175 Days of Bad News

I am slowly packing away my research materials for The Dragon from Chicago.* It is always harder than I expect. I have small stashes of material that I did not file at the time because I wasn’t sure where they should go. I stumbled across a stack of draft chapters that I never put away, probably because the project boxes were already full.  (A problem I have not resolved in the interim.)  And somehow I need to find room in the permanent bookshelves for the books currently stored on the rolling project bookshelf**—not an easy task.

In the course of dealing with the project bookshelf, I realize that there are a number of very good books that I never shared with you. Luckily, it’s never too late for a book review or two.

I think of The Last Winter of the Weimar Republic by Rüdiger Barth and Hauke Friederichs and Hitler’s First Hundred Days by Peter Frisch as a set, bookending the moment when Hitler became the German chancellor in January 1933.

The two books are different in structure and tone.

Barth and Friederichs take the reader day by day from November 17 1932 through January 30 1933. Each day opens with two or three newspaper headlines and is told in short segments that tell the story from different perspectives—a technique the authors describe as a “documentary montage.” Their goal is the let the story emerge without commentary based on hindsight. The result is powerful. (They also include a useful timeline at the end, which helped me keep a handle on the chronology of events at a time when things were moving very quickly.)

Hitler’s First Hundred Days has a more traditional narrative structure but is just as powerful. Frisch looks closely at the speed and brutality with which the Nazis built the structure with a terrifying combination of violence and parliamentary action—and the absence of resistance with which their actions wer met. His purpose is to understand how “a total fascist state that in January 1933 was highly contested rather improbable was widely accepted and broadly realized one hundred days later.”

Together, The Last Winter of the Weimar Republic and Hitler’s First Hundred Days give a reader a clear sense of the steps that allowed Hitler to take power and how the Nazis consolidated their position once they were in power. It is a chilling picture.


*Coming August 6 to your favorite purveyor of books. Which feels simultaneously like a long time from now and tomorrow.

**In theory, I can pull it next to my desk so that I can grab books as I need them. In reality, by the time I need to grab books , it is already too heavy to move. Besides, standing up and walking across the room multiple times a day gives me a moment to bend and stretch—always a good thing.

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