Serving The Reich is an interesting book that looks at physics under Hitler and focuses on the stories of several famous scientists, Max Planck, Peter Debye and Werner Heisenberg.
It’s often forgotten that Germany produced some of the best scientists of the 20th century and that the majority of them either left or worked for the Nazi regime.
Indeed, Wernher von Braun surrendered to the Americans and would go on to develop the V5 rockets that propelled Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon.
This was despite the fact that von Braun had used prisoners from concentration camps in his rocket program for the Nazis.
Another aspect that the book touches on is the Nazi’s efforts to develop an atomic bomb. They were aware of the implications following the discovery of uranium fission in 1938 but were unable to beat the Americans to the development of a working bomb.
How different the Second World War may have turned out had they been able to develop an atomic bomb.
I found Serving The Reich to be a fascinating book. I had the names of Planck and Heisenberg before, but know much about them, or their roles in Nazi Germany.
If you’re interested in science or the history of the Second World War, this book is a must-read!
Table of Contents
Serving The Reich summary
Takeaway 1 – Should you put what you believe in before your career?
If you were asked whether you would work for a regime such as the Nazis, or refuse, most of us would like to think we do the former. However, when push comes to shove, I believe more people would opt for the latter.
Humans are good at self-preservation. We want to remain alive as long as possible and will do whatever it takes to do so.
Yes, there are many people for whom their principles are important and can never be bought, but there are many more who will adapt to whichever way the wind is blowing.
Many scientists decided to leave Germany when the Nazis started to rise to power, including Albert Einstein and Leo Slizard. Both were Jewish and were understandably eager to leave the country.
However, the same cannot be said for other scientists. Heisenberg and Planck remained in Germany and worked on projects related to the Nazi war effort.
It’s unlikely there will ever be a consensus on whether those scientists who worked for the Nazi regime did so willingly or for fear of their own safety.
What we should take away from this is what we would so in a similar scenario Would we stick to our principles? Or would we forfeit them in the chance that would be spared by the regime in the knowledge that we would be tacitly endorsing them?
Takeaway 2 – Science and political ideologies are not good bedfellows
Science and Politics are two entities that are very dissimilar. Politics is based on ideologies, different ways of looking at the world and views on how a country should be governed.
Science has a simpler pursuit, that of truth. All science is concerned with is finding the right answer to a question.
Granted these are simple explanations, but they hold true for the most part. When you throw science and politics together things get tricky.
This is especially the case is the political ideology is an extreme one, as was the case with the Nazis.
They were not interested in the furtherment of our knowledge of the universe. Their link to science and the physicists we read about in the book was to gain an upper hand over the enemies in the arms race.
When politics morphs this way, science becomes corrupted. Eugenics and the belief that Jews and Blacks were inferior also become scientific ‘fact’ under the Nazis.
Serving The Reich shows the danger of a totalitarian regime gaining power and using science to ‘confirm’ its own flawed logic upon the masses.
Had the Germans been able to engineer an atomic bomb it would have been framed as proof of Aryan superiority. When that moment didn’t come, no one in the regime admitted that this belief was wrong.
This is the danger of mixing an ideology that is loose with the truth and the pursuit of science which searches for the right answer. In this context, the two are incompatible.
Takeaway 3 – The Nazis were not as committed to the atomic bomb of the Americans
One of the great ifs of the Second World War is what would have happened had the nazis developed an atomic bomb before the Americans.
We’ll never know the answer, but it’s likely things would have played out very differently. Had the nazis invested in uranium research once the implication of uranium fission became clear, they could have beaten the Americans to the prize by a few years.
This would have dramatically changed the outcome. An atomic bomb dropped on Manhattan may have forced the Americans to surrender.
However, the Nazis were not aggressive in their pursuit. More funds were sent to von Braun’s rocket program than to the uranium enrichment plan.
This was despite the Nazis being in possession of the largest deposit of uranium ore on the planet in Czechoslovakia.
In hindsight, this was a mistake. The Americans beat the Nazis and the Soviets to the bomb and deployed it to devastating effect against Japan, ending their involvement in the war.
By this time, Germany had lost the war, but they focused on developing a reactor and working towards building a bomb, things may have turned out differently.
Thankfully, that did not come to pass.
Serving The Reich review
This Serving The Reich summary has looked at a part of the Second World War and the Nazi’s reign in Germany that’s often overlooked.
It was known that the Nazs were looking to develop an atomic bomb, what wasn’t known to the wider public was how close they were to pulling it off.
While this book suggests they weren’t close to challenging the Americans when it came to winning the race, they had set up infrastructure to develop a bomb.
Had the Americans been slower to set up The Manhattan Project, the story might have finished differently.
Another intriguing aspect of this story is the part well-known scientists such as Heisenberg played in the program.
He was more involved than you might have thought and although they weren’t staunch supporters of Nazism, their fingerprints were intertwined with the regime on this particular subject.
Serving The Reich was a fascinating read into a dark and dangerous time in the world. Thankfully, the Nazis weren’t able to build an atomic bomb. Otherwise, who knows what destruction they might have wreaked!
Who Should Read Serving The Reich?
If you’re interested in history or a graduate of the subject, you’ll enjoy reading Serving The Reich.
The book shines a light on a lesser-known part of the war and offers an intriguing insight into the lives of famous scientists such as Heisenberg and Planck.