Books by William L. Shirer

HISTORY
Released: Nov. 15, 1999

An often gripping, but seriously under-edited, series of the famed correspondent's news reports for CBS radio, published for the first time. Shirer (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Berlin Diary, etc.) was an American journalist covering Germany when Edward R. Murrow of CBS hired him as a radio news broadcaster in 1938. His firsthand addresses to America from Nazi Germany are captivating. Although some of them are formulaic period pieces, most are full of trenchant observations about the reactions of ordinary Germans or the Nazi press to domestic or international events. They present an American perspective on incidents as they unfolded and remind us how well-informed in broad outline the democracies were about life under Hitler. Because editorial comments on Shirer's broadcasts are sparse throughout, however, readers seeking to place the reports in historical context will need to supply a good deal of that context themselves. A sound introduction by the journalist's daughter Inga Shirer Dean offers background on his life and recounts the sort of Nazi censorship his work was subject to, but says nothing about its place in the news programs in which it regularly appeared. The place, date, and time are given for each report, but not the day of the week, making it difficult for readers to place references to "last Monday." In addition, occasional errors of substance—for example, the heading "Berlin" for the broadcast of September 13, 1939, beginning, "This is William L. Shirer in Geneva"—may raise skeptical eyebrows about the entire project. The volume concludes, again rather confusingly, not with Shirer's final broadcast in September 1940, but with his coverage of the Munich Crisis in September 1938. A less than ideal presentation, then, for an important American commentary on life in Nazi Germany. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: July 1, 1994

Given the Tolstoys' voluminous, unsparing, often shared, and ultimately rather deranged diaries, writing about this prizefight of a union is not much harder than simply showing up at ringside. Using the straight-line, calendar-like procedure of his famous Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Shirer simply follows the count and countess through the rounds of their agonies. Shirer (who died last December) revisits Sonya's devotion as secretary (the woman copied her husband's manuscripts out by hand many times over during their composition — a Herculean task); Leo's personal renunciation of one of the most fabulous gifts of talent in world art in favor of his own brand of obnoxious humility as a Christ figure; the ensuing acolytes; the jealous and largely ignored children; the comings and goings of fellow Russian writers and disciple-ish suck-ups; Sonya's pathetic attempt to snare the attentions of the epicene composer Tanayev and thus win for herself a little well-deserved appreciation. All that's here is complete enough — less schlockily pitched than in Anne Edwards's Sonya (1981) but finally no deeper. A great man's marriage is of legitimate interest, but we need to have some sense of the greatness first. Shirer's stabs at lit crit are negligible ("Again, in the telling of that rough journey to purgatory," he writes apropos of Resurrection, "Tolstoy is wonderful in his descriptions. And he introduces some memorable characters..."), and even his historical references to the foment of Russian society churning around the Tolstoys, to which they certainly contributed, are bare, slack, and unshaped. A.N. Wilson's Tolstoy isn't challenged here by Shirer; it remains the best portrait of the man and the work and the marriage, the troika without any one part of which nothing seems to really move forward. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Jan. 26, 1989

This third and final installment of the author/broadcaster's memoirs examines in human terms the forces that shaped the history of the past five decades. Included in Shirer's well-wrought narrative are such little-known events as the trials of American broadcasters who propagandized for the Third Reich during WW II, as well as such more familiar matters as the McCarthyism of the 1950's. The author's comments are refreshingly unfettered by self-consciousness (e.g., when he recounts his own extramarital affairs and the end of his 37-year marriage), and they are also resonant in implication—he speculates, for instance, on the reasons for Edward R. Murrow's buckling under to the witch-hunting of the "Red Channels" years. After a brief recap of his experiences during the Second World War, Shirer writes of his return to America, a country that in large measure was unfamiliar to him after years abroad. He tells of the circumstances surrounding the publication of his best-selling Berlin Diary—Alfred Knopf felt it had "no beginning, middle or end" and was sure to be a flop. Shirer then describes the events that led up to his "resignation" (read "firing") from CBS as a result of unsubstantiated accusations of being Red-tinged. The memories obviously still rankle. It was his inability to obtain work that resulted in the creation of his monumental Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Shirer's personal life is also examined: his affairs with dancer Tilly Losch and TV personality Virgilia Peterson. Included as well are charming vignettes of a visit to Tolstoy's home and of a hilarious French TV interview show that was disrupted by a pair of insistent panhandlers and an impenetrable fogbank. A fine, fitting conclusion to an important work of autobiography. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: May 23, 1984

