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the Complete Review
the complete review - history / economics


The Wages of Destruction

Adam Tooze

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To purchase The Wages of Destruction

Title: The Wages of Destruction
Author: Adam Tooze
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2006
Length: 685 pages
Availability: The Wages of Destruction - US
The Wages of Destruction - UK
The Wages of Destruction - Canada
The Wages of Destruction - India
Le salaire de la destruction - France
Ökonomie der Zerstörung - Deutschland
Il prezzo dello sterminio - Italia
  • The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy

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Our Assessment:

A- : fascinating, though it can get overwhelming

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times A 5/8/2006 Bertrand Benoit
FAZ . 11/6/2007 Gerald Braunberger
FAZ . 3/11/2007 Hans-Erich Volkmann
The Guardian A 12/8/2006 James Buchan
History Today A+ 12/2006 Nicholas Stargardt
Literary Review . 7/2006 Richard Overy
London Rev. of Books . 19/7/2007 Jonathan Wright
The NY Rev. of Books . 20/12/2007 Richard J. Evans
The NY Sun . 23/3/2007 Gerald Feldman
The Spectator . 24/6/2006 Noble Frankland
Sunday Telegraph A+ 23/7/2006 Nigel Jones
The Sunday Times . 30/7/2006 Michael Burleigh
The Times . 8/7/2006 Howard Davies
TLS . 2/2/2007 Anson Rabinbach

  Review Consensus:

  Very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "(A) masterful economic history of the Third Reich. (...) His painstakingly researched, astonishingly erudite study not only uncovers new explanatory strands for the events that led to and ended the war, but smashes a gallery of preconceptions on the way." - Bertrand Benoit, Financial Times

  • "Dieses Buch besitzt das Potential, zu einem Referenzwerk über die Wirtschaftsgeschichte des Dritten Reiches zu werden." - Gerald Braunberger, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Tooze ergreift mit Entschiedenheit in dem antagonistischen Disput über die Interdependenz von Ideologie und Pragmatismus, hier über die Wechselbeziehung von Wirtschaftsauffassung und -politik, Partei. Er attestiert Hitler nicht nur Verständnis für ökonomische Zusammenhänge, sondern stilisiert dessen wirtschaftliche Interessen zur Grundlage nationalsozialistischer Politik nach innen und außen." - Hans-Erich Volkmann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "The originality of the book, and what labels it as a performance of the 21st century, is the overwhelming role Tooze accords the United States as a figment of Hitler's fears and imagination. (...) Following on from this, and far more controversially, Tooze argues that given the disposition of industrial power in the world and his racist ideology, Hitler was correct to act as he did." - James Buchan, The Guardian

  • "Adam Tooze has just written the definitive account of the Nazi economy. But he has done much more than that. He has also rewritten the history of the Second World War. By thinking afresh about what Hitler's war aims really were and how the Nazi leadership attempted first to win and then prolong a war for which they knew they never possessed sufficient resources, Tooze has produced the most striking history of German strategy in the Second World War that we possess. 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." - Nicholas Stargardt, History Today

  • "Adam Tooze's The Wages of Destruction is not simply an economic history of Nazi Germany. It is a formidable and profound new interpretation of German rearmament beginning in 1933, the preparations for war prior to 1939, and conduct of the war until its disastrous end in 1945. (...) Wages of Destruction definitively shows that the economic history of the Third Reich from beginning to end was inextricably bound up with its politics and had as its inevitable consequence the ruin of 1945." - Gerald Feldman, The New York Sun

  • "This massive study of Hitlerís war economy runs to half the length of War and Peace, partly for the reason that the author shares with Tolstoy the annoying habit of repeating himself frequently and at length. Although I suspect the book will be cited more often than read and perhaps more often read than understood, it must all the same now be enrolled by any serious student of the second world war as belonging to the list of indispensable sources available." - Noble Frankland, The Spectator

  • "Not since Michael Burleigh's equally epochal The Third Reich: A New History in 2000 has a single study shattered lazily unquestioned assumptions about the fundamental motivations of Hitler and the state he created. (...) (H)is enquiries range far beyond the nuts and bolts of fuel reserves and balance of payments tables. And unlike Hitler, whose reach ultimately exceeded his grasp, he displays a masterly control of his vast range of sources, marshalling an awesome array of facts to bolster his boldly revisionist arguments.(...) This long book is nothing less than a masterpiece that keeps its tight narrative grip until the very end. Adam Tooze has succeeded in making the gloomy science exciting, even enthralling." - Nigel Jones, Sunday Telegraph

  • "Adam Tooze has created a coherent and radical explanation of the limitations -- and opportunities -- that economic facts imposed on Hitlerís regime. Virtually every page of his book contains something new and thought-provoking, making the whole an impressive achievement, in which original research has been combined with critical scrutiny of a vast literature that seems ripe for such a re-examination." - Michael Burleigh, The Sunday Times

  • "(T)his is analytical work not for the faint-hearted. Tooze shows that telling the Nazi story from a rigorously economic perspective produces insights that challenge many conventional assessments of Hitlerís motivations, particularly of the timing of his military adventures, both successful and unsuccessful. (...) In short, The Wages of Destruction is, a magnificent demonstration of the explanatory power of economic history." - Howard Davies, The Times

