I have had the opportunity to read most of Shirer's works, including Berlin Diary, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and The Nightmare Years. I have his work on France in 1940, The Fall of the Third Republic, on my to-be-read list. I have also read a few books about him, that describe him in that milieu of the lead up to the second great war. I also have a great appreciation of his colleague, Edward R. Murrow.
As an aside, you know I have read and enjoyed the account of the US ambassador to Berlin, In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. I recently picked up a book that caught my eye with a similar name called A Garden of Beasts: A Novel of Berlin 1936 by Jeffery Deaver which was an interesting detective story with a great deal of period detail. I do recommend it if you like that sort of thing and that period.
Shirer is an interesting person. He is the camera that Isherwood thought himself to be, and was not, because he was at heart an artist interpreting reality and searching for his own identity.
Shirer is almost homespun and a typically Midwestern thinker and writer, which is what one might expect from a very good reporter whose purpose is to relay the events, rather than showcase himself. His books are still worth reading.
I recently came across this relatively rare piece of introspection by Shirer and thought I would share it with you.
And in addition, here is a famous piece of broadcast journalism by Shirer's colleague, Edward R. Murrow, on one of the episodes that reverberated throughout my early life, the demagogic phenomenon of Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy."It’s rather difficult in these noisy, confusing, nerve-racking days to achieve the peace of mind in which to pause for a moment to reflect on what you believe in. There’s so little time and opportunity to give it much thought—though it is the thing we live by; and without it, without beliefs, human existence today would hardly be bearable.
My own view of life, like everyone else’s, is conditioned by personal experience. In my own case, there were two experiences, in particular, which helped to shape my beliefs: years of life and work under a totalitarian regime, and a glimpse of war.
Living in a totalitarian land taught me to value highly—and fiercely—the very things the dictators denied: tolerance, respect for others and, above all, the freedom of the human spirit.
A glimpse of war filled me with wonder not only at man’s courage and capacity for self-sacrifice, but at his stubborn, marvelous will to preserve, to endure, to prevail—amidst the most incredible savagery and suffering. When you saw people—civilians—who where bombed out, or who, worse, had been hounded in the concentration camps or worked to a frazzle in the slave-labor gangs—when you saw them come out of these ordeals of horror and torture, still intact as human beings, with a will to go on, with a faith still in themselves, in their fellow man, and in God, you realized that man was indestructible. You appreciated, too, that despite the corruption and cruelty of life, man somehow managed to retain great virtues: love, honor, courage, self-sacrifice, compassion.
It filled you with a certain pride just to be a member of the human race. It renewed your belief in your fellow men.
Of course, there are many days in this age of anxiety when a human being feels awfully low and discouraged. I myself find consolation at such moments by two means: trying to develop a sense of history, and renewing the quest for inner life.
I go back, for example, to reading Plutarch. He reminds you that even in the golden days of Greece and Rome, from which so much that is splendid in our own civilization derives, there was a great deal of what we find so loathsome in life today: war, strife, corruption, treason, double-crossing, intolerance, tyranny, rabble-rousing. Reading history thus gives you perspective. It enables you to see your troubles relatively. You don’t take them so seriously then.
Finally, I find that most true happiness comes from one’s inner life; from the disposition of the mind and soul. Admittedly, a good inner life is difficult to achieve, especially in these trying times. It takes reflection and contemplation. And self-discipline. One must be honest with oneself, and that’s not easy. You have to have patience and understanding. And, when you can, seek God.
But the reward of having an inner life, which no outside storm or evil turn of fortune can touch, is, it seems to me, a very great one."
William L. Shirer, A Reporter Quotes His Sources from This I Believe
Foreign correspondent William L. Shirer wrote the acclaimed World War II histories “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” and “Berlin Diary.” Shirer reported from numerous European cities including Paris, Vienna and Rome, and had the distinction of being bombed in Berlin by the British and bombed in London by the Germans.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana