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The first social history of Germany during the Second World War for over forty years


The Second World War was a German war like no other. The Nazi regime, having started the conflict, turned it into the most horrific war in European history, resorting to genocidal methods well before building the first gas chambers. Over its course, the Third Reich expended and exhausted all its moral and physical reserves, leading to total defeat in 1945. Yet 70 years on – despite whole libraries of books about the war’s origins, course and atrocities – we still do not know what Germans thought they were fighting for and how they experienced and sustained the war until the bitter end.

When war broke out in September 1939, it was deeply unpopular in Germany. Yet without the active participation and commitment of the German people, it could not have continued for almost six years. What, then, was the war Germans thought they were fighting? How did the changing course of the conflict – the victories of the Blitzkrieg, the first defeats in the east, the bombing of Germany’s cities – change their views and expectations? And when did Germans first realise that they were fighting a genocidal war?

Drawing on a wealth of first-hand testimony, The German War is the first foray for many decades into how the German people experienced the Second World War. Told from the perspective of those who lived through it – soldiers, schoolteachers and housewives; Nazis, Christians and Jews – its masterful historical narrative sheds fresh and disturbing light on the beliefs, hopes and fears of a people who embarked on, continued and fought to the end a brutal war of conquest and genocide.


A terrific book. Nicholas Stargardt brilliantly explores diaries, letters and other previously untapped sources to provide more vivid and nuanced insight than ever before achieved into the motivation of ordinary Germans fighting the most horrific war of all time

Ian Kershaw

A gripping new book…To write like this requires a rare sensitivity and psychological sophistication coupled with a degree of fearlessness…Stargardt impresses not only as a cultural historian. He also has an impressively strong grasp on the military narrative of the war. And this is indispensable…Stargardt has given us a truly profound piece of history

New York Times Book Review

Beautifully written and convincingly argued, this book is a must

Saul Friedlander, author of Nazi Germany and the Jews

A considerable success

Simon Heffer, Literary Review

Sympathetic and nuanced portraits of German men and women… Intimate account of individual Germans’ experiences of war, Stargardt explores private emotions… Beautifully written… He writes with the correct tone and sensitivity.

Wendy Lower, Times Literary Supplement

Superbly researched and clearly written, The German War is an important and significant book

Dominic Green, Spectator

For the first time, the wartime chronology of German sentiment, of popular hopes and fears, realism and fantasy, becomes truly visible. A powerful and compelling account

Mark Roseman, Professor of History, Indiana University

Insightful, illuminating, complex, and convincing... Seven decades and a mountain of monographs later, I wouldn’t have thought there’d be much more to say about WWII. Stargardt has proven me wrong

Robert Moeller, Professor of History, University of California, Irvine

The German War is an outstanding book by a master historian... a masterpiece of historical writing, blending seamlessly a ‘bird’s eye’ view with intimate micro-history of this calamitous period in twentieth century Europe

Jan Gross, author of Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community in Jedwabne, Poland

Stargardt negotiates the considerable risks of writing from inside German experiences of this brutally destructive war with subtlety, humanity, and wisdom. This is a rich and deeply impressive lesson

Jane Caplan, Emeritus Fellow, St Antony’s College, Oxford

Stargardt negotiates the considerable risks of writing from inside German experiences of this brutally destructive war with subtlety, humanity, and wisdom. This is a rich and deeply impressive lesson

Jane Caplan, Emeritus Fellow, St Antony’s College, Oxford

Stargardt’s book is a prodigious accomplishment… The German War [is] essential reading for anyone interested in the Second World War in Europe

Robert Gallately, Times Higher Education

This masterly book may well change forever what we thought we knew about response of the German people to the war

Nigel Jones, History Today


John Kampfner, Observer


Marcus Tanner, Independent

Superb study

Nikolaus Wachsmann, Guardian

[A] riveting account of how these ordinary Germans experienced and sustained the war

Nicholas Shakespeare, Daily Telegraph

Places a flashlight inside the heads of “ordinary” Germans… Thought provoking

Maria Popova, Observer

well written and human account of a period of madness and how individuals sought to make sense of it

Simon Fowler, Who Do You Think You Are

Nicholas Stargardt spotlights the surprising twists and turns in the popular embrace of both the war and Nazi racial extremism. He explains—as few have—why the German people fought to the finish, whereas even the supposedly fanatical Japanese surrendered before an invasion of the homeland

Sheldon Garon, author of Molding Japanese Minds: The State in Everyday Life

Ambitious and absorbing new book.

Richard J. Evans, London Review of Books

[A] revelatory book.

Simon Shaw, Mail on Sunday

I enjoyed this book immensely…This book fills a vast gap in our knowledge of history and I am glad to have read it.

Reg Seward, Nudge

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    October 31, 2016


    736 pages

    RRP $32.00

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  • EBook


    September 3, 2015

    Vintage Digital

    736 pages

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