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review 2018-08-04 02:47
The human side of an epic battle
Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942-1943 - Antony Beevor

Though the Second World War was decided in battles waged over several years and in multiple regions, the most important front of the war was the one in eastern Europe. There the German war machine which had conquered so much of Europe with seemingly little effort was ground down in an extended clash against the Soviet Union. Millions of soldiers not just Germans and Russians, but Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Croats, Italians, and others fought and died on an unprecedented scale, with the slaughter ending only with the final defeat of the Nazi regime in the ruins of Berlin.

 

While numerous battles defined the course of events, the decisive clash on the Eastern Front came in the autumn of 1942 in the city of Stalingrad. There the German Sixth Army fought a grinding campaign to conquer the industrial center, only to be encircled by a surprise Soviet counter-offensive in November. Debilitated by the twin forces of battle and winter, tens of thousands of troops surrendered in February 1943, inflicting the greatest defeat yet suffered by the Third Reich. One of the strengths of Antony Beevor's history of the battle is in its detailing of the experiences of the men who fought and died on both sides. Drawing upon letters, diaries, and other records, he describes the nearly unimaginable conditions they faced during their long months of struggle against each other. To this he adds a perceptive explanation of both the events leading up to the battle and how is was that the sides sustained such a debilitating effort, both on the national and personal level.

 

By clearly detailing its events and recounting the lives of the soldiers who fought in it, Beevor has written an excellent history of the battle that is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand it. And yet the book falls short in one important respect. For while Beevor conveys well the human side of the conflict, it doesn't quite capture its truly epic nature. Scale is missing, as the war-defining nature of the event lost amid the stories of the men and the details of the campaign. While the effort to do so would result in a very different book, perhaps only then might it be possible to fully appreciate the importance of the titanic struggle waged there, both for the people involved and for the broader war itself.

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review 2018-07-28 01:41
MAUS I: MY FATHER BLEEDS HISTORY by Art Spiegelman
Maus I : A Survivor's Tale : My Father Bleeds History - Art Spiegelman
Powerful story told through the eyes of the cartoonist son of his father who tries to survive WWII.  The family is Jewish and the story is of their lives before WWII and the Nazi takeover of Germany to the time the man and his wife are separated at Auschwitz. 
 
It is a hard story to hear how the survivors made it through and what they did to survive.  Done though graphic novel format does not lessen the horrors or the fear.  Going between the past and today, the story shows the contrast between the generations of survivors and their offspring.  It shows how those experiences continued to influence the present life for those who made it. 
 
This is not a book that will be left behind.  I will remember it.  I also want to read part 2. 
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review 2017-12-26 15:56
The enabling image
The Hitler Myth: Image and Reality in the Third Reich - Ian Kershaw

This is a book that, having read Ian Kershaw's massive two-volume biography of Adolf Hitler (which he wrote afterward), I didn't think I needed to read. Now I realize how wrong I was; this is one of the absolute must-reads for anyone seeking to understand how the Third Reich functioned.

 

Kershaw's focus in this book is on Hitler's popularity and its role in legitimizing the regime. Using Max Weber's formulation of "charismatic authority," he examines the rise of the "leadership cult" around Hitler, and how it became an important instrument in Nazi rule. This was hardly an original invention of Hitler's, but drew upon leadership cults in German culture from imperial times. Conservative Germans disaffected from the Weimar Republic longed for a strong man to restore Germanys their imperial greatness, while the miseries of the Great Depression led many to seek someone who could deliver Germany from its travails. Hitler's public persona was crafted to satisfy this demand, and was the key ingredient in the Nazis's rise to power.

 

Hitler maintained this aura as chancellor through careful image management. An important aspect of this was the awareness that its maintenance required association with positive developments. Because of this his appearances were rationed, tied to announcements of economic progress and foreign policy triumphs. By contrast the party itself soon came into popular disrepute through its conspicuous displays of petty corruption. Not only did Hitler rise above this, but his popularity ensured his indispensability to the party -- in short, they needed him in order to maintain their authority.

