“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William L. Shirer. Unabridged audiobook, read by Grover Gardner.

46 cds and more than 50 hours of listening time and the best I can say for this history is that for 1959 it was probably pretty good. It is rare that the reader of an audiobook actually makes the book better, but such is the case here. The reader is brilliant. The book…not so much.

I had not realized how subjective Shirer’s book was. If this was a memoir that would be one thing, but it’s not, it’s a history, and supposedly an objective history at that. And whatever else it may be, objective is not among its qualities. Shirer is constantly labeling Axis and Nazi figures with names he does not use for other world leaders: stupid, piggish, etc. Given the nature of many of those leaders, Stalin being only one, this comes off as rank hypocrisy. Worse, the research of his history has not worn well: for a man on the spot, who supposedly witnessed many of these events, he gets a lot of details wrong. Perhaps that could be written off as being because of the proximity to the war in which he wrote, but even so this affects the book’s value in the 21st Century.

The book is at its best in the lead into war, since Shirer actually lived through that period and saw it first-hand. Yet he has written extensively about it in at least two other books, for which this was source material. Is this book recommended? Marginally, perhaps so. At least, the audiobook is, if nothing else because of the reader. But it is not the monumental work it has always been made out to be and has limited value in light of later, and better, research, and far more objective distillation of the facts. C-.


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