I was happy to learn of Philip Gibson’s Berlin 1945: 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.
Berlin 1945 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 Berlin 1945 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, Berlin 1945 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. Berlin 1945 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.
About The Reviewer
Paul Levinson, PhD, is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in NYC. His science fiction novels include The Silk Code (winner of Locus Award for Best First Science Fiction Novel of 1999), Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002), The Pixel Eye (2003), The Plot To Save Socrates (2006), Unburning Alexandria (2013), and Chronica (2014) – the last three of which are also known as the Sierra Waters trilogy, and are historical fiction as well as science fiction. His stories and novels have been nominated for Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, Edgar, Prometheus, and Audie Awards. His nonfiction books, including The Soft Edge (1997), Digital McLuhan (1999), Realspace (2003), Cellphone (2004), and New New Media (2009; 2nd edition, 2012), have been translated into twelve languages. He appears on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, the History Channel, NPR, and numerous TV and radio programs. His 1972 LP, Twice Upon a Rhyme, was re-issued in 2010. He was President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, 1998-2001. He reviews television in his InfiniteRegress.tv blog, and was listed in The Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Top 10 Academic Twitterers” in 2009.
Find out more about Paul and his work at http://paullevinson.blogspot.com/