The best books on the batshit-crazy history of Nazi Germany

The Books I Picked & Why

Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris

By Ian Kershaw

Book cover of Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris

Why this book?

Kershaw’s double biography of the Nazi leader (the second part, almost entirely about World War II, is called Hubris) is a classic, and remains the best, most approachable look at the unusual upbringing of a young boy from provincial Austria who once wanted to be an artist, and felt in debt with the Jewish doctor who (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) treated his mother’s cancer. Hubris is most remarkable for the glimpses it provides of a different fate for that young boy Adolf: how he was scarred by family tragedy and by failure at multicultural Vienna, and how the Great War gave him an opening to become the worst possible version of himself.


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Black Edelweiss: A Memoir of Combat and Conscience by a Soldier of the Waffen-SS

By Johann Voss

Book cover of Black Edelweiss: A Memoir of Combat and Conscience by a Soldier of the Waffen-SS

Why this book?

Voss volunteered to join the elite Nazi forces as a teenager in 1943, when (unbeknownst to him) the war was already lost for Germany. His memoir of barely two years in history’s most notorious military unit will surprise many who are used to seeing SS members in Holocaust movies and memoirs; Voss was an infantryman who fought in Finland and later in the Western front, fully devoted to Nazi ideology until Germany was defeated and he saw the flip side of the coin. A very unique book.


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The Coming of the Third Reich

By Richard J. Evans

Book cover of The Coming of the Third Reich

Why this book?

Evans is the world’s foremost scholar on Nazism, a really difficult title to earn given the strong competition in a very crowded field. In this book, he reviews the 1920s and early 1930s in Germany, and how a toxic mix of revanchism, militarism, and German supremacism combined to create not just a Fascist state, but the most radical of several European Fascist states and one that was dead-set on revenge against the democratic powers and the Soviet Union that Nazis blamed for internal unrest that brought down the German Reich in 1914-18.


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Lying about Hitler

By Richard J. Evans

Book cover of Lying about Hitler

Why this book?

Another great hit in Evans’ long series of books about Nazism, this is a very particular one: Evans was invited to take part as an expert in a trial for defamation brought by a British historian, David Irving, long suspected of being a tad too friendly towards the Nazi regime. This 2002 book recounts the trial and focuses on Evans decisive role: he went through Irving’s voluminous, and meticulous, books, finding misleading interpretations favoring the Nazi view of controversial events in World War II and, very particularly, views minimizing the scale of the Holocaust and Hitler’s role in it. This may be the ultimate book about detective work in the fight against misinformation.


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I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries Of Victor Klemperer 1933-41

By Victor Klemperer

Book cover of I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries Of Victor Klemperer 1933-41

Why this book?

The coming of the Third Reich in 1933 left Klemperer, a cash-strapped Jewish scholar, without his teaching job in a German university, but somehow sheltered from the worst excesses of Nazism due to his marriage to an “Aryan” German woman. His diaries are a window to the daily life of a childless middle-aged couple that observes world-shaking events from close proximity, while worrying about debts and the high costs of keeping the family car, Klemperer's most cherished possession. 


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