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The Weimar Years

por Frank McDonough

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'The Weimar Years' is the prequel to Frank McDonough's bestselling 'Hitler Years' series, covering the dramatic period of German history that led to the rise of Hitler in 1933.
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Who – or what – killed Weimar democracy? It’s an important question, without as obvious an answer as we might think. In The Weimar Years – the third volume in his Hitler Years series – Frank McDonough tackles the question head-on, providing convincing answers. The book also fills an unexpected gap: despite the huge general interest in the subject, finding a detailed narrative history of Weimar Germany is not easy. The historiography is saturated with works focusing on specific (albeit important) aspects of the era such as culture, economics or foreign policy, while the rise of Adolf Hitler dominates the public sphere. By simply providing a what-exactly-happened-and-when style overview, The Weimar Years is a very welcome addition.

Like the previous books in this series,The Weimar Years proceeds chronologically, each chapter focusing on a specific year, from Germany’s defeat in the First World War in 1918 to Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor in 1933. We encounter the events and features that informed readers would expect from a history of Germany’s doomed interwar democracy: the useless piles of banknotes (used as wallpaper), the Kapp and Munich putsches, the secret military agreements with Russia and the street battles between Nazis and Communists. It is the most lucid overview of the Weimar Republic that I have read.

One of the reasons for this is McDonough’s engagement with recent scholarship, such as Volker Ullrich’s masterful biography, Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939 (2013). This enables McDonough to challenge various myths: the assumption that Hitler dictated Mein Kampf to his fellow prisoner Rudolf Hess (in fact he typed it himself), for example, or the overstated impact of unemployment on Nazi electoral prospects and, yes, the bizarrely enduring mystery of Hitler’s testicles. Despite being diagnosed with cryptorchidism (an undescended right testicle) by the Landsberg prison doctor, in 1944 Hitler’s own doctor Erwin Giesing reported that his genitals were normal, while the Soviet autopsy in 1945 stated that his left, not right, testicle was missing. Beyond the Nazis, McDonough expresses scepticism concerning the prevalence of female equality in Weimar Germany. He reminds readers that the Weimar Republic lasted longer than Hitler’s Third Reich, an impressive achievement for which German democrats, despite their faults, deserve to be remembered. Focusing on high policy, each Weimar cabinet is discussed in detail, election statistics are scrutinised, and many words are devoted to economics. But McDonough also includes important cultural developments such as the Bauhaus movement, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the comparatively progressive attitudes towards sexuality, particularly in Berlin’s cabaret clubs. Such cultural insights provide a welcome break from the ‘toxic’ atmosphere of Weimar politics.

Read the rest of the review at HistoryToday.com.

Luke Daly-Groves teaches Modern European History at the University of Central Lancashire.
  HistoryToday | Nov 6, 2023 |
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'The Weimar Years' is the prequel to Frank McDonough's bestselling 'Hitler Years' series, covering the dramatic period of German history that led to the rise of Hitler in 1933.

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