Thursday, August 6, 2009
William L. Shirer-Journalist, Author and Historian
William Lawrence Shirer(February 23, 1904–December 28, 1993) was a foreign war correspondent, journalist, historian, and author of what is considered to be the definitive text covering Nazi Germany-"The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich".
What makes this book unique is that it was written by a journalist who covered the events as they happened. This was quite rare at the time, as most historical texts were written by historians who resented Shirer because they felt he was treading on their area of expertise. They also regarded such an endeavor to be premature in light of the fact that historical perspective was lacking, since the book was published so soon(1960) after the fall of Nazi Germany.
The book is not hindered by this baseless complaint. If anything it gains an immediacy and urgency similar to watching a hurricane slowly building over the horizon and being powerless to get out of the way, and it does so with the help of many tons of documents the Nazis left behind.
It has also been criticized for it's seemingly dry tone, but we are not talking about watching music videos here. This is one of the best historical accounts of any event I've ever read. It's effectiveness lies in it's forgoing of flowery language and overdone descriptions and just gives the reader the facts. This is not to say that it reads like a prescription label, because it does not. It is well-paced and covers this very challenging material better than anyone has up to this date. This book has stood the test of time and it is highly recommended for whomever may be interested.
I would go so far to say that the majority of historical texts I've read don't come close to the insight and conciseness of Shirer's writing.
Shirer was strategically placed in the eye of the storm as a foreign war correspondent in Europe in the 1930's, but he was much more than a reporter. Here he is in the photo(below, sitting on the right with the beret, pipe and typewriter) reporting on the french surrender to Germany in Compiègne, France-
His radio broadcasts from Europe despite heavy censorship of the press were the stuff of legend, as was his relationship with Gandhi during the 1930's as he covered India. He also fought for liberty of the press, and despite getting blackballed in his own country(ironic after covering the Fascists) still managed to publish works of fiction and non-fiction alike. William Shirer-a great American who lead a great life.