The rise of the Third Reich achingly relived; the foreign correspondent's calling displayed. The second volume of Shirer's memoirs opens, in 1930, with the young Chicago Tribune reporter in India, covering Gandhi. In the next three years, he slips into warring Afghanistan (a then-to-now update); de-trains, impulsively at UR-JUNCTON (where Leonard Woolley has just uncovered evidence of the Flood); marries in Vienna, takes sick in India, loses his job and his sight in one eye (a Col. McCormick foible; a skiing accident); spends a year on the Spanish coast (writing an unpublishable novel, getting turn-downs from magazines, seeing the Spanish Republic totter); grabs at a copy-desk job on the Paris Herald; covers the rightist 1934 Paris riots (a footnote flashes forward to Vichy); and, apprehensive about Britain and France, gets the frontline post he wants—as a correspondent, with Hearst's Universal Service, in Nazi Berlin. The remaining, bulk of this incident-and-afterthought-crammed book could be called from Nuremberg to Nuremberg. Shirer, astounded by the Germans' enthusiasm for Hitler, their docility under repression, realizes that they yearn "to be strong again." He too finds the Fuhrer's eyes hypnotic, his voice mesmerizing. He reports church persecution—excessively: resistance made news, but most were untouched, unconcerned. Hitler moves into the Saar, rearms: "What will London and Paris do? Foolish question! They did nothing." Hitler marches into the Rhineland: "I was sure that if the French army had budged it would easily have turned back the Germans. . . and that would have been the end of Hitler and the Nazi Germany." (Hitler, we now know, agreed.) By the time of the Anschluss, Shirer will be with CBS—after another scary brush with unemployment. "I first met Ed Murrow in the lobby of the Adlon in Berlin at seven o'clock on Friday, August 27, 1937." Murrow hires him—after Ed Paley OKs his voice—to arrange broadcasts on the Continent, frustratingly. Witnessing the Anschluss, he flies to London and broadcasts the first "firsthand" report; within days, he and Murrow are setting up "the first world news roundup ever"—by correspondents in London, Vienna, Berlin, Paris, and Rome. Shirer is scathing, throughout, about Chamberlain—and merciless about Munich: the Allies lost ground in the year's "breathing space," and quite possibly lost the USSR. Still to come: the Blitzkrieg, the German entry into Paris, the armistice at Compiegne. In 1940, hamstrung by the Nazis, Shirer leaves. . . to return briefly to Berlin ha ruins and the Nazis in the dock. Shirer is still pained, still jubilant—and, on a private level, both frank and gracious. Read full book review >
GANDHI by William L. Shirer
NONFICTION
Released: Jan. 1, 1980

As a young foreign correspondent, Shirer reported briefly on Gandhi—but the year was 1931, when India's struggle for independence peaked and Gandhi scored perhaps his greatest political success. So, though Shirer's memoir is inflated with Talks on India and Thoughts on Gandhi, and freighted with vituperations against the British, it also recaptures the novelty of his approach and the magnitude of his appeal. The year before, he had led a 200-mile march to the sea to pick up a lump of salt—a violation of the British salt tax; and this symbolic act (like—he reminds Shirer—the Boston Tea Party) had propelled the Indian masses into nonviolent civil disobedience on a large scale. To check its spread, Gandhi had been arbitrarily imprisoned. Now he was out of prison and negotiating with the British viceroy: if Gandhi would call off the civil-disobeience campaign and attend an upcoming London conference, the British would make concessions too. These, however, were so limited and vague that many Indian nationalists regarded Gandhi's agreement as a sell-out; but Shirer underlines history's judgment of its wisdom with Gandhi's own words. More importantly, he notes, the British had finally been forced "to deal with an Indian leader as an equal." Along these lines, Shirer also witnessed British discomfiture at Gandhi's arrival—complete with loin cloth, spinning wheel, and goat's milk—at echt-colonial Simla; he saw the sensation Gandhi caused in London—and heard him address Lancashire millhands thrown out of work by the Indian boycott of British cotton. And he saw him at home, subsisting on four-hours' sleep and "frenzied acclaim." None of this is new; some of it is blinkered, some is extraneous; but enough of it is vivid to impress upon latecomers the worldwide force of Gandhi's example. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Sept. 13, 1976

