Childers, Thomas 1946-
CHILDERS, Thomas 1946-
PERSONAL: Born 1946, in TN; married Kristin Stromberg (an assistant professor of history). Education: University of Tennessee, B.A., M.A.; Harvard University, Ph.D., 1976.
CAREER: University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, professor of history, 1976—, currently the Sheldon and Lucy Hackney Professor of History; member of the German Graduate Group. Has had visiting professorships at Trinity Hall College, Cambridge, Smith College, and Swarthmore College. Has lectured at universities in the United States and Europe and recorded history courses on audiocassette.
AWARDS, HONORS: Smithsonian Institution fellow, German Marshall Fund Research fellowship, Krupp Foundation fellow, Fulbright Scholarship, Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung research grant, American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship in European Studies, Harvard University West European Studies research grant, Ira T. Abrahms Award for Distinguished Teaching and Challenging Teaching in the Arts and Sciences, 1987, Richard S. Dunn Award for Distinguished Teaching in History, 1999, Senior Class Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, 2000.
The Nazi Voter: The Social Foundations of Fascism inGermany, 1919-1933, University of North Carolina Press (Chapel Hill, NC), 1983.
(Editor) The Formation of the Nazi Constituency, 1919-1933, Barnes & Noble Books (Totowa, NJ), 1986.
Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last AmericanBomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II, Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1995.
In the Shadows of War: An American Pilot's Odyssey through Occupied France and the Camps of Nazi Germany, Holt (New York, NY), 2003, also published as In the Shadows of War: Three Lives United by the French Resistance.
WORK IN PROGRESS: The Best Years of Their Lives, the third installment in the trilogy begun with Wings of Morning and In the Shadows of War; it will explore the postwar experiences of World War II veterans.
SIDELIGHTS: Professor Thomas Childers has established himself as a respected writer of two very different kinds of books, specialized historical analysis and novelistic recreations of historical events. His early work was focused on the elections that brought the Nazi party to power, and resulted in scholarly works encompassing statistical and sociological analysis. He published The Nazi Voter: The Social Foundations of Fascism in Germany, 1919-1933 and edited two collections of writings by himself and others on similar themes. Childers's most widely reviewed work is the first two-thirds of a trilogy that dramatically recounts the experiences of individuals in World War II. Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II recreates events that led to the death of Childers's uncle, Howard Goodner. Similarly, In the Shadows of War: An American Pilot's Odyssey through Occupied France and the Camps of Nazi Germany relates the story of pilot Roy Allen and two members of the French Resistance who protected him. Both of these books combine a vivid recreation of personal experiences and precise explanations of the historical context.
The Nazi Voter helped to establish Childers as an authority on the early years of the Nazi party. The book is a quantitative study that identifies the social and political backgrounds of voters who supported the National Socialist German Workers' Party. While it does not offer a radically new picture of early Nazi supporters, the book substantiates the suggestions of other scholars that the Nazi electorate was not confined to new members of the middle class. Several reviewers marked the book as an important contribution on the subject. In the Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Jürgen W. Falter credited the author with adding to an "ever growing consensus" but found problems with "his overall methodology," citing problems with his use of regression analysis and statistical methods. Others described the work as authoritative. Ian Kershaw commented in the Journal of Modern History that "Childer's account is particularly valuable in that it puts Nazi electioneering in the perspective of the propaganda of the other major parties, thus avoiding the distortion of treating Nazi propaganda in isolation." Kershaw asserted that "Childers now provides an elaborate and definitive confirmation" of the new views. This assessment resembled that of JohnPeter Horst Grill in the American Historical Review, where he said the book was "an innovative contribution to our knowledge of Weimar voting patterns. It restates with greater clarity much of what we know and puts to rest the argument that an undifferentiated middle class, driven by antimodernism, voted for Hitler."
As editor of The Formation of the Nazi Constituency, 1919-1933, Childers collected essays that also focus on Nazi voters. The nine chapters consider the effects of a centralized propaganda system, Storm Trooper violence, and analysis within different geographic areas, religious groups, and professions. Childers's own contribution covers the 1932 election when the party lost two million votes. Reviewers recommended the book as a solid introduction to the early Nazi party. David Blackbourn said it was comprised of "valuable essays" in a review for the Times Literary Supplement. In History: Reviews of New Books Alexander De Grand described the contributions as all being "a well-researched elaboration on a common theme" and that they make "a more coherent whole" than most collections of this kind. Writing for the English Historical Review, Jeremy Noakes reflected, "Research on the social bases of Nazi support up to 1933 has been extremely active over the past few years, and no one has contributed more to this than Thomas Childers."
