I have gotten very interested in finally really learning about WWII and in particular how Nazi Germany came to be. So, I turned to what I was told was the definitive book on the subject, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William Shirer.
I read about 100 pages before I started getting a queasy feeling, and it wasn't long before I closed the book in disgust and started to do more research on Shirer and his monumental tome. It turns out that what stopped me cold is something that others have also had trouble with, and this is Shirer's blatant homophobia. At first I thought his mention of the many homosexuals who figured in the high ranks of the early Nazi party was just an odd, off-hand comment. But then, he went on a tirade about sexual perverts (meaning homosexuality) and characterized them as part of the dregs of society.
This is one of the best articles I found that articulates clearly the problems with Shirer's book.
Homophobic histories of Nazism ignore Hitler's war against gay men, by Peter Tatchell
The Amazon blurb on the book pretty much sums up what is the conventional wisdom about this book:
Hailed as “one of the most important works of history of our time” (The New York Times), this definitive chronicle of Hitler’s rise to power is back in hardcover with a new introductory essay by Ron Rosenbaum (Explaining Hitler and How the End Begins) commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of its National Book Award win.
The fiftieth anniversary edition of the National Book Award–winning bestseller that is the definitive study of Adolf Hitler, the rise of Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, and World War II. This special edition now features a new introduction by Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler and How the End Begins.I read the introduction by Ron Rosenbaum, and feel like he should have addressed Shirer's bias and skewing of history in order to reflect his own prejudices. I've read some comments that Shirer's homophobia reflect the societal norms of 1960. I actually don't buy that, and even if it were true, Rosenbaum doesn't share that excuse.
Interestingly, I'm also currently rereading Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist and I cringe every time Dickens uses the term "the Jew" to refer to Fagin. I am excusing Dickens because he is using a label for an individual character, as opposed to talking in general about a set of people but it still makes me cringe. And it's not clear that he is using the term "the Jew" to convey characteristics about Fagin, or just trying to make the story readable.
I can't excuse Shirer, or Rosenbaum, though. And, it bothers me that this book is routinely praised to the skies. I'm not in favor of banning books, but I would hate for students to read this book and think that Shirer's comments should be taken as truth.
Now, once again, I'm in search of a good book that will explain the rise and fall of the Third Reich, and what should I do with the copy I have? I really don't feel like I want to pass it on to a fellow unsuspecting reader.