Inside the Third Reich, by Albert Speer

August 29, 2011 at 19:18 (Biography, Book Reviews, Highly Rated Books, Historical, Second World War, War) (, , , )


Albert Speer is a convincing and likable writer: and therefore any discerning reader would do well to resolve to dislike him and remain utterly unconvinced. This was harder than it sounds, possibly because it is easy to want to find some wholesomeness even in the darkest and vilest of pits. Speer’s apparent willing martyrdom in Spandau and his bleating and repetitive urges for the reader to realise that he considers himself guilty (even as he coolly explains why he was not guilty) are winsome, appealing and ultimately dangerous.

It is impossible to read this book and remain a sceptic. It is impossible to read this book and consider Speer to be entirely deserving of his harsh sentence. It is almost impossible to read this book and understand the full horror behind such clinical phrases as “imported workers” or “forced labour”. The stinking body count and the ploughed mud of Europe’s cities seem utterly irreconcilable with Speer’s gentleman’s war. Quite besides his genteel and sympathetic self-portrait, he presents a Hitler both familiar and new. Even forty years after this book’s publication, Hitler is still spoken of by serious historians as a tactical genius (a madman, naturally – but a genius nonetheless).

“…the chaotic command structure made it possible for men of good will to limit chaos in the future.”

-Inside the Third Reich

If Speer is to be believed (and he is no less convincing here than when protesting his own innocence) Hitler was an utter idiot. A lucky idiot, but a poltroon of poltroons. Besides the intimate portraiture of the Fuehrer, Speer provides his true judgement in a comic facade of buffoonery and incompetence at every level, and gives a convincing argument for the Third Reich’s hypothetical triumph under steadier hands. Speer’s memories can be questioned; his motives even more so. But if this is not after all the true inside story from a true inside penitent, then it is at least the inside story that a man who thought he was penitent, thought was true. A priceless historical document and a deeply interesting memoir.

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