In This Review
The Coming of the Third Reich

The Coming of the Third Reich

By Richard J. Evans

Penguin Press, 2004, 656 pp.

This first part of what will be Evans' three-volume history of Hitler's regime is the most comprehensive and convincing work so far on the fall of Weimar and Hitler's rise to power. Unlike past accounts suggesting that things could have turned out differently had some of the key players been less foolish, Evans builds, stone by stone, a monument to prove that Hitler's ascent was the only possible outcome even though the Nazi Party never captured an absolute majority of votes. He begins with the legacy of the past: how "mainstream parties" adopted anti-Semitic ideas; how pseudoscientific notions of racial hygiene developed starting before 1914; how Germany's defeat in World War I allowed Nazism to emerge as a serious political force by causing Germans to seek "an authoritarian alternative to the civilian politics that seemed so signally to have failed Germany in its hour of need." He finds the Weimar Constitution no worse than many others, but "the fatal lack of legitimacy from which the Republic suffered magnified the constitution's faults many times over." With that lack of legitimacy compounded by hyperinflation, depression, and cultural clashes, the Nazis managed to prevail through a deadly combination of violence and propaganda, both unprecedented in their intensity.

The last part of the book is a detailed, depressing account of Hitler's transformation of Germany in a few months in 1933, including the "cultural revolution" in which both Martin Heidegger and storm troopers played key roles. The Nazi "revolution," Evans concludes, was meant to be "the world-historical negation of its French predecessor," offering "a synthesis of the revolutionary and the restorative." Unconcerned with overthrowing the social system, Nazism focused on "race, culture and ideology"-and on creating "a dictatorship the like of which had never yet been seen."