The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich


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Joseph Bottum

The six volumes of Churchill on World War II are a great read, better than you expect -- all the better, in fact, because they are so one-sided and self-serving. I have no idea whether the Durants' civilization series is any good because I have never opened a single volume, even though it has rested on my shelf for more than three decades. But Shirer's volume is one of the great reading experiences, and now it has been reissued in a new edition commemorating the 50th anniversary of its selection for the National Book Award.

Nowhere except between the covers of that book have so many read so much about, for example, the three Reichstag elections held within five months in -- and much more. So important a cultural force was "Rise and Fall" that Time magazine listed it as one of the eight best nonfiction books written since , when the magazine was founded. It was, as Ron Rosenbaum writes in an introduction prepared for the commemorative edition, "a kind of a leap from eyewitness war correspondent to archival historian.

Shirer was, as Dean Acheson would say in a different context, present at the creation though not at the destruction , but he sought, as Mr. Rosenbaum put it, to write like "the kind of historian, who, like Thucydides, had firsthand experience of war and then sought to adopt the analytic distance of the historian.

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That almost never works for journalists; piles of campaign books, forgotten weeks after they are published, provide sad testimony to that. In fact, the only exceptions I can think of are Theodore H. Drop me a line if you can think of another one. Like no other book of the period, Shirer's possesses the gravitas of the archives as well as the grit of the streets. Shirer himself had a rise and fall -- a rise from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to the world stage, where he intersected with Hitler and Gandhi, representatives of the two extremes of 20th century history, and then a fall from grace when, as the original of the fabled "Murrow Boys" at CBS, he fell afoul of Edward R.

Murrow and William S. Paley and fell into near penury, in part as a result of his name appearing on a list of media leftists.


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The plan: Use captured German documents as the basis for an authoritative account of Hitler's ascent and decline. No one thought Shirer would ever earn back that advance.

Including Shirer: "I began to see that soon I would be back to where I had been for the last dozen years: struggling to make ends meet and not quite making it," he wrote in "A Native's Return. I met Shirer on a morning 17 years after the publication of "Rise and Fall," in a second-floor study of his New England farmhouse, where he wrote on a battered Royal typewriter. He was wearing a blue denim outfit with droopy back pockets and rolled-up cuffs, and had been reading Balzac and Stendhal, Pushkin and Chekhov, in front of a brick fireplace.

He was bald on the front of his skull but two huge white earmuffs of hair rested on either side of his head. He had no patience for the book's academic critics, who dismissed it as mere journalism. His notoriety grew inside the Gestapo, who began to build a charge of espionage against him.

The long night : William I. Shirer and the rise and fall of the Third Reich

His life at risk, Shirer had to escape from Berlin early in the war. When he returned in to cover the Nuremberg trials, Shirer had seen the full arc of the Nazi menace. It was that experience that inspired him to write The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich— the magisterial, definitive history of the most brutal ten years the modern world had known—which has sold millions of copies and has become a classic. Drawing on never-before-seen journals and letters from Shirer's time in Germany, award-winning reporter Steve Wick brings to life the maverick journalist as he watched history unfold and first shared it with the world.

Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages. More Details Other Editions 3. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about The Long Night , please sign up. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Average rating 3. Rating details. More filters.

Book Review: The Long Night - WSJ

Sort order. Aug 17, Mary Ronan Drew rated it really liked it. Germany, from to was both the best place in the world for a reporter to be posted and the worse. There was so much going on: the Nazis were becoming more powerful and more violent, they were clearly remilitarizing, and they had begun systematically persecuting the Jews. One crisis after another was created by Hitler: occupation of the Rhineland, dismissal of the terms of the Versailles treaty, invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Anschluss, the Nuremberg Laws, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, t Germany, from to was both the best place in the world for a reporter to be posted and the worse.

One crisis after another was created by Hitler: occupation of the Rhineland, dismissal of the terms of the Versailles treaty, invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Anschluss, the Nuremberg Laws, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the invasion of Poland, the Blitzkrieg, the fall of France, the bombing of Berlin by the Allies. But fear of the Nazis was extensive and it was difficult to get people to tell him the truth of what was really going on. German censorship was extreme, with every word printed in US media being perused by the Nazis and stern warnings given when correspondents criticized Hitler or his government.

