Evans is a Brit, a professor of history at Cambridge. An interesting preface explains why he felt an exhaustive narrative history of the mid-20th century German rogue state was needed. He served as an expert witness in the 1996 libel trial in which historian David Irving sued historian Deborah Lipstadt and Penguin Books for writing that Irving was a Holocaust denier (the court concluded he was). Evans discovered in that work that a new general account might help. He also seems irritated that for English speakers the paradigmatic account of Hitler's Germany remains William L. Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. He explains:
It does seem that Evans is distressed that Shirer managed to make his account so gripping that it has endured. He also finds Shirer morally judgmental and intentional chooses not to emulate him in this. I think I am an admirer for Shirer's history of the Third Reich precisely because of the visceral outrage he incorporates in his narrative.
But these quibbles certainly don't mean that I didn't get a lot out of Evans first volume. He describes its purpose:
What stands out for me from Evans' account of Hitler's rise is the centrality of violence -- assaults on opponents, rioting, intimidating mass marches -- employed by many factions in Weimar German politics. Defeat in World War I and the economic pain that followed left ripe ground for the growth of intolerance. He shows that as early as the 1920s, what had been a pervasive cultural anti-semitism was transformed in this unstable context into a foundation that would underlie the Nazi project of mass extermination.
The Great War had left behind a substantial cohort of damaged ex-combatants (and younger siblings who envied their "heroic" older "brothers") who knew no way to be in society except as warriors. A Columbia sociologist, Theodore Abels, persuaded the Nazi Party to back his collecting the personal stories of many original Nazi movement members, especially the para-military brownshirts who intimidated and fought other Germans with other political allegiances. Their motivations don't seem to have been very ideological.
In addition to their violent, fanatical base the Nazi leaders seem to have excelled at organizing party activities -- a quality that seldom goes with ideological lunacy and celebration of violence. The Party generated groups and projects in all sectors of German life. It was very good at running electoral campaigns, at spreading propaganda, and mobilizing voters.
All this mass organization meant that in 1933, when the politicians of the Weimar Republic -- a collapsing state structure that had long since ceded any allegiance to democracy and the rule of law -- gave over power to Hitler as Chancellor, the Nazi Party was organized to take over the functions of a government that had lost its legitimacy. Nazi organizations quickly took over the police, "cleansed" the government bureaucracy and educational institutions of Jews and political opponents, and generally dominated public life in all its aspects. Evans makes it clear that they could accomplish this as quickly and completely as they did because they combined an enthusiastic use of violence with efficient mass organization. It required both to install the Third Reich, the Nazi dictatorship.
As a student of history and politics, I still am amazed that this incendiary combination of forces could emerge in a large, rich, modern state. Evans is right: this is a sobering narrative.