A 1988 conference at the University of Pennsylvania supplied the essays found in Reevaluating the Third Reich, for which Childers served as editor with Jane Caplan. The eleven essays are from contributors who take a "functionalist" approach to studying the Third Reich, rather than the more traditional "intentionalist" school of thought. As explained by Michael H. Kater in his review for Central European History, the members of the second group have "interpreted Adolf Hitler as the sole moving force in the events of the Third Reich" while the "intentionalists" are more interested in "collective structures and processes abstracted from individual initiatives." Kater considered the collection to be "a significant book . . . it poses as many new questions as it seeks to answer old ones." Other critics recommended the book widely. In Science & Society, Madeleine Hurd praised the book's "range and lucidity" and wrote that it is suitable for "graduate students contemplating work on Nazi Germany, scholars seeking an introduction to an unfamiliar field, and specialists looking for a good summary of recent historiography." In a review for Contemporary Sociology, Ekkhart Zimmerman called it "one of the best recent collections dealing with controversial accounts of the Third Reich," and considered it to be "useful reading for historians, sociologists, and the general public."
Childers's next book, Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II, is based on his efforts to uncover the fate of his uncle, Howard Goodner, a radio operator on a B-24 bomber. The War Department never told his family what led to the fatal crash of Goodner's plane, so Childers traced the flying conditions and decisions that doomed all but one of the crew. He also developed a picture of the men who were on the plane, their relationships on board, and their families back home. Interviews, letters, and government records provided a better, if painful, understanding of what happened. Precise in historical detail, the book is written in a novelistic style, using primarily Goodner's perspective.
The approach was very effective, according to reviewers. In Booklist Gilbert Taylor commented that Wings of Morning "deeply and deftly involves readers to the extent that Goodner and comrades seem to be their own relatives and their own inconsolable losses." Taylor considered it to be "possibly the most original title" among those marking the anniversary of the end of the war. Jonathan Yardley commented in the Washington Post Book World that the author is "especially good on the complex dynamics of crew psychology" and valued the book as being "powerful and unself-consciously beautiful." Library Journal's Ralph DeLucia was moved by the "heartfelt story" and advised "although it has been done before, it captures the intense feelings of wartime and, as such, deserves to be read."
It would later be discovered that sentences and phrases from Wings of Morning were plagiarized by historian Stephen E. Ambrose in The Wild Blue. Childers responded graciously to an apology by Ambrose and was quoted in People as saying "what he took was not the substance . . . but the art."
Continuing in the same vein as Wings of Morning, Childers wrote In the Shadows of War: An American Pilot's Odyssey through Occupied France and the Camps of Nazi Germany. The book chronicles the amazing experiences of pilot Roy Allen, who was shot down in occupied France and protected by members of the French Resistance, but was sent to Buchenwald after attempting to escape the country. The account also details the fate of Colette Florin, the French teacher who hid Allen in her schoolhouse and lived to meet him after the war, and Pierre Mulsant, a Resistance leader who was also hidden by Florin and meets with Allen in Buchenwald. Mulsant, however, was executed at the concentration camp. Letters, archived papers, interviews, and memoirs are among the documents used by Childers to develop his story.
The second part of Childers's trilogy also earned strong reviews for its gripping technique and startling story. In Booklist Jay Freeman explained, "This outstanding true-life thriller combines the best elements of espionage novels and wartime memoirs." Library Journal's Michael F. Russo wrote that Childers uses "an effective technique that keeps the reader in suspense, rapidly turning pages to see what will happen next," in a book that has "a different way of telling history." A Publishers Weekly writer called the book a "grim, stirring account with rich characterization, believable dialogue, graphic scene setting, telling details and pacing that are rare for military history."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Historical Review, February, 1985, JohnPeter Horst Grill, review of The Nazi Voter: The Social Foundations of Fascism in Germany, 1919-1933, pp. 165-166.
Booklist, April 15, 1995, Gilbert Taylor, review of Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II, p. 1469; January 1, 2003, Jay Freeman, review of In the Shadows of War: Three Lives United by the French Resistance, p. 838.
Central European History, volume 26, issue 4, Michael H. Kater, review of Reevaluating the Third Reich, pp. 508-509.
Contemporary Sociology, May, 1994, Ekkhart Zimmerman, review of Reevaluating the Third Reich, pp. 381-383.
English Historical Review, October, 1989, Jeremy Noakes, review of The Formation of the Nazi Constituency, 1919-1933, pp. 1069-1070.
History: Reviews of New Books, March, 1987, Alexander De Grand, review of The Formation of the Nazi Constituency, 1919-1933, p. 116.
Journal of Interdisciplinary History, summer, 1985, Jürgen W. Falter, review of The Nazi Voter, p. 138.
Journal of Modern History, September, 1985, Ian Kershaw, review of The Nazi Voter, pp. 588-590.
Library Journal, April 15, 1995, Ralph DeLucia, review of Wings of Morning, p. 92; January, 2003, Michael F. Russo, review of In the Shadows of War, p. 131.
People, January 21, 2002, "Scoop," p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, April 10, 1995, review of Wings ofMorning, p. 51; November 18, 2002, review of In the Shadows of War, p. 48.
Science & Society, summer, 1995, Madeleine Hurd, review of Reevaluating the Third Reich, pp. 240-242.
Times Literary Supplement, May 15, 1987, David Blackbourn, "Into the Arms of Hitler," p. 522.
Washington Post Book World, April 30, 1995, Jonathan Yardley, review of Wings of Morning, p. 3.
University of Pennsylvania Web site,http://www.history.upenn.edu/ (February 16, 2004), biography of Childers.*