Numerous journalists were thrown out of the country. When Shirer began his historic radio broadcasts, the first news broadcasts sent live to the US, the censorship was worse. A censor went over every word Shirer spoke on the air and he was reduced to using a sarcastic tone, a pause, emphasis on a word, and other subtleties to attempt to convey the truth about what was happening in Europe to the American listening public. On occasion he refused to report what was clearly propaganda, such as the purported preparations in for an invasion of England. Troops and materiel were moving to the west but Shirer noted there were no boats, no naval vessels with which to transport men and equipment.

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He realized the Germans wanted the Allies to believe they were about to invade when to Shirer they obviously were not. He lived in Vienna with his wife, Tess, when they were first married but in the middle of the Anschluss she went into labor, Shirer was out of the city, she required a Caesarean, and their doctor, a Jew, disappeared.

His wife became critically ill and required another surgery and only by moving her to a convent in the Vienna woods were they able to entice the doctor to return, at the risk of his life, to perfume it. Tess and the baby moved to Geneva and Shirer got away to visit them as often as he could, but that was not often enough. Eventually he arranged for them to travel across France to Spain and from there to Lisbon and on to America. Shirer went on to write his monumental book about Nazi Germany, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which was for many years the most popular and widely regarded except among academic historians history of the period in the US.

I borrowed this book from the library about Monday and I finished it Wednesday mid-afternoon. It is a rich tale of the life of a reporter, writing from a viewpoint in the middle of world-shattering events, struggling to maintain ethical standards, and almost overwhelmed by the evil and destruction around him, but unable to report most of it to the free world.

View all 11 comments. Sep 25, Lauren Albert rated it really liked it Shelves: history-american , biography-autobiography , history-european. It is the fact that Shirer, though brave, was not fearless, that makes his time in Nazi Germany so amazing. Wick's, through heavy use of Shirer's diaries of his time in Berlin, makes the frightening climb of the Nazis to power vivid.

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany Documentary

You can feel what it must have been like to wait for the doorbell to ring and find a soldier standing ready to convey the order your deportation, to stand while the Nazi censors struck black lines through your stories, to worry that your writings--as carefully self- It is the fact that Shirer, though brave, was not fearless, that makes his time in Nazi Germany so amazing.

You can feel what it must have been like to wait for the doorbell to ring and find a soldier standing ready to convey the order your deportation, to stand while the Nazi censors struck black lines through your stories, to worry that your writings--as carefully self-censored as you make them--may give a hint to the identity of your informants and lead to their arrest and possible death.

It is also clear what a struggle it was for journalists to maintain their integrity in the face of immense intimidation. In one important incident, Shirer refused to broadcast that the Nazis were preparing an imminent invasion of England despite strenuous insistence by the Nazis that he do so. Based on his own evaluation of the transportation needs such an invasion would require, along with his not seeing any preparation for it, he decides that the Nazis' pushiness on the matter can come only from a desire to instill fear in the British people and he refuses.

Sadly, not all journalists did the same.


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  • An admirable man and journalist who stood up for what he believed as best he could under circumstances that would have caused most people to give up entirely. He felt that whatever truthful information he could get out was more important than disobeying censors and being unable to serve as a witness at all. The importance of his later book--The Rise and Fall of the German Reich is testimony to the importance of Shirer as a witness. Aug 27, judy rated it really liked it Shelves: non-fiction , history.

    If you're looking for an eyewitness account of Hitler's rise and the war, this is not your book.

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    If you're fascinated by great journalism, Murrow's boys and the painful moral dilemmas of deciding what to report while the Gestapo looks over your shoulder, this is the book. He could see early on what Hitler's intention If you're looking for an eyewitness account of Hitler's rise and the war, this is not your book.

    He could see early on what Hitler's intentions were but how much of the story could he risk telling? Worse yet, even if he told, who really cared? In the pre-war days, the world-at-large was in denial about the depth of Hitler's evil. This included the American Jewish community who were slow to grasp what Hitler's hatred for the Jews would really mean. Meanwhile, as the first of Murrow's boys and recruited before radio broadcasts from the war zone even began, Shirer had a key role in the birth of broadcast journalism.

    A worthy book for those who care about the ethics of reporting. Jan 20, Robert Morrow rated it it was ok. A tale of occasionally gripping scenes overwhelmed by too much repetition and filler material.

    The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
    The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
    The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
    The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
    The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
    The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
    The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
    The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

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