The best books for understanding Nazi Germany

David Luhrssen Author Of Hammer of the Gods: The Thule Society and the Birth of Nazism
By David Luhrssen

Who am I?

Unlike most children of immigrants who were told nothing about the past, I grew up surrounded by family history—my grandfather’s village in Russia, my father’s memories of 1930s Europe, and my mother’s childhood on a migrant worker farm during the Great Depression. I realized that history isn’t just names and dates but a unique opportunity to study human behavior. I wrote Hammer of the Gods about the Thule Society because Thule was often mentioned in passing by historians of Nazi Germany, as if they were uncomfortable delving into an occult group recognized as influential on the Nazis. I decided I wanted to learn who they were and what they wanted.

I wrote...

Hammer of the Gods: The Thule Society and the Birth of Nazism

By David Luhrssen,

Book cover of Hammer of the Gods: The Thule Society and the Birth of Nazism

What is my book about?

Hammer of the Gods examines a network of secretive occult societies whose Munich branch, the Thule Society, founded the Nazi Party at the end of World War I as a front group for reaching the working class with some of their ideas. The Thule Society was anti-Semitic, invoked ancient Nordic gods, and was involved in paramilitary operations against leftist forces.

The books I picked & why

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Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris

By Ian Kershaw,

Book cover of Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris

Why this book?

I enjoy good writing most of all, and if the writing is non-fiction, it’s important to me that the scholarship is sound. Although he never set out to be a biographer, British historian Ian Kershaw found the subject of Adolf Hitler so important—and so large a topic—that he needed two volumes. Hubris and Nemesis achieve a good balance in understanding Hitler’s life, the society that shaped him, and the society that embraced him.

The Face of the Third Reich

By Joachim C. Fest,

Book cover of The Face of the Third Reich

Why this book?

I found this book by the German scholar Joachim Fest many years ago at a flea market. Fest’s portrait of Hitler and a dozen high-ranking officials of the Third Reich became models for my own writing. Fest maps out the range of personalities—their cruelty, greed, and misplaced ideals—and the way in which Hitler encouraged rivalry among them to preserve absolute power for himself.

Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich

By George L. Mosse,

Book cover of Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich

Why this book?

George Mosse was a refugee from Nazi Germany who enjoyed a long career in my home state, teaching at the University of Wisconsin. With Nazi Culture, he collects essays, proclamations, journalism, and fiction by Nazi authors during the Third Reich. His editorial comments put the ideas of Nazism in context—and remind us that Hitler found an audience well prepared for his message.

The Last Days of Hitler

By Hugh Trevor-Roper,

Book cover of The Last Days of Hitler

Why this book?

There have been more recent accounts of Hitler’s retreat to the bunker in the last weeks of his life. But even if some new information has surfaced since Britain’s H.R. Trevor-Roper wrote his report, the vividness is hard to match. Trever-Roper recorded his thoughts on Hitler’s end before the rubble of war had been cleared away. It was almost on-the-scene reporting.

Inside the Third Reich

By Albert Speer,

Book cover of Inside the Third Reich

Why this book?

Albert Speer was the German leader who appeared sorry for what he did at the Nuremburg war crimes trial. I was a teenager when I came across the book at a public library and rediscovered it a few years ago in a used bookstore. Yes, Speer was determined to show himself in the best possible light and minimize his crimes. However, Inside the Third Reich remains one of the most clear portraits of Hitler and his circle in their everyday life.

5 book lists we think you will like!

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