Sunday, 19 December 2010

Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich In Power (2006)

This is the second volume of Evans' history of the Third Reich. (For my review of the first volume, please follow this link.)

Evans provides a convenient review/summary of the first volume in his Prologue, which I found particularly useful as I read the previous volume several months and even more books ago. His summary is succinct, clear, and useful (and if you are planning on reading the first volume, I recommend you read the prologue to this book first, as it provides a handy precis of what you can expect).

Of course, analysis of the Third Reich in Power has the advantage of material that is far more likely to hold any reader's interest, starting as it does at the 1933 seizure of power. From the outset, this book moves more quickly and more clearly than the first volume, which spent a significant portion of time setting up the philosophic, political and economic context of the rise of fascism in Germany. This volume begins by surveying the initial format of German governance under the Nazis, and then the establishment of multiple levels of surveillance and repression (including the SA, Gestapo, and SS). A particularly useful concept Evans uses as a guiding organizational trope is the shrinking divide between the 'normative' and 'extra-governmental' (my term, not his) wings of governance established by the Nazis. His discussion of the difficulties had in altering German law to correspond to the ever-moving Nazi definitions of justice, fairness, and juris prudence are quite interesting, and an aspect of this period that gets too little discussion in most histories.

Perhaps surprising is Evans' concentration on cultural aspects of Nazi Germany, including the arts, education and religion. Certainly, developments in these fields were all important. It is just surprising to see an author devote about half of his discussion of this era to these topics. That being said, Evans does an admirable job making a multitude of confusing, sometimes contradictory governmental impulses understandable, without making them as tiresome as some other authors have done.

As Adam Tooze does in Wages of Destruction, Evans also makes much of the economic necessity of Germany's choice to go to war in the 1930s. Hitler's initial plan was for war to begin about four or five years later. The balance of trade, need for acquisition of primary resources, and international debts helped to compel significant support for a move to an earlier war timeline, however.

The book does lose a little focus in the second half, as Evans attempts to describe and make sense of the Nazi efforts to acquire Austria and Czechoslovakia. He does give an interesting indication, however, of the contending interests at play in proposing, supporting, and developing various options (such as Goring's leading role in bring about a peaceful acquisition of Czech land, and Ribbentrop's dismissal of English willingness to fight as well as his work in engineering the rather surprising Non-Aggression Pact with the USSR. All of this, however, could have easily been more fully explored.

One area I would have liked to read more about was the German involvement in Spain's civil war - both as a political choice, as well as a set of lessons on strategy and applications of military technology. This may have been beyond the survey of German domestic politics that Evans seems to focus on, though.

All of this said, the second volume of Evans' trilogy is a much better read than the first. I can only hope the third is just as interesting.