In all of the thousands upon thousands of books written about Nazi Germany, it’s easy to lose track of some basic questions. What did...

In all of the thousands upon thousands of books written about Nazi Germany, it’s easy to lose track of some basic questions. What did Germans think they were fighting for? Why did they support the war? How did they (whether the they were soldiers fighting in France or Russia, women working to support the war effort, or mothers or fathers worrying about their children) experience the war?

Nicholas Stargardt‘s new book The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945 (Basic Books, 2015) sets out to answer these questions. The book is a delight. Stargardt approaches his subject with a depth of feeling and of insight that all historians aspire to. His analysis is careful, measured and nuanced, shedding new light on a variety of important questions. But the book’s strength lies in the way it immerses itself into the lives of ordinary Germans. Stargardt’s retelling of their stories is compassionate and empathetic. It is the nature of the lives of his subjects that many of his stories end suddenly rather than happily. Wisely, he allows us to mourn with his subjects, yet reminds us to remember the crimes many committed. It’s a terribly difficult balance to strike, and it’s to his credit that he does so consistently.

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