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4 minutes reading time (715 words)

The Wages of Destruction

When it comes to historical topics, the regime of Nazi Germany has been so extensively covered that it seems pointless to review the subject further. Adam Tooze, however, believed the economy of the period had gotten far less attention than it deserved, hence his writing of "The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy".

Most histories covering Nazi Germany, as Tooze asserts, pay far more attention to the humanities and politics while ignoring more technical and even "boring" aspects of the influence of the economy on the period stretching from 1918-1945. Believing it deserved a second look, the text he presents is three-pronged in its goals. First, it laser focuses on how the economy brought about the fall of the Weimar Republic, the rise of Nazism, and its even more ignominious fall. Second, it tries to separate fact from fiction, specifically just how solvent and powerful the Nazis were economically, a factor Tooze notes was distorted in many other accounts. Finally, it uses the economic data it discusses to explain how such things as the conquest Hitler planned and the Holocaust his regime was responsible for fit in terms of the economy, and how they played a role in the growth and failure of the Nazi solvency.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part discusses how the Weimar regime prospered until their fall at the end of the 1920s and how Hitler rose to power in their place, presenting key details to show how that transition was motivated by the economy and its influence on German politics. The second part covers the 1934-1939 period during which the Nazi regime shifted their economy to a wartime preparation phase and the changes this brought about, both on their internal affairs and the world markets at large. The final part covers the 1941-1945 period, during which the economic strengths and weaknesses of the Nazis were subjected to the demands of war. This last part goes into exhaustive detail on just how the Nazis managed to limp on for several years despite economic setbacks caused by the war.

In terms of prose, Tooze is very matter-of-fact and technical. He does not dwell much on the more emotional and sentimental aspects of the study of the period from 1919-1945, rather the book is entirely oriented around the economic matters of the period. Having some degree of economics knowledge is recommended, as this text contains lots of technical discussion of exchange rates, world credit, loans and savings policies, and various other subjects of interest to the more statistical social scientist. This text has extensive citations, and it does not waste time or space, filling each page with extensive references to economic events, persons involved, and their historical impacts. To be blunt, this is not likely to be of interest to the casual reader, but instead more to the in-depth historian wanting a far more detailed look at the economic aspects of Hitler's tenure.

On a personal note, I had three takeaways from this book. One, Tooze was definitely convinced a lot of people were suckered into believing Germany was doing far better especially during the 1930s than they actually did, and he went into exhaustive detail explaining why this is a myth. Second, while most history books make clear Hitler cozied up to business leaders for support, it's a lot more clear after reading Tooze's analysis just how integral they were to the Nazi regime. Finally, Tooze clearly had a fair degree of contempt for Albert Speer and his own account of how he tried to be a nonpolitical technician and industry supervisor. Tooze really tears the scab off what he considers fiction and lays out evidence to show Speer is far less pure and important than historians have been led to believe. I really came away from this with a much better understanding in general that Nazi Germany was outwardly vigorous but inwardly even more economically hollow than they seemed even before the latter years of WWII.

Overall, if the above sounds like a worthy use of your money, it can be bought on Amazon in hardcover, paperback, audiobook, and Kindle.


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