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1938: Hitler's Gamble

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1938: Hitler's Gamble
By Giles MacDonogh
Basic Books, 2011
ISBN: 978-0465022052

Reviewed by Boris Segel - September 4, 2012

1938 was a pivotal year in world history. In large measure this is because it was the year that Adolf Hitler solidified his power and became a concrete threat to Europe. In 1938: Hitler's Gamble, the historian Giles MacDonogh chronicles the events of 1938, and he highlights how Hitler went from being the chancellor of Germany and leader of a right wing coalition to seizing dictatorial powers and sole control of what was now officially, Nazi Germany. MacDonogh also details how the western powers discovered, too late, that Hitler was not just a crazed nut who only presented a threat to Germany, but rather, he was man who posed a threat to the entire world.

Taking a chronological approach, MacDonogh begins his book in January, and concludes in December of 1938. In the process he takes the reader on a terrifying, month by month, journey though Nazi Germany looking at both the political and social repercussions of Hitler's rise to power, and the events that brought him there. The events of 1938 are too many to list in this brief review, but some of the 'highlights' include the dissolution of the German cabinet, the Anschluss, Hitler's trip to Rome where he solidified his alliance with Mussolini, the Evian Conference, the Kendrick Crisis, the beginning of the mass deportation of Reich Jews, Chamberlain's visit to Germany in September, the Munich conference, the takeover of the Sudetenland, and Kristallancht.

Authoritative and engrossing, 1938: Hitler's Gamble is essential reading for anyone interested in any aspect of World War II history, including events leading up to the second world war, the Holocaust, the reasons why no one made a concrete effort to stop Hitler 'before it was too late', and the political machinations that went into Hitler becoming the dictator of Germany. Even if you are well versed in this period of time, you will find MacDonogh's approach of studying this one year in detail to be eye opening. It is one thing to learn about these events piecemeal, but to have them laid out, in order, brings a sense of clarity and understanding to the events that is difficult to obtain when reading a traditional text on the subject that covers the entire course of Hitler's reign, or in a book that covers just one facet of his reign. General overview books tend to cover such a broad swatch of history that they do not have the space to get into specifics, whereas one subject books tend to go into such detail that they are often off-putting to general readers. In 1938: Hitler's Gamble, MacDonogh takes the best of both formats. He has narrowed his focus enough to allow for a detailed analysis of his subject, but has also given his study enough leeway to keep the narrative moving along at a decent clip without getting bogged down in mind-numbing detail. As such, it provides scholars with a general overview of the period and points the way for further study on the subject if they so desire. While, for general readers, it provides an informative and edifying overview of the period without boring the reader with minutiae they are unlikely to care about. As a result, this book is accessible to both general readers and scholars alike, and it provides a sound overview of the subject that will make any reader conversant on the subject.

In writing this book, MacDonogh has included new, archival information that only recently came to light and he tries, when possible, to separate out what was known about Hitler at the time from what we know about him in hindsight. Together, this methodology helps to shed new light onto the events of 1938, and our understanding of these events, and their consequences. A remarkable work of research, 1938: Hitler's Gamble is ideal for general readers wanting to better understanding Hitler's rise to power, and it is a perfect addition to reading lists for university classes dealing with any aspect of World War II, as well as for courses in German history.

Related Reviews:

A Concise History of the Third Reich, by Wolfgang Benz.
A brief and academically authoritative, yet eminently readable account of the entire twelve-year existence of the Third Reich that covers political, social, cultural, and military aspects of this period.

The Nazi Germany Sourcebook: An Anthology of Texts, by Roderick Stackelberg and Sally A. Winkle
This anthology contains 148 primary texts that offer readers a general overview of the origins and consequences of Nazism.

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