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Bookmarks Issue: 
56-Jan-Feb-2012
By: 
Ian Kershaw
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The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944–45

A-The EndA respected historian of the Third Reich and World War II, Ian Kershaw has written a handful of important books on the period, including Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940–1941 (4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2007), Luck of the Devil: The Story of Operation Valkyrie (2009), and an acclaimed two-volume biography of Adolf Hitler, Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris (1998) and Hitler 1936–1945: Nemesis (2000). The End focuses on the last few bloody months of Germany's participation in World War II and examines the destructive loyalty that Hitler demanded.

The Topic: Even after Germany had lost World War II, its war machine kept fighting. German soldiers sustained as many casualties in the war's last ten months as they had in the previous four years, and the country's civilians, prisoners of war, and Holocaust victims suffered even more, in turn. But why, really, did Hitler insist on bringing down his own country--and its people--with him? Covering the period between July 1944, around the time of a failed attempt on the Führer's life by his own men, and May 1945, three weeks after Hitler's suicide in a Berlin bunker, The End draws on historian Ian Kershaw's vast knowledge of Nazism and World War II Germany to answer that and other important questions surrounding the fall of the Third Reich. "The reasons for Germany's collapse are evident, and well known," Kershaw writes. "Why and how Hitler's Reich kept on functioning till the bitter end is less obvious."
Penguin. 592 pages. $35. ISBN: 9781594203145

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Kershaw's book doesn't break new ground so much as sift and shift a familiar plot. As a result, Kershaw changes our perceptions of Nazi Germany's decline and fall rather than the body of knowledge about the destruction of wartime Germany and the defeat of Hitler." David M. Shribman

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"A master of both the vast scholarly literature on Nazism and the extraordinary range of its published and unpublished record, Kershaw combines vivid accounts of particular human experiences with wise reflections on big interpretive and moral issues. ... No one has written a better account of the human dimensions of Nazi Germany's end." James J. Sheehan

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Long, dense, tightly detailed and occasionally repetitive, The End is ultimately horrifying. Kershaw brilliantly demonstrates how and why the Third Reich chose destruction over surrender." David Laskin

Wall Street Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Kershaw has written a fat book, one that has the advantage of seeing the picture whole. ... Mr. Kershaw brings academic rigor to the subject, using fascinating untapped sources, such as the letters of Gen. Hans-Georg Reinhardt, a Hitler loyalist stationed on the Eastern Front." Giles MacDonogh

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Kershaw's book doesn't break new ground so much as sift and shift a familiar plot. As a result, Kershaw changes our perceptions of Nazi Germany's decline and fall rather than the body of knowledge about the destruction of wartime Germany and the defeat of Hitler. Even so, the result is an important study, academic but still approachable." David Shribman

Christian Science Monitor 3 of 5 Stars
"The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944–1945 is too packed with detail to provide much drama or suspense. ... The value of The End comes through Kershaw's sharp analysis of the motivations of those who kept Germany in the fight even as its borders collapsed." Randy Dotinga

Critical Summary

Ian Kershaw's historical niche is Hitler's Germany; arguably, nobody in the world knows more about the period. In The End, he continues to discover new material and to provide fresh contexts through which readers learn about the war. Kershaw's approach to both his research (here, he draws on the previously unpublished letters of one of Hitler's generals) and his narrative is academic, though his style and anecdotes add texture to an otherwise detail-dense text and make the book accessible. The answers to the deceptively simple questions the author asks are complex, to be sure. But Kershaw's historical analysis is clear-eyed and thorough, the work of a real pro.