As this book attests, Ian Kershaw had become one of the leading commentators on Nazi Germany even before writing his masterful two-volume biography of Hitler in 2000 & 2001. This book consists of 14 essays written largely during the late 1980's and the 1990's, but also three during the 2000's as well. Such a collection can present problems--for example are they still fresh and current in analysis? These essays meet that standard, since they reflect superb analysis which stands up as well today as when written, perhaps even more so since a number Kershaw's predictions have turned out to be correct. Another problem with article collections is whether there are central themes and too much repetition. Kershaw has solved this problem by including a helpful essay written for the book as an introduction which divides the articles into several major categories and discusses recent developments in each that have occurred since the essays were published.
Kershaw is interested in several major foci of analysis. First, public opinion studies, largely done in Bavaria, as to how typical Germans reacted to persecution of the Jews, the removal and relocation, and the "final solution." What is interesting here are his finding of how little interest typical Germans had in these topics, what Kershaw categorizes as "passive complicity" and "lethal indifference." His suggested explanation for this phenomenon is quite interesting. A second major theme is how the "final solution" came about and Hitler's role in it. Here Kershaw makes a convincing case that there was no masterplan from the start of the war to exterminate the Jews, but that the policy evolved overtime largely at the hands of local administrators, as increasing Jews were deported from Germany and other areas and relocated to Poland, overloading facilities there. The adverse eastern front situation also foreclosed the relocation option, and extermination was turned to, what Kershaw refers to as "improvised genocide." As to Hitler, Kershaw joins other historians in concluding that Hitler's primary involvement was in creation of the enti-Jewish environment and encouraging harsh policies, but there is no evidence that any order came from Hitler to initiate the "final solution."
A third and most interesting theme is the battle of historians--how does one treat Nazi Germany. Is it just another historical era, to be handled professionally but with no special considerations. Or is it by its very nature so unique and horrible that any analysis must reflect moral issues that might not otherwise be considered by professional historians. An additional focus is comparing Hitler with Stalin and their respective roles in their regimes. Kewshaw finds Stalin deeply involved in bureaucratic policy making; by contrast, Hitler demonstrated no interest in the mechanics of how his government was run. Finally, Kershaw is very interested in the early period of Hitler's rise to power, the 1920's, which he finds illuminating in understanding later developments.
There are many other points touched upon by Kershaw which add even more value to this fine book. Each essay is accompanied by extensive notes, and there is a very comprehensive index. As mentioned above, his introductory essay is particularly effective in orienting the reader. An indispensable book for serious students of this fascinating period.