Whatever else it was, Adolf Hitler's short-lived regime was also a colossal industrial process by which the wealth and productive power of much of Europe was wrenched from its normal purposes and converted into a machine for killing. For the economic historian, the great pitched battles of the second world war, from Stalingrad to Midway, are not primarily exercises in strategy, brutality or heroism but the titanic amassing of capital and human beings and their concentration on a point of space and history. Economic historiography has thrown rays of haggard light into some of the blackest corners of the Third Reich, even where, as in the case of the memoirs of Hitler's last minister of armaments, Albert Speer, much was concealed or distorted. In his long new book, the Cambridge historian Adam Tooze presents the Third Reich as an engine doomed to smash itself to smithereens not, as for Speer, from bureaucratic turf wars and Hitler's chaotic office habits, but from its own birth defects.
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Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. In this groundbreaking new history, Adam Tooze provides the clearest picture to date of the Nazi war machine and its undoing.
The Wages of Destruction is an eye-opening and controversial account that will challenge conventional interpretations of the period and will find an enthusiastic readership among fans of Ian Kershaw and Richard Evans. Get A Copy. Hardcover , pages. Published March 22nd by Viking Adult first published More Details Original Title.
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Sort order. Aug 03, Aaron Arnold rated it it was amazing Shelves: history , read-in , war , economics. For all its horrors, World War 2 is undeniably a really cool war to look at from a military perspective. Taking over Austria, yes; seizing the Sudetenland, sure; closing off the Polish Corridor, of course; but why go to war barely 6 years after taking power, way before your For all its horrors, World War 2 is undeniably a really cool war to look at from a military perspective.
Taking over Austria, yes; seizing the Sudetenland, sure; closing off the Polish Corridor, of course; but why go to war barely 6 years after taking power, way before your own rearmament timetable is done? Why fight Britain and France first off, when you don't even want their land? Why open up another front with Russia when Britain hasn't been beaten yet?
In fact, why start a war at all with the countries around you, when every single one has an economy that's at least a match for your own? The traditional answer for questions like these is that Hitler simply wasn't a very good military commander, but while this is perfectly true, Tooze looks deeply into the economic background of Nazi Germany and finds that a lot of the wackier-seeming choices the Nazi leadership made do make a bit more sense given the economic options available to them, and even some of the more appalling facets of the Holocaust were driven as much by industrial considerations as by ideology.
Tooze's decision to look at the war from an economic viewpoint is very refreshing, and allows him to bust a truly impressive number of myths, most notably for me the idea that Germany had any chance at all to win the war.
Though it's hard to appreciate now, Germany in the s was not a very rich or developed country at all. The single goal of the Nazi Party was to transform Germany from the hemmed-in, middle-weight power it was into a true competitor to Britain, with its world empire, and America, with its continental resources.
This primarily meant acquiring land, and Tooze assembles masses of agricultural statistics to show that the goal of Lebensraum, which strikes the modern reader as a bit weird 21st century Germany is much denser than even the most claustrophobic nightmares of Nazi planners , made a lot more sense in what was almost literally a peasant society in many regions. Expanding to the east would also have the benefit of allowing Germany to gather enough resources to be closer to self-sufficiency, a major concern for a country almost totally lacking in vital strategic materials like oil or steel.
Removing the need to import important resources would have reduced the need to acquire foreign currency through export, as well as lessening the tension between production for domestic use and production for rearmament.
The beginning sections outlined Germany's struggles to emerge from the Great Depression with both a strong military and a robust consumer economy. They got fairly technical it helps to know basic macroeconomic concepts like current account deficits, currency revaluation, or the relationships between deficit spending, taxation, and inflation , but they were necessary to understand why Germany chose to start the war in , even though their own plans showed that they weren't ready.
Putting yourself in the shoes of a Nazi economic planner, once you've taken the goal of Germany conquering all of Europe as a given, now you just have to figure out some way to implement it, and it would seem that waiting until you have a strong advantage would be the most prudent course.
Unfortunately for Germany, despite their massive military spending at the expense of the civilian economy much touted public works like the autobahn or the Volkswagen made surprisingly negligible contributions to Germany's recovery from the Depression , and even after years of treaty-defying rearmament, they were barely at parity with Britain or France.
The reason for war beginning in was simply that waiting would have put Germany farther and farther behind those two powers, who were also beginning to accelerate their own military preparations. Germany's stunning victory over Britain and France was both good and bad for them. Good, in that Germany at a stroke disabled the entire military of one of its enemies and most of the military of another. Bad, in that in a real way they were no closer to victory.
Over the course of the war, though Germany helped itself to French tanks and military hardware, in an absolute sense captured French industry did not contribute very much materially to Germany's war effort, and Germany found itself in the position of having to expend its own resources on administering conquered territories.
Tooze didn't use this metaphor, but I found myself reminded of a sort of military Ponzi scheme, where Germany kept having to conquer new territories to make up for the losses incurred in acquiring its last conquests. To make matters worse, different military initiatives required completely different production, so Nazi war planners found themselves jumping from priority to priority as targets shifted. There's a fascinating graph on page of armament production from September to November that shows the sudden production surges and reversals, as well as the overwhelming focus on aircraft and ammunition.
I had never realized that tanks were such a small percentage of the overall military budget, but as Tooze points out, aircraft gave by far the biggest bang for the buck.
