A kaleidoscopic portrait of the last days of the Nazi Reich, narrated in the best apocalyptic style by British historian/journalists Read and Fisher (Kristallnacht, 1989, etc.). The bloody final days of the bloodiest European war in history provide a spectacle that, in its stupefyingly tragic depth, could have overwhelmed a Tolstoy--although Read and Fisher manage to hold up pretty well. They set their scene carefully, starting in 1936 with the opening of the Olympic games in Berlin and guiding us along the complex route that led inexorably to the eruption of war three years later. This is preeminently a history of the German capital (rather than of the German nation) during wartime, and, as such, it possesses a clarity of focus that few other accounts of the war have achieved. As Read and Fisher see them, the Berliners as a whole were vastly unenthusiastic about Hitler and his war, suspecting from the start that the Nazis were gambling with their lives. Hitler himself seems to have requited their affections in full: For all of his grandiose dreams of rebuilding the capital into an imperial showplace, the FÅhrer obviously hated Berlin and (until the end of the war) never stayed there more than a few days at a time. When the Nazi regime finally collapsed, its end was just as Wagnerian as its rhetoric had been, and it is here that Read and Fisher manage best to convey the tenor and shape of the war's intrusion into urban life: the endless procession of refugees; the increasing chaos and lawlessness; the progressive disappearance of basic goods and amenities--and, in the midst of everything, the insane survival of Germanic traits of loyalty and duty, which led thousands to die for a doomed cause they had long since lost faith in. Splendidly researched and admirably constructed, this stands as one of the best accounts yet of the war and its terrible toll.