One of the most fascinating books I have read in a long time, Berlin Diary was written by William Shirer, a US radio correspondent based in Berlin during the lead up to - and beginning of - WWII. He stayed in Germany through the end of 1940 and wrote about the events in his hidden diary. The story was important to me for a couple of reasons.
First, it reads like a mystery novel. WWII has never had a huge draw to me since it basically consisted of a crazy man attacking everyone and then getting smacked down by the US/UK. But reading it from a 'pre-historic' perspective is amazing. Shirer writes about events on a near-daily basis and it's incredible to be reminded that nobody knew what was going to happen. We always look at history in the past with the final result completely clouding our judgment of the events. This is a rare instance that is completely unbiased by the end result because he simply had no clue. Some people thought Hitler was a harmless fad, and some thought his rise to power would be the end of mankind. Some knew he could never invade France, and others swore England would surrender without a fight. And absolutely nobody thought that Japan would end up ruining everything for the Axis powers.
It was just so incredibly interesting to look at that event and realize how complex and unknown it all was. For me, it was a great reminder that the future really is unknowable with any measure of confidence. This health care thing (for instance) may be brilliant and everyone in the country will love it in a decade. Or it may bankrupt the country and send it into a tailspin that ends the 'American empire'. From a 'present' perspective, nobody really knows (although they claim to). However, 10 years from now, you can bet your life that people will pop up everywhere saying 'I always knew .... would happen. It was so obvious.'
Anyways, it was great for me to be reminded of how little I know.
The second fascinating thing about the book was the Nazi propaganda. Most nights Shirer would record what the Germans had printed in the paper and told the citizens about the war. It was absolutely mesmerizing to see the lies that were bought into by the German people during that period in history. It reminds me very much of North Korea today or the Iraq Republican Guard 10 years ago. Completely unattached from reality, yet by tapping into a people groups' core beliefs and desires and consistently shouting the same lies, they begin to believe. It makes me even more skeptical of media and the political establishment.
Anyways, Berlin Diary by William Shirer. It's a long book but a great read. I was really sad when it ended in December of 1940...just left me in the middle of an incredible story with no closure at all.