- 1 1. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L Shirer
- 2 2. Hitler: A Study in Tyranny by Alan Bullock
- 3 3. Hitler (2 vols) by Ian Kershaw
- 4 4. The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg
- 5 5. Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer
- 6 6. Letters to Freya by Helmuth James von Moltke
- 7 7. The Face of the Third Reich by Joachim C Fest
- 8 8. The Holocaust by Martin Gilbert
- 9 9. Hitler’s War Aims by Norman Rich
- 10 10. The German Dictatorship by Karl Dietrich Bracher
Anthony Read’s latest book is The Devil’s Disciples: The Lives and Times of Hitler’s Inner Circle.
1. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L Shirer
For me, this is the grandaddy of them all, the standard work by which all others on the subject are still measured. A brilliant and respected journalist, Shirer was actually there for much of the time and it shows. Erudite, comprehensive and detailed, always lively and readable, it is the model of what a popular narrative history should be. My own copy has been read and referred to so often it is falling apart.
2. Hitler: A Study in Tyranny by Alan Bullock
Another essential benchmark in the study of Hitler and the Third Reich. First published a mere seven years after Hitler’s death, it remains as definitive now as it was then, as Bullock himself proved 40 years later when he incorporated much of it into his equally magisterial Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives.
3. Hitler (2 vols) by Ian Kershaw
With the benefit of a further half-century of international scholarship and research since Bullock and the other early biographers, Kershaw – despite describing himself as an ‘anti-biographer’ – has produced what may well be the ultimate version of Hitler’s life and of the unique circumstances that made him possible. A masterful achievement.
4. The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg
In contrast to the works of professional historians, personal diaries and memoirs putting a human face on the story of the Third Reich are essential to an understanding of life under Nazi rule. Among those on my shelves by anti-Nazis are Berlin Underground by Ruth Andreas-Friedrich, The Berlin Diaries of Marie ‘Missie’ Vassiltchikov, Schlage die Trommel… by my old friend Maria Gräfin von Maltzan, Ich Will Leben by Klaus Scheurenberg, and many others. But my favourite is this account by Christabel Bielenberg, who sadly died on November 2, 2003, aged 94. As she wrote in her introduction: ‘I am English; I was German, and above all, I was there.’
5. Inside the Third Reich by Albert Speer
This is the other side of the coin, the most readable and least repulsive of the Nazi memoirs. It provides a fascinating glimpse of working with Hitler – but should perhaps be read in conjunction with Gitta Sereny’s aptly titled Albert Speer: his Battle with Truth.
6. Letters to Freya by Helmuth James von Moltke
This is one of the most moving testaments of the resistance to Hitler, a series of letters to his wife by a noble man on trial for his life after the July 20 plot. They reveal the intellectual and emotional honesty of Moltke, the archetypal ‘good German’, and his incredible bravery as he approached his execution on January 24, 1945, more concerned with saving his fellow victims than himself.
7. The Face of the Third Reich by Joachim C Fest
Unlike my new book, which I conceived as a multiple biography wrapped in a continuous narrative, Fest’s masterpiece is a series of separate essays on leading personalities. Each is a psychological study of an individual, linked to an examination of the relevant aspect of National Socialism and the Nazi regime, all presented with intellectual rigour and considerable insight. A seminal work.
8. The Holocaust by Martin Gilbert
The literature on the Nazi persecution of the Jews and the so-called Final Solution is almost as vast as that on Nazism and the Third Reich. Trying to encompass the Holocaust in a single book would therefore seem to be a hopeless task, but Gilbert comes as close as is humanly possible with this deeply compassionate book, never letting us forget that though a million deaths may be a statistic, each one is a tragedy.
9. Hitler’s War Aims by Norman Rich
In this impressively comprehensive two-volume study, Rich manages to cover just about every aspect of Hitler’s ambitions and achievements outside Germany, dealing with the ideology, the methods and the results of the great drive for Lebensraum beyond the old Reich.
10. The German Dictatorship by Karl Dietrich Bracher
On its first publication in 1969, Bracher’s book was described as ‘the first, correct, full and comprehensive account of the origins, the structure and the machinery of the Nazi dictatorship’. Since then, it has been often emulated but never bettered. For anyone seeking to understand the roots and causes of the Nazi phenomenon, it is essential, and sobering, reading.
Source: The Guardian