Foreign correspondent Shirer, it can conventionally be said, had led a full, rich life—at least from the age of twenty-one when, as a "raw Iowa youth," late editor of the Coe College Cosmos, he landed a job on the fabled Paris Tribune, never to go home again. But his satisfaction comes across mainly as self-satisfaction, combined with relief at escaping American "bigotry and banality"; his experience of foreign places reduces to platitudes about the "history within every cathedral, church, palace, museum and gallery, and in every park, cemetery, square and street"; his account of the life he lived through is flat, his report of people and events more gossipy than revealing. And, sadly, his is mean-spirited: the uncomely are described with contempt, celebrities are trailed to their often-ignominious ends. One searches, indeed, for clues to Shirer's incontrovertible success. Resentment at early snubs? A childhood passion for war news, a penchant for soldiering? Or perhaps sheer aggressiveness: at nine or so he pummeled his "bitchy," "ugly old grandma" into submission, an incident he relates without embarrassment. "The secret of this business is to turn it out fast under pressure," said Chicago Trib correspondent Wales, the day before elevating him to the foreign staff of the home paper. The days on the Paris Trib of Thurber, Elliot Paul, and Eugene Jolas are not without interest, nor his coverage of Lindbergh's arrival in Paris (which won him the promotion); and the Vienna he later shared with John Gunther, Whit Burnett and Martha Foley, Dorothy Thompson and "Red" Lewis, Moura Budberg and H.G. Wells is a wonderment. But the affairs, sexual and otherwise, of a few remarkable personalities cannot redeem a long, cranky, clumsy book. At the close he's off to Gandhi's India and what may be a more inspiring volume two. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Nov. 1, 1969

This is a companion effort to Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), also voluminous but very readable, reflecting once again both Shirer's own experience and an-enormous mass of historical material well digested and assimilated. The prime intention is to trace the forces — political, economic, and social, with the first clearly predominant — that sapped the strength and resilience of the French Third Republic and made it ripe for sudden political and moral collapse. Though he doesn't dig as determinedly as in Rise and Fall, Shirer looks for seeds of ruin planted in the past, starting his chronological investigation with the Republic's "freakish birth" in 1870 and the early growing pains that highlighted fatal fissures in French society inherited from the turbulent aftermath of the Revolution. The main body of the work concentrates upon the last years of the Republic (1934-1939), with the nation irrevocably split in two, and the war, defeat, and collapse (1939-1940). The subject matter lacks the same fascination-repulsion which propelled so many readers through the numerous pages of Rise and Fall, but Collapse should also achieve a good measure of critical and popular success. Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1962

Excitement, suspense surrounding the biggest naval hunt of World War II, combine to make this one of the tops in this series, a book one reads with sustained excitement. Britain on the conveys bringing her supplies, and the line was threatened by a ship of the speed and forepower. The hunt starts when the Bismarck's departure from the well-maintained secret hiding place is reported; it ends six days and some 2,000 miles later when British torpedoes and shells send the pride of the German navy to the bottom of the Atlantic with all but 118 of its 2400 men crew. Here is contemporary history as it should be written for 10-14ers. There's a sense of drama, an economy of words. Read full book review >
THE RISE AND FALL OF ADOLF HITLER by William L. Shirer
NONFICTION
Released: April 3, 1961

This is an important book recommended for every awakening teenager and guaranteed to capture and sustain profound attention from the first to the last page. No dull recorder of dates and events, this author imparts his own observations of Hitler as he saw him during his rise to power. Against the political climate of the 20s and 30s, each step toward Hitler's coup is included, the Beer Hall Putsch, his imprisonment and diabolical prediction in rabble-rousing organizing and final chancellorship. Details of his initial bloodless conquests, his treaties and then the events of World War II are presented. German defeat and Hitler's gradual disintegration, all the major events of his "bloody trall" emerge to create a full double portrait, of the paranoid Vienna tramp and of his monstrous deeds. Facts throughout are authenticated with quotations and eye witness reports. A knowledgeable dramatic account. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: Oct. 17, 1960

This is an extraordinarily interesting piece of the history of our times, made possible first by the fact that an excellent reporter was on the scene and lived through much of it, second by the wealth of primary source material secured at the time of the defeat and fall of the Third Reich. Hitler is, of course, the focal point, a "person of undoubted if evil genius". Shirer destroys some of the legends of his youth but traces the steps by which he came to power through the instrumentality of Eckhart, who found him a tool for his own ends. National Socialism was founded by misfits; by 1920 Hitler's talents as agitator, organizer and propagandist had brought most of the associates of stature to its ranks. The Nazification of Germany- forecast by Hitler- in Mein Kampf, consolidated in the lean years out of power, infiltrated into the armed services, engineered by a group of brilliant, ruthless opportunists, became a fait accompli before the world took Hitler seriously. All the facets are explored:- the racial laws, the persecution of Christians as well as Jews, the control of press, education, the arts, the abolishing of the separate powers of the states, of free trade unions, the steps to war while talking peace, the wizardry of Schacht's economic policy, the fooling of the people. And then, chronologically, the march of victory, while Chamberlain fumbled:- Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, the deal with Russia — and World War II. To this reader this part of the book, perhaps the first two thirds, was more provocative and interesting reading than the war years. But even in the war years, Shirer injects a revealing picture of Hitler's duality. The record shows decisions made while statements to the contrary were issued; it shows division in the ranks,- between Hitler and Molotov, Hitler and Mussolini, Hitler and his own general staff, Hitler and Japan. America's part in the war was his final and fatal miscalculation. Throughout, sharp pen pictures of what life in the Third Reich was like should help keep the world from forgetting. A book not only for reference, but for absorbed reading. As November choice of the Book-of-the-Month, it should be an immediate success. Read full book review >
THE CONSUL'S WIFE by William L. Shirer
Released: April 3, 1956

