Well, I did it. After two years, I have finally finished this beast. The first 600 or so pages are pretty slow, but it flies after that...
We all know the story- a misanthropic, racist, vegetarian, megalomaniac failed artist writes a book that taps into age-old German prejudices, seizes power, and embarks on a quest for European domination. In the process he starts the biggest war in history leading to the deaths of tens of millions of people, subjugates about a dozen other countries, and systematically exterminates the majority of European Jewry. The "Thousand Year Reich" only lasted a total of 12 years, 4 months, and 8 days, but during that brief span it wrought havoc and destruction on scale never witnessed before or since.
William Shirer was a journalist, *not* a historian, but his narrative style coupled with the fact that he lived in Germany during the majority of the time Hitler was in power lends this book both readability and a level of believability that no historian could possibly achieve. Several parts are indeed personal narrative in which Shirer lends his own perspective on what he saw happening, though he is careful to point out which sections are taken from historical records and which are colored by his own experience. The book is thoroughly footnoted (to the tune of about a footnote per page- it takes almost as long to read the notes as it does the main text), indexed, and overflowing with "I didn't know that" moments. It doesn't dwell on minutiae, nor does it give a blow-by-blow account of the war, but nevertheless it attempts to tell a huge story, and the result is a huge (1300+ pages in the printing I own) book.
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was published in 1957, a bare 12 years after the "Fall" that occurs at the end of the story. However, it is very easy to see why it remains today- 50 years after its release- the definitive work on the Nazi regime. I highly recommend it to anyone who shares a passion for history or who is fascinated by the factors that lead to societies devolving into statist forms of government. I also recommend it to anyone who believes that appeasement and "negotiation" is an acceptable means for handling such regimes (that means you, Barack Obama...). Sections of it (if not the entire book) should be required reading for all high school students. Only by understanding the past may we secure our future.