Review: The Nuremberg Trials: The Nazis and Their Crimes Against Humanity by Paul Roland

Posted: September 28, 2013 in Books, History, Non-Fiction, Reviews
Tags: , , , , ,

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I’ve always considered myself something of a lay historian. One of my two majors at university was history, I’ve always loved going to museums, and I’ve read several histories, including many on World War II, such as William L. Shirer’s opus The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I wasn’t that kid that got duped into buying Columbia House CD (or cassette, in my day) club memberships; nope, I got duped into buying a twenty-four volume encyclopedia of World War II when I was doing a paper route at the age of 14 or so (pretty certain my parents ended up having to pay for most of them, too!). Being that this is an area that interests me, and that I haven’t read any books that are directly concerned with the Nazi war crimes trials at Nuremberg following World War II, I thought that Roland’s book might be worth a read, especially with its five dollar price tag. I found, however, the price to be a little steep at that.

Doing a quick perusal of Paul Roland’s oeuvre, we can find books with titles like Ghosts, Nazis and the Occult, How to Meditate and Jack the Ripper, titillating subjects found in poorly bound books often placed near the checkouts in local pharmacies. Roland appears to be the proverbial jack of all trades, but if this book is anything to judge by, he may also be the master of none. These sorts of books, about a single often esoteric subject by a single author, are also known as monographs; but to give that name to this book might be a bit of a stretch. Roland’s books are a bit more substantial than the tiny chapbooks often found in these sections, but while he does have more content, it isn’t necessarily better. I found his approach in The Nuremberg Trials to be very simplistic, with no particular insights or commentary beyond the basic conveyance of facts. The author’s interest here seemed less to have anything to do with the trials themselves, and more to do with getting another book out to go beside his other single-subject texts. It felt very much that a) the book was written very quickly, and b) I could have gotten the same information, or perhaps even more, by reading Wikipedia.

The book does cover each of the major defendants, with brief biographies and commentary, although it rarely delves into the actual crimes with which they are charged. Rather, he names the crimes, but does not detail their background at any length. Goering is the exception to this, but he is also, interestingly enough, the defendant about whom the most is written in the general media. Biographies, movies, entire history texts are dedicated to this rather absurd, yet sinister individual. He was the only inner-circle top Nazi party official to be captured and put on trial at Nuremberg; while Donitz, von Ribbentrop, and Hess all held high posts (Head of the Kriegsmarine and briefly President following Hitler’s death; Foreign Minister; and deputy Fuhrer until his strange flight to Scotland, respectively), none were quite on a par with Goering, who ranked up with criminals such as Himmler, Goebbels, Eichmann and Hitler himself. The rest were primarily functionaries and bureaucrats. That Roland would concentrate most of his efforts on Goering is likely because Goering’s is the most recognizable name, and the one about whom the most information is readily available.

The Nuremberg Trials does not even work as a primer for the history surrounding the trials. Better information is available, for free, from several websites (I’ll link to a couple below). What Roland has done here is simply collate a bunch of freely available details, placed them into chapters, and called it a book. The one saving grace is that the publisher (I read the Arcturus trade paperback edition) uses a very large font, presumably to inflate the size of the book and to give it the appearance of substance – a substance it is sorely lacking. This means that I’ve only wasted three hours of my life on its 384 pages, rather than the six or seven it might otherwise have taken me.

Steve’s Grade: D

Even having never read a book focusing exclusively on the Nuremberg Trials before, I had the nagging feeling as I read Roland’s book that I’d read it all before, and that I likely had more familiarity with the subject than the author himself. Don’t waste your time with this one. I’m not giving it an F because at least the language is readable.

Links:

The Nuremberg Trials at Wikipedia – A good place to start for the basic facts.
The US Holocaust Memorial Museum The USHMM has several excellent links to pertinent information.

Buy this book at: (but really, don’t)

Powell`s Books
Chapters/Indigo
Amazon

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Comments
  1. beverleypdt says:

    I have just finished it, and I agree with you completely. It is interesting to look at the acknowledgements — three primary sources (one not directly related to the trials), and four web sites. Web sites as an academic resource without further reference?!?!?! There is a one line endorsement on the back cover by a history professor. He died last year, so we can’t even ask his reasons. The endorsement was “Roland’s compelling account is highly readable”. So are books by Antonia Fraser, Allison Weir and Karen Armstrong, but they also have serious academic work behind them. Your “D” is generous.

    • zillwood says:

      Agreed – the “D” was a generous grade. Even Twilight is readable, and I wouldn’t give it anything more than an “F”. Roland’s sourcing reminds me a lot of Rand Paul’s recent attempts to defend his plagiarism in his speeches – “I wasn’t claiming that I wrote Gattaca. That’s ridiculous!” Yep.

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