Tooze coyly declines the opportunity offer his own rip-and-read summary but need now such hesitancy, so here is the shorter Adam Tooze: the Nazis were not a bunch of stumblebums. Oh, it goes without saying that the program was evil and insane. But they did a lot of things right. What finally got them was resources. When push came to shove (and pushing and shoving reached some kind of league record in 1943-5)--when push came to shove, there was no way a small country with no oil, not enough coal, and far too little food, was ever going to match the assembled might of the British Empire, the Soviet Empire and, most of all, the American whatever-it-was that mobilized so efficiently and so overwhelmingly once it went on the attack.
This matter of resources is a stark fact that puts all else in context. Consider the blitzkrieg of 1940, which left the Nazis the master of the European continent. It certainly looked like a victory--but in fact, the conquest cost the Nazis at least as much as it yielded, because the conquered territories had resources deficiencies of their own. Resource problems also explain the notorious neutrality of the Swedes and the Swiss--two small countries with resource problems of their own, utterly dependent on the Nazis as a basic lifeline.
Resources also help to explain the seemingly insane gamble that Hitler undertook when he invaded Russia in 1941, while still at war in the West. More cautious counsel would have told him not to start a second war until he finished the first one. But Tooze argues that Hitler's made sense if you understand him as in a race with time—he had to get his hold on the wheatfields of the Ukraine and the oil fields of Romania quickly, before the ineluctable power of the United States reached its full force. And for whatever it is worth, Hitler had already taken one desperate gamble—just the year before, in the West—and won.
Faced with these resource constraints, how did the German war machine respond? Tooze argues that it responded dispiritingly well. Not without savager internal conflict of course—bureaucracies are ever the same. But the hard truth appears to be that with a good deal of head-banging the top, the Germans performed about as effectively as you could expect of a complex modern social apparatus. In particular, Tooze tries to put paid to the idea that this was a war of “able technocrats” impeded by ruffianism and incompetence. On Tooze's account, there were able technocrats—and they cooperated with the ruffians fully, even enthusiastically at almost every turn.
There are plenty of villains in this piece, but if there is an arch-villain it would be Alfred Speer, the smooth-talking chief of production who deployed one of the greatest PR campaigns in modern history to dance away from the hangman at Nuremberg. Speer proved once again (if it needed proving) the value of a good haircut and polite grammar. He would have us believe that he was just idling on the streetcorner when the cast iron safe crashed to the sidewalk beside him. But Tooze puts together a formidable case that Speer was all in from early in the game. Indeed, it appears to have been Speer's very “technocracy” that did much to make the war more disastrous and menacing for everybody. Cooler or more timid heads had begun to have their doubts about the time the German army stalled at the gates of Moscow in 1941. It waa Speer more than anyone, dedicated and insidiously effective, who made sure that it all lasted for another three and a half years. And sadly for everyone, he had plenty of help.