 

For all of Hitler's (and Joseph Goebbels's) success in maintaining his popularity, Kershaw sees it as contingent upon circumstances. The gap between economic promises and results was ignored as Hitler scored foreign policy triumphs, while general uneasiness about the outbreak of the war in 1939 was soon dispelled by the military triumphs in Western Europe. Yet Kershaw portrays Hitler as falling victim to the classic flaw of believing his own press, with the failure to bring about a popularly-anticipated end to the war, coupled with the surprise attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, as signaling the beginning of the decline of his stature. With the German people increasingly exposed to the failings and brutality of the Nazi regime, Hitler's popularity plummeted to the point when, by the end of the war, they regarded themselves as much as victims of it as were the rest of Europe.

 

Kershaw's book is a fascinating study of the role the Hitler image played in Nazi Germany. His analysis helps to explain much about his role for the German people during those years, and how Germans rationalized the terrible developments of those years. If there is a flaw, it's that Kershaw doesn't tie his findings into broader discussions of leadership beyond Weber; his argument about how Germans saw Hitler as unaware of Nazi corruption, for example, was squarely in a tradition of "the courtiers, not the king" rationalizations which have a long tradition in Western history. Nevertheless, this is a enormously important study of the Nazi regime, one that should be interested in this history of modern Germany or the Second World War.

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review 2017-11-06 23:17
My seventy-sixth podcast is up!
Marketing the Third Reich: Persuasion, Packaging and Propaganda - Nicholas O'Shaughnessy

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Nicholas O'Shaughnessy about his new book looking at the sophisticated political marketing techniques the Nazis developed to craft their "brand." Enjoy!

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review 2017-01-22 14:40
Recent Non-Fiction Reads
Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany - Norman Ohler
Just Mercy - Bryan Stevenson
So You've Been Publicly Shamed - Jon Ronson

Blitzed:

A highly informative and gripping read about Nazi Germany and the significance of drugs during World War II. Drugs didn´t fit in the idealogy of the Nazis, but despite banning them, one substance with a highly addictive potential became the drug of the people: methamphetine. The sheer possibilities of a drug, which would keep the troops awake for days on end, were just to promising to pass up on and it didn´t stop with the troops: the methamphetin chocolate for the wifes at home really made me shook my head.

My favorite part of the book, though, is the chapter about Hitler and his personal physician Theo Morrell, who pumped the Führer full of various drugs. Everyone ,who ever wanted to know how much a human body can endure, should read this chapter, it´s unbelievable.

4,5 stars.

 

Just Mercy:

Bryan Stevenson is an inspiring personality. Being the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, an institution which provides helps for prisoners, who have been wrongly convicted of crimes or didn´t get a fair trail in the first place, he gives hope to the hopeless.

Stevenson tells of different people he has helped throughout his work with the initiative, the main narrative being about Walter McMillian, a black man who has been wrongly accused of murdering a white woman, eventhough it is clear from the beginning that Walter couldn´t have done it.

This book will make you feel angry and heartbroken. Angry because of the racial bias and the injustice that gets inflicted on these people. Heartbroken, because Stevenson describes his clients in a compassionate way so that you see them for what they are: Human beings with hopes, dreams, feelings and the ability to redeem themselves. A highly recommended read.

5 Stars 

 

So You´ve Been Publicly Shamed:

To be honest, I´m scared of social media. And this book didn´t help to overcome my anxieties. Jon Ronson takes a hard look at the phenomenon of public shaming. One false tweet on Twitter, a disrespectful post on facebook, making things up in a non-fiction book you are writing ... all these things could lead you to being publicly shamed.

Ronson has interviewed a variety of public shaming victims and some of these stories really made my stomach turn (I admit it, I cannot feel compassion for the dentist, who has butchered the lion). I missed, however, the perspective of a person, who participated in the actual public shaming of a person (for example Justine Sacco). Why does someone participate in an act of public shaming? Do they feel sorry for said person, when they are getting death threads? Do they feel responsible for destroying a life? Or are they perfectly okay with it because they feel safe behind the wall of anonymity in the internet? 

I sorely missed this perspective, but nonetheless I really enjoyed listening to this book (Ronson himself narrates it and he is excellent).

4 Stars

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