A story of an uprising in a Sikh province of India, before the British withdrawal and of the part played in it by the Leightons, he the American consul, and Ilka, the consul's wife, a lovely Hungarian. Leighton was close to the point of recall, ill of malaria, troubled by the revolt of the natives which he felt could have been avoided by the British Resident, disturbed over his teen age daughter's passionate determination to stay in Pawancore and marry a glamorous Sikh lawyer, and above all, worried over the charges levied that his beloved wife is affiliated with the revolutionists. In the few days covered by the story, the rebellion comes to bloody conclusion, Leighton's efforts to stem the violence fail — and Ilka's finds herself helplessly enmeshed in the plot to murder the British Governor. Lord Stanhops. The sensational plot is acted out against the setting of a , unhappy, tropical land, but the characters are puppets, and the plot seems synthetic, contrived. Shirer's gifts lie more in the realm of reporting than creative writing, and the book carries none of the assured tone of the professional novelist. Read full book review >
THE CHALLENGE OF SCANDINAVIA by William L. Shirer
NONFICTION
Released: May 23, 1955

Some years ago Marquis Childa' The Middle Way fascinated the American reading public with the program then getting under way in Sweden. Now William Shirer has performed signal service in bringing us up to date, not only on Sweden, but on Norway, Denmark, Finland. In the Interim World War II has devastated three out of the four- so the record is one of "Operation Bootstrap"- Scandinavian style. He has sketched in the background historically, politically, socially; he has recorded the war record; he has analyzed the state of mind; he has given us the picture of what has been achieved, what the current progress, what the goals. It would be captious to complain that in so doing he has remained almost coldly impersonal, objective. What is said of the character of country and people is by way of interpreting their performance- not giving a word picture. What he has set out to do- present the "challenge" he has done- admirably. Read full book review >
STRANGER COME HOME by William L. Shirer
Released: May 27, 1954

Factual transcripts and autobiographical records of American citizens accused by Congressional investigatory committees have — for many readers — scooped the market, explored the interest, broadened the understanding of the conflicting and continuous stream of news stories and commentary. Now comes a prominent foreign correspondent who unashamedly cloaks the facts with a thin veneer of fiction and tells the story of what happens to a newscaster transferred from the European to the American scene, and caught in the dark web of charges and countercharges, smear techniques and prosecution. While the already convinced reader will follow with sympathy and despair the inevitable cycle, one wonders whether those in the camp of the investigators and acceptant of their procedures will bother to read a novel which is frankly a polemic. The period is largely pre-Korea; the story builds up to the reign of fear that held the radio and TV world in thrall with the publication of Red Channels (called Red Airwaves here); the characters are types, built on almost recognizable figures,- the commentator, the journalist, the diplomat, etc.; the story is told in the form of the diary of the newscaster whose actual record is so clear that he cannot conceive of himself as involved until misinterpreation, misrepresentation and the Big Lie technique distorts the whole picture, and ends with a verdict of guilty. Let's hope that some who refuse to recognize what is happening, as reported in the daily press, will find it more convincing when recorded in human terms in a novel. Read full book review >
MID-CENTURY JOURNEY by William L. Shirer
NONFICTION
Released: May 16, 1952

