An intricate and deeply felt examination of Germany in the three decades before the Nazi takeover. Davidson, who presently chairs the Conference on European Problems, has written three earlier studies of modern Germany. Here he has no explicit, overarching thesis except that the brutality of the Versailles Peace Treaty's political and economic exactations created the preconditions that destroyed the Weimar Republic. And this commonplace theme is developed through an almost too seamless narrative which allows itself unexplained allusions--but developed it is, with a detail challenging to the specialist and a gift for portraiture. Davidson's sympathy for Germany's legitimate nationalism gradually emerges through his accounts of pre-WW I diplomacy and his arguments that the Reich neither started the war nor conducted it atrociously. Though presented by the publisher as a social history of the background and highlights of Hitler's rise, the book is not primarily social history--the wartime ""turnip winter"" or the Ruhr labor showdowns of the late 1920s are barely touched on, for example. There are acute descriptions of Hitler's early Linz, Vienna, and Munich habitats, a sketch of his brave and comradely deportment for the ""first and last time in his life"" as a combat soldier, and a useful account of the aborted Beerhall Putsch; but these are ail subordinated to the diplomatic developments of the period and the leading politicians who interest Davidson far more. The industrialist Hugo Stinnes and the ""Red General"" von Seekt sought a bloc with the USSR after the war to foil the West's strangulation of Germany, while Gustav Stresemann and Walter Rathenau preferred to angle for Allied concessions. No final conclusion is drawn from the presentation of the conflict, though Davidson favors the Stresemann approach; instead a reference is tacked on to the ""shifts in national character"" which permitted Hitler's ascendancy. This rewarding book presupposes a fund of prior knowledge and provides a basis for reassessing it.