Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Questions About Historical Analogies? Read Richard Evans

I wanted to add a footnote to my recent discussions of historical analogies by recommending the work of Richard J. Evans. Evans, Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, is one of my favorite historians who, with only a handful of others in recent generations, has reshaped the field of German history and our attitudes toward it.

Evans is energetic, of dauntingly wide-ranging interests and knowledge, as his major publications show. He was a pioneer of real social history in the field of German studies. He has written about feminists, peasants, and workers. His conceptually as well as empirically studies of Hamburg are anything but mere "local studies."  Among the main themes of his work are the questions of continuity and change in German history, as represented by the twin emphases on the Wilhelmian Kaiserreich and the Third Reich. In the course of writing on the latter, he has also produced major works on historiography dealing with both the challenge of the Nazi past and general issues of method. His In Defence of History has been translated into German, Swedish, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Italian and Turkish.

Evans has just brought out the third and final volume of what is bound to be regarded as his magnum opus, a history of Nazi Germany (irony of success: one can only hope that it brings additional and deserved attention to his earlier works rather than eclipses them).

I thought of a review of his Third Reich at War this May and June, as Nazi analogies burst out like summer flowers on both the domestic and international fronts. The New York Times Book Review appraisal (May 17), by Walter Reich, former director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, made the point very simply:
The public’s memory of what Nazi Germany was and did has been, in recent years, mangled and trivialized. Widely seen but misleading films and politicized accusations of countries perpetrating “holocausts” against various groups have debased people’s sense of the real nature of the Germans’ deeds during World War II.

Which is why Richard J. Evans’s “Third Reich at War” couldn’t have come at a better time. The book may well be not only the finest but also the most riveting account of that period. If any work of accurate history has a chance to correct the distortions of public memory, this is it.
Agreed.  Read the book and learn.

No comments: