Shattered Past: Reconstructing German Histories by Konrad H. Jarausch &
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Thought-provoking, clever and at times harrowing, this book is no light-hearted read but it tackles essential issues that anyone trying to understand German history will undoubtedly encounter.
Though the focus of the book is more about German identity and Germany’s place in historiography, its ideas are pretty accessible to anyone with a keen interest in knowing more about the 20th century and Germany’s place within it. It approaches many difficult subjects with a painful honesty that puts trauma under the microscope and investigates its causes and consequences.
While certain chapters of the book would be more useful if you’re studying a specific theme or period of German history, it’s really in the book’s completeness that it gives you a well-rounded perspective of the issues with looking at complex histories and identities which is an invaluable tool for any student looking to expand their critical thinking.
Shattered Past also has a goldmine of research to draw from which, when approaching the daunting swath of literature about 20th century Germany, is a vital yellow brick road through which to learn more about particular issues. What’s more, the book evaluates a broad range of literature and assesses their usefulness in turn which can save a student many hours of being slogged over articles only to find them of poor reputation.
After reading the book from cover to cover over a period of six months, my heavily annotated and underlined copy will have a secure home on my bookcase for a long time as it’s one of the most thought-provoking academic books I’ve read so far.
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The Illustrated History Of The Nazis The Nightmare Rise And Fall Of Adolf Hitler by Paul Roland
My rating: 1 of 5 stars
It’s difficult to know quite where to start with reviewing this book. It’s like going up to a someone who has lived their life swamped with WWII propaganda and asking them to tell you everything they’ve seen graffittied on the back of a toilet door about why Hitler was bad. I’ll give you an example here, at one point early on in the book the author delves into his own theory that Hitler was evil because he was emasculated by having one testicle. Given that a great amount of debate has been had over the controversy of Hitler’s genitalia, it seems far-fetched for the author to state this as fact and, even more ridiculous, to say that the Holocaust was solely caused by Hitler’s psychological reaction to his rumoured missing testicle. This was one of many problems I found with the author’s rants but it was one of the most notable due to the lengths the author went to try and back-up his theory.
Overall, this book is a pretty useless buy unless you want to look at the photographs (which, I’ll grudgingly admit, it does carry a half decent collection but there’s little there that you won’t be able to find on the internet). It’s the mental equivalent of asking a pub full of drunks at closing time that you’ll buy them a round if they tell you everything they know about Hitler and the Nazis. The whole thing is dramatized and fraught with inaccuracies (for instance, the author has also apparently figured out the mystery of who started the Reichstag fire, something again, that is often debated on by historians).
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Up West: Voices from the Streets of Post-War London by Pip Granger
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I picked up this book merely out of curiosity after the words ‘war’ and ‘London’ in the title awakened my sleepy history nerd self. This is an easygoing read that’s ideal to keep on your coffee table and skim over a anecdote or two every now and then but can’t be taken seriously in large doses. While it’s cheery enough, the book relies solely on anecdotes from a range of people we never hear anything else about and they’re largely remembering their childhoods which makes for quite patchy stories.
I imagine this would make a decent little book if you have a particular fondness for Soho and Convent Garden but it still wouldn’t be a great book due to how repetitive it is and how its coverage is all over the place. It would’ve been better if it had an interview-style write up from the contributors along with mini-profiles because the attempt to group the book into themes meant stretching the anecdotes into themes they didn’t quite fit naturally in. It also meant that it became hard to match the anecdotes up to any particular person and mixing them up all the time meant I had to backtrack a few times to figure out if their stories had contradicted or who they vaguely were from previous anecdotes.
It’s a shame this book wasn’t a touch shorter so it could focus on the interesting anecdotes and leave some of the more uneventful ones aside. That, and a change in its format, would make it so much more of a fun read which I think would be more of a credit to the amount of effort this author has clearly put into trying to keep it as upbeat and enjoyable as possible.
The best thing about this book is what kept me stuck to it as I read more about what people’s lives where like during that time – it is charmingly honest. The love spoken from these pages comes across in waves and makes you really admire how much love these people have for their home. This book is advertised as being for people who want to reminisce about post-war London but I’d recommend it as chicken soup for homesickness and as a side to childhood memories.
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