Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What I've Been Reading - Part II

Another of my summer reads was The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy by Adam Tooze. This book was more work than my previous recommendation, but it was still an interesting read.

I suspect that those of you who only teach economics might not choose this book unless you also have an interest in Germany in the period between the World Wars.

But those who teach history and look to find ways to integrate economics, or those who teach history and economics will find much to absorb. Some may even change small parts of their existing program as a result. The basic thrust and content of a history course would likely remain the same, but there would be a deeper understanding of Hitler's appeal to parts of the German electorate, as well as an understanding (I hesitate to use appreciation because it has the wrong connotation) of the economic problem Nazi Germany brought on itself with the decision and acquiescence to go to war. The results were unarguably horrific. And Tooze's descriptions in later chapters of the ways prisoners and slave labor were used are troubling, there are still insights into the choices that were made, often without a proper understanding of consequences and costs.

Hitler's choices, and the choices of those around him, were not rational in the sense that most readers would understand. But with an appreciation of the morals (or many might say, the lack thereof) behind laws that were instituted, one gains a new sense of what choices existed and ultimately how they were made.

For the economics teacher, I can say that the book provides a sense of what economic understanding can bring to historical analysis. My interest in economics grew out of a realization of what economics could add to an appreciation of history. But too often the economist and the historian fail to appreciate what the other brings to their respective problems. When the two come together, the result can be enjoyable as well as enlightening (see my earlier review of Castles, Battles and Bombs by Brauer and van Tuyll).

As always, I'd be interested in your thoughts. But I'm especially so if you've read this book.

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