Any book with this title must detail how Germany fought the Second World War and the effect that fighting had on its people. Nicholas Stargardt does that rigorously and with wide-ranging scholarship that embraces numerous primary and secondary sources. But such a book also has to consider the moral character of a nation and people that wilfully started the conflict, lied about its causes and engaged in a series of bestial acts that ranged from the ‘euthanasia’ of the disabled to the wholesale genocide of between five and six million Jews. Stargardt tackles this dimension, too, with rigour, and as a result his book is a considerable success, even though it covers ground that will be familiar to experts in this period.
Among the lives Stargardt weaves into his narrative there are fewer examples of nobility of character than one might have hoped for, but they shine brightly when they come. Those who have seen the film The Pianist, about the Jewish virtuoso Władysław Szpilman, who hid in Warsaw throughout the war,