title of the book was Hitler's Nightmare Empire with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich as the sub-title. The title and cover had already been sent out in catalogs when Robert Gottlieb decided that both title and cover had to go. Nina Bourne decided that they should use the sub-title as the title and art director Frank Metz designed the black jacket bearing the swastika. Initially bookstores across the country protested displaying the swastika and threatened not to stock the book. The controversy soon blew over and the cover shipped with the symbol.[9]

Success and acclaim

In the U.S., where it was published on October 17, 1960, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich sold more than one million hardcover copies, two-thirds via the Book of the Month Club, and more than one million paperback copies. It won the 1961 National Book Award for Nonfiction[2] and the Carey–Thomas Award for non-fiction.[10] In 1962, the Reader's Digest magazine serialization reached some 12 million additional readers.[11][12] In a New York Times Book Review, Hugh Trevor-Roper praised it as "a splendid work of scholarship, objective in method, sound in judgment, inescapable in its conclusions."[13] The book sold well in Britain, France, Italy,[14] and in West Germany, because of its international recognition, bolstered by German editorial attacks.[15]

Both its recognition by journalists as a great history book and its popular success surprised Shirer[16] as the publisher commissioned a first printing of merely 12,500 copies. More than fifteen years after the end of the Second World War, neither Shirer nor the publisher anticipated much popular interest in Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) or Nazi Germany (1933–45).


Whereas nearly all American journalists praised the book, scholars were split. Some acknowledged Shirer's achievement but some condemned it.[10] The harshest criticism came from those who disagreed with the Sonderweg or "Luther to Hitler" thesis. In West Germany, the Sonderweg interpretation was almost universally rejected in favor of the view that Nazism was simply one instance of totalitarianism that arose in various countries. Gavriel Rosenfeld asserted in 1994 that Rise and Fall had been unanimously condemned by German historians in the 1960s, and considered dangerous to relations between America and West Germany, as it might inflame anti-German sentiments in the United States.[17]

Klaus Epstein listed what he contended were "four major failings": a crude understanding of German history; a lack of balance, leaving important gaps; no understanding of a modern totalitarian regime; and ignorance of current scholarship of the Nazi period.[16]

Elizabeth Wiskemann concluded in a review that the book was "not sufficiently scholarly nor sufficiently well written to satisfy more academic demands... It is too long and cumbersome... Mr Shirer, has, however compiled a manual... which will certainly prove useful."[18]

35 years after the book's publication, LGBT activist Peter Tatchell criticized Shirer's attitude toward homosexuality, which he repeatedly describes as a perversion, and called for revisions to be made to the book's language and for mention to be made of the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany and the Holocaust.[19] In the philosopher Jon Stewart's anthology The Hegel Myths and Legends (1996), The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is listed as a work that has propagated "myths" about the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.[20]

In 2004 the historian Richard J. Evans, author of The Third Reich Trilogy (2003–2008), conceded that Rise and Fall is a "readable general history of Nazi Germany" and that "there are good reasons for [its] success." Evans contended that Shirer worked outside of the academic mainstream and that Shirer's account was not informed by the historical scholarship of the time.[21]

Publication and adaptation

A film adaptation was broadcast by the U.S. ABC television network in 1968, one hour a night over three nights.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Directed byJack Kaufman
Narrated byRichard Basehart
Theme music composerLalo Schifrin
Producer(s)Mel Stuart (executive producer)
Editor(s)John Soh
Running time180 minutes (counting the commercials)
Original release1968

The book has been reprinted many times (but not updated) since it was published in 1960. Current in-print editions are:

There is also an audiobook version, released in 2010 by Blackstone Audio and read by Grover Gardner.

See also


Explanatory notes

  1. ^ "The notion that 'rectitude and authenticity [were] integrally German attributes, in contrast to Roman or Latin influences which were degrading' held to have originated with Luther developed with German Romanticism in the 19th Century, and culminated with National Socialism." Johnson 2001.


  1. ^ "Books Published Today". The New York Times: 26. October 17, 1960.
  2. ^ a b "National Book Awards – 1961". National Book Foundation. Retrieved 2012-02-20.
  3. ^ Rosenfeld 1994, p. 102.
  4. ^ Shirer p. 236.
  5. ^ Rosenfeld 1994, pp. 101–02.
  6. ^ Evans 2004, p. xxiv.
  7. ^ Shirer, p. 1080.
  8. ^ Rosenfeld 1994, p. 106.
  9. ^ Korda, Michael (1999). Another Life : A Memoir of Other People (1st ed.). New York: Random House. ISBN 0679456597.
  10. ^ a b Rosenfeld 1994, p. 101.
  11. ^ Cedar Rapids Gazette, 9 October 1960, p. 47.
  12. ^ Rosenfeld 1994, pp. 100–01.
  13. ^ William L. Shirer (1990). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (3rd ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 1146.
  14. ^ Shirer, p. 1145.
  15. ^ Rosenfeld 1994, p. 96.
  16. ^ a b Epstein 1961, p. 230.
  17. ^ Rosenfeld 1994, pp. 95–96, 98.
  18. ^ Wiskemann 1961, pp. 234–35.
  19. ^ Peter Tatchell: No place in History for Gay Victims of Nazism, The Independent, July 2, 1995
  20. ^ Stewart, Jon, ed. (1996). The Hegel Myths and Legends. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press. p. 383. ISBN 0-8101-1301-5.
  21. ^ Evans 2004, pp. xvi–xvii.


External links

  • Digitalized version of the 1960 edition at the University of Michigan Digital General Collection
  • Review of the book by Bryan Hiatt
  • Online WWII references Online collection of many original World War II documents, including some of Shirer's sources (e.g. British/French "Color" books, captured German Foreign Office docs, various Nuremberg and NCA documents).
  • Third Reich in Ruins Geoff Walden's then/now photo-essay collection of many sites mentioned in Shirer's book, early Hitler locations featured.
  • Rosenfeld, Gavriel D (January 1994), "The reception of William L. Shirer's 'The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich' in the United States and West Germany, 1960–62", Journal of Contemporary History, 29 (1), pp. 95–128, JSTOR 260957.


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