  • "(C)omprehensive and skilfully written (.....) Tooze challenges prevailing images of the Nazi economy as beset by permanent competition, crisis and mismangaement. Though it never reached nor resorted to the kind of restructuring that marked the Soviet Union, Hitler's dictatorship mobilized resources on an unprecedented scale." - Anson Rabinbach, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Wages of Destruction is an historical account of Germany under Hitler, considered largely from an economic perspective. In examining the economic conditions and policies of the times and their consequences Tooze offers a fascinating picture of Hitler's actions and reasoning, making for a valuable contribution to the better understanding of what led to World War II and the Holocaust, and how Germany conducted the war.
       It's a lot of material he presents, and it's a long book, but it's also quite a good read. The constant barrage of data, from industrial output to wage and unemployment figures, can make it occasionally heavy going, but Tooze weaves it all into a real narrative about as well as one can. And what makes it so riveting is that while basically a familiar story -- the arc and details of Hitler's rise and Germany's fall are surely still well-known to almost all readers -- it presents it from yet another angle. The economics have always been part of the story, but Tooze's almost exclusive focus on that aspect shows its true significance.
       Tooze focus is specifically on Hitler's impact on Germany's economy, beginning in the early 1930s. Those were troubled times for both the local and the global economies, with Germany heavily burdened by reparations (until 1932) and foreign debt. Recovery after the Weimar years was slow, with vast unemployment. Hitler had his own specific ideas about how to fix things, but Tooze's account of the various approaches (and infighting among those in positions of power) even before he was the dominant decision-maker is already very interesting.
       Among the fascinating things is to realise how 'globalised' the economies of the time were: then as now Germany was heavily dependant on exports, and with such limited domestic demand during those years any policy-decisions vis-à-vis the international community always had to take into account the impact on trade. And, for example, when the US went off the gold standard in 1933, allowing the dollar to depreciate, Germany was faced with either following suit (the only way to keep exports competitive on the international market) or not (which meant: "a huge windfall, by reducing the Reichsmark value of the debts Germany owed to the United States"). Among the creepiest observations: Goering's annoyance that so much glass had been shattered on Kristallnacht, as: "replacing the high-quality Belgian plate glass would cost the Reichsbank 3 million Reichsmarks in precious foreign exchange."
       Hitler was less obsessed with remaining competitive in the export market than with greater self-sufficiency: Germany was not only dependant on exports, but also required raw materials from abroad -- and Hitler had no interest in being part of such a 'global economy'. Other great powers had land and resources (the US) or colonies (Great Britain), and Tooze shows why the quest for Lebensraum and all that came with it was so central to Hitler's ideology. Even before Lebensraum was conquered there was also heavy investment in, for example, synthetic fuel production (in order not to be dependant on foreign oil) -- a costly project just at a time when oil was cheap on the international market.
       The legacy of some of the enormous investments is still seen -- such as those at Auschwitz, Tooze noting:

As of 2003, at least two of the world's leading tyre manufacturers source their rubber from the plant at Oswiecim, the foundations for which were laid in 1941
       Among the fascinating side-stories are those of how radio was (successfully) brought to the masses, as well as the less successful Volkswagen-undertaking ("a disastrous flop").
       Strong government intervention was arguably necessary both before and then during the war, but Nazi control was almost complete -- with the state's actions having immense repercussions. By 1938 "Germany was suffering from an acute shortage of labour" -- but even here the state ruled with a firm hand, not allowing a free movement of labour and imposing a 'wage stop' (in part because of the understandable concern about inflation). As usual, the market was hard to stop: people found ways around this.
       Even success in war did not necessarily yield immediate benefits: victory in France added to Germany's industrial base -- but also increased Germany's fuel-needs (as France had, beyond its limited stocks, little capacity of its own). Tooze shows both a race towards war -- the German realisation that it could not keep up in an arms-build-up race a strong incentive to go to war as soon as possible -- as well as a plan for victory that depended on quickly overwhelming the enemy, as they managed in France but fatally failed to do on the Eastern front. Tooze shows how significant conquest of economic resources was, from industrial capability in France to oil in Romania to insuring the continued supply of iron ore from Sweden. The Soviet Union, and the huge distances there, proved to be insurmountable: the Germans could not gain hold of enough of the economically strategic points, and without that they had no chance of emerging victorious.
       From basic industry to appropriations among the different branches of the armed services (invest in U-boots or planes ? tanks or guns ? etc.) to the impact on the civilian population as well as the treatment of the citizens of the conquered territories and of the Jews, Tooze offers a comprehensive examination of Germany's actions and policies in World War II. It shouldn't be surprising how much economics has to do with all of what happened -- it's so fundamental, after all -- but in the focus on ideology, actual battles, and individual fates one often forgets about it. One of the reasons why The Wages of Destruction is so sobering is because it also serves as a reminder of how much economics has to do with recent international conflicts, everything from various Pan-Arabic ambitions to Viet Nam and the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.
       The Wages of Destruction is not always easy going, but it is a fascinating read. It occasionally feels almost rushed -- a cascade of data -- and if anything a bit more space should have been devoted both to explaining the data (and the extent to which it is reliable, as one suspects much of it is not entirely -- hard figures from the time can be hard to get) as well as some of the basic economics: it's likely not everyone recalls how the gold standard worked, for example. Still, the overall picture and point is clear, and the reasoning, decisions, and consequences from along the way often fascinating.
       Well worthwhile, especially for anyone interested in World War II or planned economies.

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The Wages of Destruction: Reviews: Adam Tooze: Other books by Adam Tooze under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       British historian Adam Tooze teaches at Columbia University.

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© 2007-2018 the complete review

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