1938: Hitler's Gamble

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"In 1938 the Third Reich came of age. Hitler began the year as the leader of a right wing coalition; he ended it the sole master of a volatile nation. Over the course of twelve months the Fuhrer brought Germany into line with Nazi ideology, secured dictatorial power, and revealed his belligerent plans to take back parts of "Greater Germany" lost to Europe in the First World War. Until 1938. Hitler could be dismissed as a ruthless but efficient dictator - a problem to Germany alone. By the year's end, he had gambled everything and proven himself a threat to the whole of Europe and a concern for the world at large." "The sequence of events began in January with Hitler's purge of the German army, and escalated with the merger with Austria - the Anschluss, and the first persecutions of Viennese Jewry. In the following months Hitler bent the nation to his will. By the end of the year the brutal reality of the Nazi regime was revealed by Joseph Goebbels in Kristallnacht, a nationwide assault on Germany's native Jewish population." Based on recently unearthed archival material, Giles MacDonogh reveals the true texture of life in 1938, offering a gripping account of the year Adolf Hitler came into his own and set the world inexorably on track to a cataclysmic war.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Might-have-beens haunt this insightful narrative of a watershed in the history of Nazi Germany. MacDonogh (After the Reich) chronicles milestones in the development of a radicalized, expansionist Third Reich in the year 1938: the forcible annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland, the Kristallnacht pogrom and the purging of opposition figures in the government, army and church. He portrays these events not as an unfolding master plan but as a series of gambles by a sometimes chaotic Nazi regime plagued by infighting among Hitler’s satraps, Wehrmacht coup plots, a collapsing economy (the Anschluss was motivated partly by a need to plunder Austria’s treasury and raw materials), and jitters about foreign reaction. The Führer perseveres with theatrical bullying and nervy improvisations that are matched by the Western powers’ appeasement; a tragic theme of MacDonogh’s story is how easily a determined resistance, from within Germany or without, might have derailed Hitler’s initiatives. Another is the callousness of the international community; much of the book follows the travails of Jews who faced closed doors when the Reich was eager to expel them. This well-researched, fine-grained study sketches the moral rot that made possible Hitler’s rise. Photos. (Dec.)
Library Journal
The year 1938 was the last before world war engulfed Europe. In reconstructing that year, MacDonogh (The Last Kaiser) here focuses on Hitler's drive to remove internal rivals, prepare for war, outmaneuver the befuddled West, and expand his empire into Austria and Czechoslovakia. He also covers the increasing efforts to remove the Jews from German life, culminating in the vicious pogrom of November 9–10, 1938, known as Kristallnacht, when Jewish synagogues and shops were looted and destroyed. A subsidiary theme in the book, which is told chronologically, is how people, usually at the direction of the state, continued to promote and enjoy traditional "German" culture as a desperate distraction from their tense environment. Readers will perceive how all year the pressure built for war and genocide. VERDICT This is not a traditional history based on dry archival sources or details about who said or did what and when. Instead, it deals more on the social and personal levels, adding a human flavor, quoting from memoirs and journals, and focusing less on Hitler and more on his entourage, which was always scheming to stay in the Führer's good graces. Interesting and easy to read, this is recommended for avid general readers of World War II history.—Daniel K. Blewett, Coll. of Du Page Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
A chronological account of the pivotal year in which Hitler's master plan of Lebensraum and Jewish extermination was set in motion. British historian MacDonogh (After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation, 2007, etc.) carefully traces the ominous events of 1938, which function as a kind of countdown to world war-from Hitler's consolidation of military power in January and February to the shameful Munich Agreement and Kristallnacht toward the end of the year. The Fuhrer had unveiled his master plan to his service chiefs by November 1937, and MacDonogh's study of the following year is especially revealing in its depiction of the reluctance to go to war displayed by both his underlings and the German populace as a whole. The German military was not prepared, the economy was weak and the country desperately needed raw materials. Before 1938 was over, though, Germany had absorbed Austria and annexed German-speaking Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. With the help of avid Austrian anti-Semites and the Nuremberg Laws, the Nazis were able to strip the approximately 200,000 Austrian Jews of their power and wealth, transporting the ones who didn't flee the country to Dachau and elsewhere. Hitler cozied up to Mussolini, and their Berlin-Rome axis coordinated racial and military policies. The July Evian Conference failed to find homes for Jewish refugees. In the face of Hitler's expansionist fantasies, British Prime Minister Chamberlain conceded that Czechoslovakia was not worth a widespread effort on the part of the British military. Though a public-relations disaster, Kristallnacht sealed the fate of the Jews; relief organizations run by Quakers and others helped transport Jewishchildren to safety. By his January 1939 speech in the Reichstag, Hitler had declared his "prophecy" of Germany's return to glory. A chilling examination of a critical year in European history. Agent: Georgina Capel/Capel & Land
From the Publisher

