The title pretty much says it all. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich is an exhaustive chronicle of Germany under Germany. It takes its time with background, reaching all the way to Martin Luther and giving a detailed biography of the Hitler clan as well as Hitler himself’s early years, but the bulk of it fixates on the period between 1933 and 1945 when the Reich held Germany by the throat. There is little postscript, apart from a couple pages about the trials at Nuremberg.
In addition to the copious research supporting it, the book also benefits from Shirer’s unique perspective. He was a news correspondent in Berlin during Hitler’s rise to power and subsequent rule, and consequently the narrative takes surprisingly intimate turns from time to time as he recounts his personal experience of absorbing and reporting on a particularly large bit of news.
Shirer makes no effort to hide his feelings about particular actors, and though such a lack of objectively might rankle in a different context, it works fine here, since Hitler and his ilk are well beyond defending. If anything, his invective provides a bit of a release valve for the reader, as we absorb accounts of atrocity after atrocity. The flip side of this candid approach is that some passages have not aged particularly well. There are several instances where Shirer references the homosexuality of some Nazi officials in a manner than does not distinguish between it and other traits that you’d actually call morally reprehensible: things like corruption and violence. His attitude was probably not out of step with the day, but it catches on a modern ear in a way the writer probably didn’t intend.
The prose is unadorned but eloquent, and the content surprisingly accessible given the book’s scope. There are some chapters that began to drag a bit, as Shirer provided voluminous accounts of various diplomatic exchanges, but as the book strove to be comprehensive I don’t feel justified in calling this a fault. Shirer’s objective was to tell the whole story, and that he did.