The best books by and about eyewitnesses to the rise of Adolf Hitler

Robert Teigrob Author Of Four Days in Hitler's Germany: MacKenzie King's Mission to Avert a Second World War
By Robert Teigrob

Who am I?

Since 2011 I have taught a summer course at Freie Universität Berlin, and have grown fond of the city, including its admirable efforts to acknowledge and atone for its former status as the capital of the Nazi empire. I’ve seen pictures of Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King touring the city and interacting (cheerfully) with Reich officials, and a couple of years ago I made a point of retracing his steps to observe the vestiges (very little) of prewar Berlin. This compelled me to dig deeply into what motivated King to break bread with Nazis, and how the prime minister’s trip was viewed by Canadians and the world – at the time, and since.

I wrote...

Four Days in Hitler's Germany: MacKenzie King's Mission to Avert a Second World War

By Robert Teigrob,

Book cover of Four Days in Hitler's Germany: MacKenzie King's Mission to Avert a Second World War

What is my book about?

In 1937, Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King travelled to Nazi Germany in an attempt to prevent a war that, to many observers, seemed inevitable. The men King communed with in Berlin, including Adolf Hitler, assured him of the Nazi regime’s peaceful intentions, and King not only found their pledges sincere, but even hoped for personal friendships with many of the regime's top officials.

Four Days in Hitler’s Germany is a clearly written and engaging story that reveals why King believed that the greatest threat to peace would come from those individuals who intended to thwart the Nazi agenda, which as King saw it, was concerned primarily with justifiable German territorial and diplomatic readjustments.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Dispatches from the Front: The Life of Matthew Halton, Canada's Voice at War

Why did I love this book?

The story of a brave and insightful Canadian journalist sent by the Toronto Star to get a read on the Nazi regime shortly after Hitler’s 1933 seizure of power. As soon as he set foot in Germany, Matt Halton had a good sense of where this might be headed, and he remained in Europe for the next decade as Hitler ran roughshod over international treaties and norms and then plunged the continent, and much of the world, into war. You can sense the indignation in Halton’s public and private pronouncements – not just over Nazism’s outrages, but over the failure of politicians, other journalists, and the wider public to see what he was seeing. A timely reminder of why good journalists matter, and why authoritarian leaders hate them.

By David Halton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dispatches from the Front as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first major biography of an iconic war correspondent sheds light on the personal life and fascinating career of a remarkable Canadian figure--and it's now available in paperback.

     "This is Matthew Halton of the CBC."
     So began Matthew Halton's war broadcasts. Originally a reporter for the Toronto Star, Matt Halton, as Senior War Correspondent for the CBC during the Second World War, reported from the front lines in Italy and Northwest Europe, and became "the voice of Canada at war." His reports were at times tender and sad and other times shocking and explosive. Covering the flashpoints of his generation--from…

Berlin Diary

By William L. Shirer,

Book cover of Berlin Diary

Why did I love this book?

Another journalist dispatched to Europe in the 1930s, Shirer stayed until 1940 when, fearing arrest by the Gestapo, he packed his diaries from his tenure in Berlin and Vienna and fled. His account is full of shocking incidents of Nazi barbarity, inside information from off-the-record conversations, and, seemingly incongruously, tender scenes from his marriage to Austrian photographer Tess Stiberitz, as the young couple struggled to create an alternate realm of love and stability midst the horror and chaos. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is more famous, but can’t match the intimacy and poignancy of this one. We later learned that Shirer altered some of the earlier diary entries to downplay his initial appreciation for Hitler – not everyone was as prescient as Matthew Halton. 

By William L. Shirer,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Berlin Diary as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

By the acclaimed journalist and bestselling author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, this day-by-day, eyewitness account of the momentous events leading up to World War II in Europe is now available in a new paperback edition. CBS radio broadcaster William L. Shirer was virtually unknown in 1940 when he decided there might be a book in the diary he had kept in Europe during the 1930s-specifically those sections dealing with the collapse of the European democracies and the rise of Nazi Germany. Berlin Diary first appeared in 1941, and the timing was perfect. The energy, the…

Book cover of Blood & Banquets: A Berlin Social Diary

Why did I love this book?

Fromm, too, was a journalist alarmed by the rise of Nazism and Germans’ increasing embrace of hatred and falsehood. She differs from Halton and Shirer in that she was 1) born in Germany, and thus had a deeper perspective on Nazism’s place in German history and culture, 2) a woman, and thus expected to report on “society” and fashion stories, although her interests and abilities soon drew her to politics, and 3) Jewish, and therefore subjected to the daily indignities, threats, and violence that in 1938 led her to flee a land her family had inhabited for five centuries. Fromm seemed to know everybody, including Nazi bigwigs, and was continually astounded by the degrees to which foreign visitors fell for blatant Nazi propaganda. Mackenzie King should have been listening.

By Bella Fromm,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Blood & Banquets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The diary, smuggled out of Nazi Germany, of a Jewish woman who wrote the social column for a major Berlin newspaper, and was able to observe the rise of the Nazis

Book cover of Hitlerland: American Eyewitnesses to the Nazi Rise to Power

Why did I love this book?

As the title suggests, this is a compendium of American visitors’ impressions of Nazism in the 1930s. Their reactions varied from confusion to rage to applause, but Nagorski notes that, sooner or later, most came to the realization that Germany was “a society undergoing a horrific transformation in the name of a demented ideology,” and feared the implications for humanity. Another useful reminder of the essential role of solid, independent journalism, and of the methods by which seemingly decent people and entire societies can be devoured by hatred and tribalism. It seems, sadly, that we need a lot of reminding about such things…

By Andrew Nagorski,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Hitlerland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

World War II historian Andrew Nagorski recounts Adolf Hitler’s rise to and consolidation of power, drawing on countless firsthand reports, letters, and diaries that narrate the creation of the Third Reich.

“Hitlerland is a bit of a guilty pleasure. Reading about the Nazis is not supposed to be fun, but Nagorski manages to make it so. Readers new to this story will find it fascinating” (The Washington Post).

Hitler’s rise to power, Germany’s march to the abyss, as seen through the eyes of Americans—diplomats, military officers, journalists, expats, visiting authors, Olympic athletes—who watched horrified and up close. “Engaging if chilling…a…

Book cover of In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin

Why did I love this book?

Does Erik Larson really need another plug? I can’t help it – his work is popular for a reason, and this one is among his best. It is full of extraordinary and well-drawn characters who are struggling to make sense of what is happening to Germany. I initially found the main character, William Dodd, US Ambassador to Berlin from 1933 to 1937, a bit of a bore. He could be humorless, hectoring, sanctimonious, and arrogant (and a history professor to boot – yawn!). But as the story unfolds he emerges as the moral centre, a voice crying in the wilderness on behalf of sanity, reason, restraint, and humanity, even as his family, job, and host and home countries cease making sense, often to astonishing degrees. 

By Erik Larson,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked In the Garden of Beasts as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's Berlin, 1933. William E. Dodd, a mild-mannered academic from Chicago, has to his own and everyone else's surprise, become America's first ambassador to Hitler's Germany, in a year that proves to be a turning point in history. Dodd and his family, notably his vivacious daughter, Martha, observe at first-hand the many changes - some subtle, some disturbing, and some horrifically violent - that signal Hitler's consolidation of power. Dodd has little choice but to associate with key figures in the Nazi party, his increasingly concerned cables make little impact on an indifferent U.S. State Department, while Martha is drawn…

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