Sunday Times (UK)
“MacDonogh’s narrative of the events of 1938 makes compelling but painful reading. The month-by-month format he has adopted emphasizes the improvisation that was at the heart of Hitler’s strategy, and highlights more cruelly the opportunities that were lost, even a year before the start of the war, to call his bluff and thrust events onto a different path. “What if?” remains the most tantalizing of historical questions, but this absorbing book obliges us to ask it.”

Spectator (UK)
“[A] compelling survey of a tumultuous year.... Giles MacDonogh has repeatedly shown himself to be in the front rank of British scholars of German history. The depth of his human understanding, the judiciousness of his pickings from source material and the quality of his writing make this a book at once gripping and grave.”

Sunday Telegraph (UK)
“As Giles MacDonogh convincingly argues, 1938 was Hitler’s annus mirabilis.... [His] account of the Anschluss and its aftermath is a masterpiece of extreme emotion held in check. His level tone as he reels off appalling atrocities and such chilling statistics as the steadily rising suicide rate among Jews trapped in Vienna somehow makes the tragedy of the destruction of a whole community even more telling.... Moving and searing.”

BBC History Magazine
“A fine book.... Well-written, combining its diverse sources with elegance and skill, and painting an engaging canvas of the disaster that was developing in Germany and was soon to engulf Europe as a whole.... [Giles MacDonogh’s] searing descriptions of the fate endured by Austrian Jewry — from expropriation, casual cruelty and exile, to calculated persecution and murder — are especially impassioned and moving.... It ably conveys the growing desperation and alarm felt by many that year, as Germany began to flex its muscles internationally and stepped up its persecution of its perceived enemies.”

Literary Review
“[MacDonogh] is able to mine dozens of sources in German...[which] help us understand the roots of genocide. The book is excellent on the details of how the Nazis turned on the Jews.”

“A chilling examination of a critical year in European history.”

Edinburgh Evening News
“Adolf Hitler was a natural gambler, and this book graphically describes the critical year of 1938 when his winning streak took off.... Harrowing.”

Shelf Awareness
“A powerful, disturbing and invaluable analysis of the events in 1938 that enabled Hitler to unleash the full force of his insanity and destruction on the world.”

The Daily Beast
“It would be difficult to attribute Hitler’s ascent to any single event, but historian Giles MacDonogh makes a convincing case that 1938 is the crucial year to understanding his reign and brutal hold on power.”

Library Journal
“This is not a traditional history based on dry archival sources or details about who said or did what and when.... Interesting and easy to read, this is recommended for avid general readers of World War II history.”

New York Post
“There’s no real answer to MacDonogh’s ‘What if?’ question, but one thing is clear: Hitler’s extremism grew steadily stronger each time the rest of the world feigned blindness and looked the other way.”

