The fire and the darkness The bombing of Dresden, 1945

Sinclair McKay

Book - 2020

Narrative nonfiction account of the history of the Dresden Bombing, one of the most devastating attacks of World War II. Looks at the life of the city in the days before the attack, tracks each moment of the bombing, and considers the long period of reconstruction and recovery. reconstruction of this unthinkable terror from the points of view of the ordinary civilians: Margot Hille, an apprentice brewery worker; Gisela Reichelt, a ten-year-old schoolgirl; boys conscripted into the Hitler Youth; ...choristers of the Kreuzkirche choir; artists, shop assistants, and classical musicians, as well as the Nazi officials stationed there.

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Subjects
Genres
Creative nonfiction
Published
New York, NY : St. Martin's Press 2020.
Edition
First U.S. edition
Language
English
Physical Description
xxv, 369, 24 pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN
9781250258014
1250258014
Main Author
Sinclair McKay (author)
  • Part one: the approaching fury. The days before
  • In the forests of the Gauleiter
  • The dethroning of reason
  • Art and degeneracy
  • The glass man and the physicists
  • 'A sort of little London'
  • The science of doomsday
  • The correct atmospheric conditions
  • Hosing out
  • The devil will get no rest
  • Part two: Schreckensnacht. The day of darkness
  • Five minutes before the sirens
  • Into the abyss
  • Shadows and light
  • 10.03 p.m.
  • The burning eyes
  • Midnight
  • The second wave
  • From among the dead
  • The third wave
  • Part three: aftershock. Dead men and dreamers
  • The radiant tombs
  • The meanings of terror
  • The music of the dead
  • Recoil
  • 'The Stalinist style'
  • Beauty and remembrance.
Review by Booklist Reviews

Of cities destroyed in WWII, Dresden, where British and American air attacks that killed about 25,000 people, has attracted extensive authorial attention. Whether the event's prominence derives from the target's rich architectural and artistic heritage, or debate about the attack's moral justification, its narrative of horror can be luridly riveting when written well. Best-selling McKay (The Secret Lives of Codebreakers, 2012) does so. Sketching Dresden's landmarks built over centuries, he conveys the charm the city exerted on inhabitants and visitors alike. Setting the stage for February 13, 1945, McKay describes how various Dresdeners scrambled for air raid shelters as sirens wailed, and how they survived the ensuing apocalyptic conflagration. Conversely, McKay recounts the background to the RAF's bombing campaign against Germany, and why he considers the RAF officer in charge, Arthur Harris, to be controversial. More sympathetic to RAF air crew, he underscores their risks flying the Lancaster bomber as he builds up to their experience of carrying out the Dresden mission. Concluding with Dresden's prolonged postwar reconstruction, McKay rounds out a high-quality rendition of the actuality and symbolism of Dresden's devastation. Copyright 2020 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

The horrific bombing of Dresden, Germany, February 13–14, 1945, is a frequently visited subject among popular historians, but McKay's study is among the most valuable of the works resulting from this fascination with the controversial attack. More than just a history of the assault itself—the first bomb does not fall until about halfway through the book—McKay seeks to place the British and American attacks in a much broader context. As a result, the book also serves as a history of the city of Dresden from the 18th century through the post-war Soviet occupation. A firm believer that history is collective biography, the author introduces readers to scores of historical figures who played a role, however tangential, in the events at the center of the book. The Germans who suffered under the Allied onslaught and the American and British airmen who dropped the bombs on Dresden appear in the text, and so do such cultural icons as Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Wagner, and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Richly layered details add nuance to this popular history of the highest order. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General readers through upper-division undergraduates.--R. W. Lemmons, Jacksonville State UniversityRUSSEL WILLIAM LEMMONSJacksonville State University RUSSEL WILLIAM LEMMONS Choice Reviews 57:11 July 2020 Copyright 2020 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

