Thursday, December 25, 2014

Book Review: #Berlin45: The Final Days of Hitler's Third Reich by Philip Gibson: Delightful, Important, Informative

I was happy to learn of Philip Gibson's #Berlin45: The Final Days of Hitler's Third Reich, given that I had rave-blurbed Robert K. Blechman's Executive Severance, a mystery novel written in real-time tweets, back in 2011.   Amazingly and ironically, Executive Severance has not yet been published as a Kindle - it's available only in paperback - but is delightful nonetheless.

#Berlin45 is available as a Kindle ebook, is also written in tweets, and is also delightful - as well as historically informative, making the brutally true story that it covers a pleasure to read.   Unlike Executive Severance, the tweets that comprise #Berlin45 were never posted on Twitter, and in fact are in the mouths - or from the fingertips - of leading historical figures who presided over the fall of the Third Reich, ranging from Hitler himself to his top aids and clerical assistants to allied leaders in the United States, England, and the Soviet Union.   As such, #Berlin45 constitutes an alternate history of sorts - what would have been tweeted in 1945 in those finals days of the Third Reich had all the major parties Twitter accounts and used them as you and I - but not yet Presidents and military leaders - use them today.  Thus, we really get a double alternate history in this fast-paced volume - the general alternate history of Twitter in 1945, and the more specific alternate history of leaders often obsessively tweeting.

One opportunity that may have been missed in this book is the major and minor players responding to each other's tweets - or at least RTing and Favoriting tweets.   The narrative instead consists of tweets largely uniformed by the tweets of others in the book, though because the tweeters are often talking about the same events - Hitler and his minions about the Russian approach to Berlin - the tweets are often connected in theme.

The history is well-researched and accurate.   The only slightly misleading phrase I noticed was in this background blurb about Stalin - "After entering into a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, from 1941 to 1945 he oversaw the defense of the Soviet Union" - which would have been clearer as "After entering into a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, dissolved by Hitler in 1941, Stalin from then to 1945 oversaw the defense of the Soviet Union" - but that's a minor quibble.  

The voices of the tweeters - or, better, tweeting styles - all ring true, as do the psychological tensions and chess games that we know from history, such as the mutual exasperation between Hitler and his generals in the last days of the war.   Gibson also works in some good narrative connectors, such as Hitler ordering the flooding of the Berlin subway system to slow the Russian advance, after Joseph Goebbel's wife separately muses about a bathtub in the bunker.

I was bound to really enjoy this book, being a fan of alternate history, having written extensively about Twitter in New New Media, and being a World War II history buff to boot.  But you'll love this book if you're any one of those, and maybe even if you're not at all.  #Berlin45 is part of a growing series of books like this by Gibson ("hashtag histories")  - including a presciently written one about the Cuban Missile Crisis in tweets - and I expect I'll be reading all of them sooner or later.  In even shorter than a tweet, I can say:  Gibson has given us a compelling way to witness history.

Post a Comment