While there are a plethora of works on Nazis from every aspect ever, and no list can include everything, I’ve picked out my favourite books and the most useful books that I’ve used for my research at both a BA level and MPhil/MA level. These works are just starting-off points on Nazi German cultural and social history that have always jumped out of bibliographies.
Richard Bessel. Life in the Third Reich. London: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Bessel’s book is one of the best places to start when you want to read about the different aspects of life in Nazi Germany. The book contains articles written by several prominent historians, such as an article on “Youth” by Deltev Peukert. Engaging and accessible, this short book is a great way to learn about some of the different areas of cultural history of Nazi Germany without having to read about the war strategies of World War II.
Ian Kershaw. The “Hitler Myth”: Image and Reality in the Third Reich. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987.
Kershaw’s “Hitler Myth” is a great study on the cult which was built around Hitler. If you want to get one answer to “Why was Hitler so charismatic?” this is the book to start with. Kershaw meticulously looks into where the myth of Hitler’s image began and how Joseph Goebbels was able to construct it. Quite a page turner in its variety of evidence and engaging writing, Kershaw’s two volume Hitler is also an interesting read if you want to know more about Hitler’s life.
Peter Gay, Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider. London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1968.
While this is not a book on Nazi Germany, Gay’s study of the Weimar Republic argues that its failures–both as an artistic and political movement–helped the Nazi regime to come to power. Written in the 1960s, this study remains a cornerstone in using a cultural emphasis to explain the relationship between the Weimar Republic and the Nazi rise to power.
David Welch, The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda. 2nd Edition. London: Routledge, 2002.
When I first read this book, I realized I’d found myself a new friend. Welch writes mainly on the propaganda of Nazi Germany, its many forms and how it was received by the public. His writing is accessible and his argument is straightforward throughout the book. At the very end, he has even included extra documentation of primary sources, which is useful if you cannot go to German archives yourself.
Arndt Weinrich, Der Weltkrige als Erzieher: Jugend zwischen Weimarer Republi und Nationalsozialismus. Essen: Klartext Verlag, 2013.
Weinrich’s book is only in German (for now), but provides a new outlook into how we should study the Hitler Youth through cultural history and with the lens of cultural memory (think Jan Assmann). His work brings forth new insights and uses different sources than other works on the Hitler Youth, for example magazines, making his approach different from what’s currently out there. He focuses mostly on the concept of the Front Generation and how it is noticeable in Hitler Youth publications in late Weimar.
Jackson J. Spielvogel. Hitler and Nazi Germany: a History. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 2010.
One of my favourite general works on Nazi Germany, which I originally read during my undergraduate degree. Speilvogel writes clearly and presents the various debates surrounding the field, making this a great starting point if you have a general curiosity about Nazi Germany that your average TV documentary just can’t satisfy.
Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power. London : Penguin, 2004.
A somewhat classic read now, Evans’ work covers all aspects of life in the Third Reich, and is one of the three books in a series on Nazi Germany that he has written. Captivating and powerful, it is a great read not only for those who aren’t into typical history books, but also for the researcher in this field. I recommend this for a very thorough look at culture and daily life that you won’t get in Spielvogel’s book.
Gerhard Rempel, Hitler’s Children: The Hitler Youth and the SS. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
The topic of this book is rather chilling, and it becomes even more so the further along you find yourself. Rempel writes in great detail about both the Hitler Youth and the SS, and gives a lot of information on both groups.
Jill Stephenson, Women in Nazi Society. New York, 1975.
Stephenson’s work, while sadly the only one on women in this list, is a well-researched book on the ways in which women were treated during the Third Reich and what their lives were like. She uses a vast variety of sources to foster an understanding of the way women lived and how they were treated by the Nazis. Her writing style is well-versed in the source material and is accessible, which is always a bonus in academic writing.
Michael Buddrus, Totale Erziehung für den totalen Krieg: Hitlerjugend und nationalsozialistische Jugendpolitik. München : K.G. Saur, 2003.
Buddrus provides a structured view of the Hitler Youth and National socialist youth politics that other works before the early 2000s did not cover. His work is only available in German, but it is worth checking out for a cultural perspective on the Hitler Youth from a general standpoint. This is a massive two volume set with an enormous amount of detail on the Hitler Youth. His work coincides well with Michael Kater’s Hitler Youth (2004), so be sure to check that out as well if you need something in English.
Where can I get these? If you’re in Cambridge, head over to the UL or the Seeley Library! Otherwise, try various booksellers for copies.
2 thoughts on “Top 10 Nazi Cultural History Books”
I may be a bit behind the times but when I was at university in the 80s David Schoenbaum’s book on the ‘ Braune Revolution’ was much discussed with his thesis that Nazism had promoted social mobility and acted as a precursor for the post war ‘modern’ Germany.
Thanks for your comment! Schöenbaum wrote that book in the 1960s and was the first to begin a revisionist stance on the social history of Nazi Germany. So everything that came after his work was pretty much influenced by his work “Hitler’s Social Revolution.”