Speaking of production shifts, I had always been under the impression that German war production had been dominated by political hacks, but Tooze makes a fairly convincing case that, aside from a few ill-advised late-stage "experiments" like the V2 rocket and the Type XXI U-boat, Germany's war economy ran about as well as could be expected, second only to the Soviet war economy, which he should definitely write another book about. The main problem for German planners was that there was simply not enough of everything to go around; a precious resource like steel could be used for a gun, ammo for that gun, a railroad to transport that ammo, or a million other things, and there were just too many needs.
By the end of the war Germany was being outproduced at least in every single category, and even if every battle had been a crushing victory they still wouldn't have been able to last. The most depressing parts of the book were where he discussed slave labor and Germany's economic relationship to its conquests.
Here's how the logic went: Germany took basically all of its able-bodied men off the farm, and required huge food imports to avoid the mass starvation of World War 1. Those imports came from territories like Poland and Ukraine, directly at the expense of the Polish and Ukrainians, which meant that the Polish and Ukrainians had a direct incentive to help kill Jews, who were merely extra mouths to feed out of the leftover food. By comparison with a German ration of 2, calories in early , the 'ration' for the inhabitants of Poland's major cities was set at calories.
Jews were provided with calories per day. Even with millions of free disposable workers, by the end of the war Germany's economy was on its last legs and could no longer be sustained. While Tooze raised my opinion of the quality of German wartime economic planning, he really brought home what a stupid idea it was to try to conquer all of Europe.
While individual military goals made more sense even still-questionable ones like Barbarossa , from a practical standpoint Germany might as well have been trying to conquer the solar system. After having read this book, I don't think Germany ever could have won, but they could have failed even more spectacularly than they did in real life.
View 2 comments. I couldn't get enough of the Manichean clash of good versus evil with good triumphing naturally. As I grew up I developed a more nuanced view of the war. Neat planes and cool tanks were replaced by the appreciation grand strategy and the details of battles.
But as the old saying goes, amateurs talk about tactics, but professional study logisitics. And nothing can get to the heart of logistics more than the study of the industrial economies Ever since middle school I have been a huge WWII buff.
And nothing can get to the heart of logistics more than the study of the industrial economies that supported WWII's massive mechanized forces. Tooze does an amazing job chronicling the German economy from the early Wiemar days though the fall of the Nazi regime. Tooze magnificently lays out the details and relationships within the German economy and how it explains the actions and results of WWII.
It was fascinating to learn about the pre-Nazi German economy. Yes, there was a period with run away inflation, but it was actually gotten under control through a rather nifty financial setup. German leaders knew they could never compete with the empires of Britain and France, so they instead sought to align America's interest with their own.
Through a scheme of loans from America, Germany was able to amortize their war reparations to Britain and France who were in turn able to pay back their war debts to America. This cycling of money resulted in a stable and growing global economy, more or less completely alleviating Germany of its reparations burden and keeping everyone invested in this scheme.
Then the depression hit and the US government ceased to provide these funds, the Hoover administration not having a suitable handle on the situation to see how it all tied together. Further, the raising of tariffs and economic barriers stifled German exports, which were essential for maintaining their foriegn currency reserve and for debt servicing.
German Economic responses deflation led to domestic down turn and unemployment, opening the door for the nationalistic political right in Germany, of which the Nazis were members, to step into power.
And interesting recurring theme in the early Nazi administration was foreign exchange reserves. This is the amount of foreign currency available to the economy. It is needed to purchase imports which were essential for the German economy. Germany was short of several key resources, namely food and petroleum, as well key industrial inputs for heavy industries.
However, the Nazi regimes resistance to devaluing their currency in order to stimulate exports in the face of a strengthening Reichsmark was not pursued for two reasons: price impact on citizens which would have to pay more for imported and import dependent goods and the servicing of foreign debt. The Nazi response, which was to play out again and again over the course of the Nazi regime, was to create government coordinating organizations and subsidies to solve the problem.
This would get repeated as the state slowly took over more and more of the economy: price setting, labor registration and allocation by a government body, profit caps for corporations, government bureaucrats setting wages. At times I would have to remind myself this was Nazi Germany, not its ideological foe Soviet Communism massively intervening in the economy.
Another new thing I learned was how Hitler's conception of Lebensraum "living space" , which drove his conquest of the East, was tied to his view of competition with America. Because America was so large it had a massive domestic market which supported large, highly efficient factories to supply it. Coupled with abundant natural resources to feed these factories a European state simply could not compete economically. However, in Eastern Europe there was plenty of space for colonization and key resources to fuel German industry.
Cleanse it of racial inferior peoples, open it up to big German families, and it could compete economically with America.
The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy
The Wages of Destruction is a non-fiction book detailing the economic history of Nazi Germany. Written by Adam Tooze , it was first published by Allen Lane in In the book Tooze writes that having failed to defeat Britain in , the economic logic of the war drove the Nazis to invade the Soviet Union. Hitler was constrained to invade the Soviet Union in to obtain the natural resources necessary to challenge the economic superpowers of the United States and the British Empire.
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The Wages of Destruction
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An extraordinary mythology has grown up around the Third Reich that hovers over political and moral debate even today. The Wages of Destruction is a chilling work of originality and tremendous scholarship that is already setting off debate in Germany and will fundamentally change the way in which history views the Second World War. A tour de force. This is an extraordinary achievement, and it places Adam Tooze in a very select company of historians indeed … Tooze has given us a masterpiece which will be read, and admired; and it will stimulate others for a long time to come. Hovering over his chronicle are two extraordinary questions: how Germany managed to last as long as it did before the collapse of and why, under Hitler, it thought it could achieve supremacy at all.