This book is 1,000 evil pages into the past

Published 6:35 pm Friday, August 26, 2011

At one time or another, many of us have had that “big book” we had big plans to read — someday when there was time.

It was one of those books that I had browsed many times through the years, reading a few pages or paragraphs, looking at the 1,000 or more pages to the end, then saying, someday when there is time, I am going to have at it.

And so, today, I am having at it: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer.

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And it has become one of the most fascinating books I have ever read.

Interested historical reader, Gerald King, this book is for you too, and all others who bury themselves in the World War II historical novels of W. E. B. Griffin.

Shirer was a native of Iowa, and decided as he graduated college that he wanted to be a foreign correspondent for American newspapers. He then borrowed $100 from a relative, booked passage for France, and at the golden age of 21 began looking for a job in Paris in 1925.

As we remember, Shirer reported for print media from France, then from Germany prior to 1941. He also teamed with Edward R. Morrow to head the Berlin news bureau for CBS News during the 1930s.

Interested historical reader, Larry Briles, this book is for you.

In secret, Shirer also kept a diary of events, entering personal observations of Hitler’s Germany as the “evil genius” as he called him, took his country into one of the most heinous historical events of our times. His diary, he believed, was so filled with personal observations and damaging truths that if it had fallen into wrong hands, he could have been arrested for espionage.

Interested historical reader Mayo Livingston, this book is for you (if you have not already read it).

After the war, now free from Nazi censorship and propaganda, Shirer turned his diary into a book. Berlin Diary became a best seller.

There’s a new book now, out this month, a biography of Shirer, written by veteran New York Times reporter Steve Wick and entitled, The Long Night: William L. Shirer and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

Wick writes that Shirer had been writing and broadcasting for several years, reporting on the growing Nazi menace, the persecution of Jews, the arrests of ordinary and innocent citizens without their day in court, and detention camps filled with political prisoners charged with trumped up attacks against the Nazis. When he returned to the United States for a vacation visit, he discovered that most Americans and even news editors and broadcasters were uninterested in the evil events in Germany.

Interested historical reader Clayton Penhallegon, this book is for you.

As most of us bookies know, The Rise and Fall has become a classic. Shirer got the idea for the book when he returned to Germany after the war to report on the Nuremberg trials, where he witnessed the full affect of the Nazi menace. Since its publication in 1959, it has sold millions of copies.

Shirer was a man who witnessed history unfold, then tried to share it with the world. He was with the Nazis in 1938 when they stormed into Austria and he broadcast eyewitness accounts of the invasion. He was with the invading German Army as it moved into France in 1940 and occupied Paris.

Interested historical reader Lynn Roberts, this book is for you.

Witt’s book details Shirer’s daring and dramatic escape from Nazi Germany in 1941, knowing he was about to be arrested as a spy. Witt tells how Shirer fooled the Nazis by getting his secret papers out of Berlin, including his diary, loaded on the airplane in trunks, his baggage stamped and sealed as “passed” after being inspected by the Gestapo.

Interested historical reader Rex Sanders, this book is for you.

In 1959, in the Forward of Rise and Fall, Shirer gives us a modern warning.

“In our new age of terrifying, lethal gadgets, which supplanted so swiftly the old one, the first great aggressive war, if it should come, will be launched by a suicidal little madman pressing an electronic button. Such a war will not last long and none will ever follow it. There will be no conquerors and no conquests, but only the charred bones of the dead on an uninhabited planet.”

Jim Smith writes a weekly column for The Post-Searchlight. He can be reached through his email at:, or by cell phone at (229) 254-2753.