The author of turns his perceptive eye and mind on the Europe of 1950-51, at the mid century mark. This is a more philosophical and contemplative appraisal, a less personal and anecdotal one than might have been anticipated. He shares little with his reader of what he saw and did, but shares instead the conclusions he has drawn, and gives a backward look at those forces in history that have produced the conditions — history that, after a slow evolution produced in a short time profound changes. This is the theme of his story. He takes one with him first to Austria, which he feels can never live again as a nation, then to France, where an unfinished revolution brought defeat and humiliation, not yet resolved. Next to Germany, a country he had known intimately where he sees again evidence that Naziism and the old German disease survive, the new West German republic only a facade while the Allied Control does nothing. England he sees as the result of a generation of complacent refusal to face reality now at a point of exhaustion (for which we should share the blame). The Conservatives cannot undo history. In the European Union, despite Britain's abstention, he sees hope for the future, a limping start in the powerless Council of Europe, but a tangible evidence in the European Army and NATO, in SHAPE under Eisenhower, in the Schuman Plan. Finally, returning to America, he acknowledges evidences of coming of age, but deplores our unsolved problems of distribution, the schizophrenia of our thinking, the atmosphere of intolerance and fear, our ignorance of history, our moral cowardice. We must prove ourselves:- NOW. Shirer's name carries weight to counterbalance a public apathy towards books that make us think. Read full book review >
THE TRAITOR by William L. Shirer
Released: Nov. 3, 1950

This is the kind of first novel it was almost inevitable Willian Shirer would write. It isn't really a good novel, but it has a lot of good reading in it. The factual reportage, of the years of war in Berlin, have much of the detail that made Berlin Diary so unforgettable. The perceptive probing of the psychology of an American journalist turned traitor is convincing, and while only occasionally does one have a flash of sympathy for Oliver Knight, somehow Shirer keeps him from being utterly despicable. The Germans are vigorously drawn, though they emerge as types rather than individuals,- the SS man, the cold brain, the humble citizen who has almost the courage to speak out, the woman on the make, and so on. Jack Goodman, journalist who understands what is happening- and hates it, who doesn't want to give up the possibility of saving Oliver from himself, is typed as the right sort of American fighting for democracy on all levels; as a human being he lacks dimensions, though the reader feels that Shirer is inevitably making his character autobiographical- or perhaps a blend of several journalists close to him. The march of the war — the sweep of victory — the paralysis of defeat —and the years between, pace the action, which somehow seems secondary. In exposition, in description, in reporting, The Traitor vigorously gives us back bleak memories; in plot structure and characterization, it bears the marks of a partially mastered technique in the making. Read full book review >
END OF A BERLIN DIARY by William L. Shirer
Released: Sept. 22, 1947

One of the publishing events of the year- sorry we are so late reporting it! Exciting reading- unpalatable for those who would quickly forget the war and what it was fought for; but for those who want to see through the keen eyes, the alert mind, of one of our great newspaper and radio figures, a rewarding book, a searching analysis of Germany today, of the "beginning of the peace", of the failures — and the hopes. The first part of the diary records dramatic high spots of momentous months which saw the invasion of German soil, Roosevelt's death, the San Francisco conference and the birth of United Nations, the German surrender, the opening of the atomic age, the fall of Japan. At times Shirer- through hindsight- seems overly optimistic of the new world! The second half is more significant, as he returns to a London, grim over the failure of the peace makers to settle even matters of procedure, apprehensive of an America grown too powerful, experiencing the pangs of transition, economically. He returns to a Europe — facing a complete overhauling, to the wasteland of Berlin, to a Germany resentful rather than penitent. This section has a tremendous amount of source material- showing the German machine, the German mind, in action- grim reminder. The trials, the occupation, the deterioration of the American army, British blindness- and again and again the warning against forgetting too soon. Exciting- newsworthy- important. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: June 20, 1941

Here's the answer to those who have wondered whether Shirer's veiled allusions on the air, speaking from Berlin, have cloaked pro-Nazi sympathies. Here's the message between and behind the lines. Here is as thrilling and vigorous and all-inclusive a denunciation of Germany, her leaders, her policies, her people, her actions, her purposes as has come in any book we have read. Millions have listened to Shirer, who, during seven years, has been on the ground at the crucial moment — the fall of Austria, of Czecho-Slovakia, of Poland. He and his devoted friend, Edward Murrow, have been jointly responsible for the policies that have brought international hook-ups to the place they hold. This diary shows an amazing comprehension of what has been happening, before the world realized it; his advice would have saved many missteps had diplomats and statesmen heeded him. The record suffers not at all by a sense of having been told before, since Shirer presents it all with fresh evidence, a human approach, and the intimate details that make one feel one has gone through it with him. Sell the book as an important link in understanding what has been happening, as preparation for what is still to happen. Sell it as absorbingly interesting reading, throughout its close to seven hundred pages. Often enough his prophetic insight has proved itself. What can he do for the future ahead? A book for public libraries, bookshops, rental libraries. Read full book review >