In This Review

The Third Reich: A New History
The Third Reich: A New History
By Michael Burleigh
Hill & Wang, 2000, 965 pp

This exemplary history proves that brilliant historians can still enlighten their readers -- even when the facts are familiar. What distinguishes Burleigh is his purpose. His story is about not just a horrible historical episode but a "political religion" that led to an advanced society's moral breakdown and "moral neobarbarism" across Europe and Russia. Burleigh outright rejects separating fact from judgment and proudly defends the human values that Hitlerism tried to destroy. Indeed, his very indignation and uninhibited style enhance the book's appeal. He wisely starts the story in 1914, when many Germans citizens abandoned "the business of thinking for themselves." With formidable documentation, the author demonstrates how the triumph of police terror over the rule of law in 1933 formed the basis of all the evils that followed -- including policies toward Jews, eugenics and euthanasia, and occupation in the rest of Europe. Although Burleigh skimps somewhat on the issue of public acquiescence (and enthusiasm) before the war, he exhaustively examines German resistance to Hitler. Many of its members may not have been good democrats, he concludes, but they all sought to restore the rule of law. This account gives Hitler and the war less attention than do other versions, but The Third Reich unflinchingly keeps the reader's mind on the essentials.