Books & Culture
“[MacDonogh] has the gift for drawing on his research unobtrusively while maintaining a strong narrative pull. His book kept me up quite late one night because, once into it, I didn’t want to stop until th

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465009541
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 12/1/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

A graduate of Oxford University, Giles MacDonogh is the author of several books on German history and has written for the Financial Times, the Times (London), the Guardian, and the Evening Standard. He lives in London.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 8 of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011


    The book is organized by month, but for the most part is a litany of statistics, facts, and some quotes with no compelling narrative. The only chapter that is interesting is "September" with the events leading to the Munich Conference and the taking of the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia. It seems like it was written by a different author as it was narrative and compelling. Maybe the author wrote this chapter first and submitted it to get the book published.Maybe having a chronological structure was the problem. It made the book too much of a jumble of facts and figures that jumped from topic to topic. In addition, much of the information was either overkill - trying to prove a point not developed in the beginning, or a bizarre form of name and place dropping - trying to impress how much research was done. The editor dropped the ball.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2010

    Not worth the time.

    This is the first truly negative book review I have ever given.
    What disturbs me the most about this book was the LACK of information given to the readers by the author. When I first picked up this book, I was actually scared knowing that once again I was going to have to re-read and learn even more about the gruesome history that Hitler and his Nazis had permanently marked the face of human history with. However, MacDonogh's way of reporting "history" during this time is condescending in its lack of detail. This author paints Hitler as child-like and prudish; a man who pouts and throws fits when he doesn't get what he wants and then just does what he wants anyways. MacDonogh presents the Nazis as simple bullies that go about taking people's money and breaking windows. This is all true, but he forgets to mention the millions of MURDERS and victims that Hitler and his Nazis are responsible for. The brutality, the violence, the pure evil of this time cannot be down played, skipped over, or soothed. This book is one of the reasons why history repeats itself!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Well Researched, well written

    By concentrating on the single year of 1938 the author is able to write to a detail not possible in other histories. He also is able to expose the great depth of anti-semitism in 1938. Not just in Germany and Austria, but world wide. Hitler's Germany did not want its Jews....but other nations did not want them either. Forced emigration was the Nazi policy...but the author definitively exposes the fact that, around the world, no one wanted to accept the 'jewish problem'. I give 5 stars not for the author's writing style but for the fact that this is a must read for any serious student of the run up to WWII.

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  • Posted February 23, 2010

    1938: Hitler's Gamble

    The book started off somewhat dull and ended somewhat dull. I had the impression there would be more emphasis in the Nazi Germany and Hitler's actions during 1938. The chapters are also broken up on a month to month basis. I have my B.A. in History, as well as credentialed in History. I did enjoy the central part of the book; however, I expected more. It is still a decent read; but just take into consideration when starting this read that it has much more thrown into the book, than just Nazi Germany & Hitler.

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  • Posted February 8, 2010

    An Absolutely Delight

    I did not know that this work existed, and it was strictly an "impulse buy." (I was attracted by the cover, read a few pages, and made certain to carry it to the checkout counter.)

    A superbly written, flowing, always informative and at times riveting work, "1938" would provide a welcome education to any person interested in the events of one of the most pivotal years in history, but the work would be a special delight to students of the Second World War and the events which led up to its outbreak in Europe.

    Of special interest to me were the wonderfully researched and detailed descriptions of the rivalries in jealousies among the second-tier Nazis (e.g. Goering, Goebbels, Himmler, Ribbentrop), the Nazi regime's uneasy and often hostile relations with the local churches (especially the Catholic churches), the (somewhat surprising) events leading to Kristalnacht -- and how many Nazi leaders were livid at the Nazi pogrom (overwhelmingly because of its negative repercussions overseass), Adolf Eichmann's efforts to make the lives of Austrian Jews so miserable that they would emigrate, thus ridding the Reich of its "Jewish Question." (This policy, of course, being in marked contrast to the post-Wannsee Conference "Final Solution"), the torments that the Jews suffered (often described in gut-wrenching terms), and the distrust/dislike of the largely Prussian general staff towards the Nazi political leadership, which the generals often viewed with contempt.

    Superbly researched, this book would be a welcomed edition to the library of any student of the Second World War in particularly, and is a sad testimony to, but excellent study of, human nature and all its foibles.

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    Posted November 23, 2011

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    Posted May 5, 2011

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    Posted January 27, 2010

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