February 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the fire-bombing of Dresden, one of the most controversial Allied actions of World War II. Lasting two days, the bombing killed an estimated 25,000 to 35,000 civilians, many of who were fleeing the onslaught of the Soviet Army. MacKay's (The Secret Lives of Codebreakers) engrossing account of Dresden's citizens, in the moments before, during, and after the bombings, describe a community trying to manage everyday life in Nazi Germany until a cataclysm interrupted its routine. Included are personal narratives describing the stories of Allied prisoners of war, the accounts of the few remaining Jews, and the experiences of British and American air crews. Most of these crew members had not flown so far over enemy territory; for them, it was another risky mission and extremely fear-filled flight. VERDICT Well researched, powerfully written, and balanced, this book will let the reader decide whether the bombing of Dresden was a war crime or a calculated step to bring a long and bloody war to an end. For all interested in military history and World War II.—Beth Dalton, Littleton, CO Copyright 2020 Library Journal.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Historian McKay (The Secret Lives of Codebreakers) portrays Dresden before, during, and immediately after its February 1945 destruction by Allied bombers in this vivid and exhaustive narrative. McKay profiles Dresden residents, including Viktor Kemperer, a philology professor and Jewish convert to Christianity, and 15-year-old Winfried Bielss, a member of the Hitler Youth, and sketches the city's favored status among British and American socialites, which locals hoped would keep them safe from attack. On the night of February 13, however, nearly 800 Royal Air Force bombers took off from England for Dresden; their objective, according to McKay, was to "create an atmosphere of panic" among the population, which included thousands of refugees fleeing the Red Army's advance into northern Germany. The planes carried 4,000-pound "Blockbuster" bombs and incendiary devices intended to spark fires in the wreckage. Drawing from memoirs, letters, and diaries, McKay describes people huddling in cellars, many of which collapsed or became suffocating from heat, smoke, and lack of oxygen, and emerging to find burning corpses, melting roads, and an estimated mile-high conflagration in the city center. An estimated 25,000 people died in three waves of Allied attacks over two days. McKay's extensive research and animated prose capture the terror and tragedy of the bombing. Readers won't soon forget this devastating account. (Feb.) Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

"A gripping work of narrative nonfiction recounting the history of the Dresden Bombing, one of the most devastating attacks of World War II. On February 13th, 1945 at 10:03 PM, British bombers began one of the most devastating attacks of WWII: the bombing of Dresden. The first contingent killed people and destroyed buildings, roads, and other structures. The second rained down fire, turning the streets into a blast furnace, the shelters into ovens, and whipping up a molten hurricane in which the citizensof Dresden were burned, baked, or suffocated to death. Early the next day, American bombers finished off what was left. Sinclair McKay's The Fire and the Darkness is a pulse-pounding work of history that looks at the life of the city in the days before the attack, tracks each moment of the bombing, and considers the long period of reconstruction and recovery. The Fire and the Darkness is powered by McKay's reconstruction of this unthinkable terror from the points of view of the ordinary civilians: MargotHille, an apprentice brewery worker; Gisela Reichelt, a ten-year-old schoolgirl; boys conscripted into the Hitler Youth; choristers of the Kreuzkirche choir; artists, shop assistants, and classical musicians, as well as the Nazi officials stationed there. What happened that night in Dresden was calculated annihilation in a war that was almost over. Sinclair McKay's brilliant work takes a complex, human, view of this terrible night and its aftermath in a gripping book that will be remembered long after the last page is turned."--

Review by Publisher Summary 2

Drawing on first-hand accounts from ordinary civilians, this gripping work of narrative nonfiction recounts the history of the Dresden Bombing on February 13, 1945, taking a complex, human view of this terrible night and its aftermath.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A gripping work of narrative nonfiction recounting the history of the Dresden Bombing, one of the most devastating attacks of World War II.On February 13th, 1945 at 10:03 PM, British bombers began one of the most devastating attacks of WWII: the bombing of Dresden. The first contingent killed people and destroyed buildings, roads, and other structures. The second rained down fire, turning the streets into a blast furnace, the shelters into ovens, and whipping up a molten hurricane in which the citizens of Dresden were burned, baked, or suffocated to death. Early the next day, American bombers finished off what was left. Sinclair McKay’s The Fire and the Darkness is a pulse-pounding work of history that looks at the life of the city in the days before the attack, tracks each moment of the bombing, and considers the long period of reconstruction and recovery. The Fire and the Darkness is powered by McKay’s reconstruction of this unthinkable terror from the points of view of the ordinary civilians: Margot Hille, an apprentice brewery worker; Gisela Reichelt, a ten-year-old schoolgirl; boys conscripted into the Hitler Youth; choristers of the Kreuzkirche choir; artists, shop assistants, and classical musicians, as well as the Nazi officials stationed there. What happened that night in Dresden was calculated annihilation in a war that was almost over. Sinclair McKay’s brilliant work takes a complex, human, view of this terrible night and its aftermath in a gripping book that will be remembered long after the last page is turned.