Rise and fall of William Shirer
It sat there on your parents’ shelf, or maybe your grandparents’, alongside the six volumes of Winston Churchill’s chronicle of World War II and the 11 volumes of Will and Ariel Durant’s “The Story of Civilization.” It had two distinctions. One was the menacing swastika on the spine of the book. The other was that it was the only one of those 18 volumes that anyone in your family ever actually opened.
It is William L. Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” and more than a million people read it. It may be, aside from the Bible, the biggest book ever read by a big audience, and that audience devoured it, discussed it and was shaped by it. A generation of Americans formed their view of the horrors of Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945 from its pages or from elders or teachers who themselves read it.