Despite drawing on academics and experts, Rise and Fall's obvious shortcoming concerns Hitler's rise to power. Obvious, because it is repeated time and again. As even my cat knows, after the Munich Beer Hall Putsch Hitler came to the conclusion that (relatively) peaceful and constitutional campaigning was the way forward for the fledgling Nazi movement. Violence against opponents was ever present, but this took place alongside the work of contesting elections, kissing babies, setting up Nazi social clubs, and so on. After his release from Landsberg prison, Hitler set about reorganising the Nazis and polishing up his image as a dynamic politician. The conventional narrative, which Rise and Fall parrots, is that he got nowhere - despite the celebrity Hitler's trial afforded him - until the Depression came knocking and Germany's economy nosedived. Once this happened, Hitler's assumption of power was more or less guaranteed.
As anyone who imbibed their inter-war history from the teet of Trotskyism knows, matters were more complex. In histories of the time, backed up by Trotsky's excellent contemporary analyses of the rise of Nazism, we were told that Hitler was the fault of Joe Stalin and his minions in the German Communist Party (KPD). The most powerful and well-organised party in the Communist International outside of the USSR, with the onset of economic crisis the official Comintern line declared that a new period in politics had opened up in which revolution was imminent. The time now was to take the offensive and declare war on all capitalist parties, and this included (and especially targeted) the mainstream social democratic and labour parties. In Britain's case, where the tiny CPGB's positioning vis a vis the Labour Party merely reinforced their stillborn status, in Germany the effects were far more serious. Trotsky had rightly identified that the Nazis presented the labour movement a mortal threat, and for that reason the KPD and Social Democrats (SPD) should make common cause to crush the Nazis on the streets and drive them out of politics. They certainly had the combined social weight and large enough militias to do so. And yet, time and again, opportunities for unity were passed up as the KPD pursued the "class against class" line. Rather than seeing the SPD as potential allies, they were "social fascists" to be smashed alongside the real fascists. The fact Stalin's Comintern carried on with this policy to the mutual ruination of German communism and social democracy underlined its bankruptcy and the need for a new revolutionary centre, as far as Trotsky was concerned.
While this was true, Trotsky is a touch guilty of over egging the pudding. Yes, the main enemies were the Nazis, but the KPD didn't pursue the class against class line just because Moscow told them to. The KPD was mainly a young party, but it contained plenty of activists who were around when the Social Democrats in government used proto-fascist militias to murder Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, two of the party's outstanding early leaders. It was the SPD that colluded with the army against the communist government in Bavaria, and summarily executed its key cadre when the Munich soviet collapsed. While history does not excuse the communist failure to unite against the Nazis, it helps explain why many party members swallowed the social fascist line. Meanwhile, the SPD weren't especially keen on forging an alliance against the Nazis with the revolutionary left either - what was taking place on Germany's streets were secondary to its constitutional responsibility toward the republic it had created, and manoeuvring with bourgeois parties to keep the possibility of mainstream coalition government open.
The Nazis were fortunate to face a divided labour movement. By the time they were in government and used the emergency powers contrived by Hitler in the wake of the Reichstag Fire, they were able to roll over both parties without so much as a shot fired. This outcome, however, was not predetermined. Politics are always fluid, and because of the repeated blunders in the face of the Nazi threat Germany succumbed to fascism.
Needless to say, this opportunity to defeat the Nazis was passed over in favour of a narrative of a smooth assumption of power. But the second point, which rarely warrants a mention, is that by the time Hitler was invited to form a government, his party was past its electoral peak. In the July 1932 general election, the Nazis became the biggest party in the Reichstag with 37% of the popular vote (13,750,000 votes) and 280 seats. Come the November election, they lost two million votes and 34 seats. Rise nevertheless portrayed Hindenburg's invitation to Hitler as a natural outcome of an insurgent Nazi party. In fact, by this time Germany was over the worst of the economic crisis and clearly, all it took was a few months for former Nazi voters to get fed up of Hitler's shenanigans and posturing. It was the play of bourgeois coalition politics that elevated the Nazis to the level it could cut liberal democracy's throat. The options were there for yet another bourgeois/SPD coalition, and yet at this late stage the establishment feared the KPD more. In those final free elections it rose to 100 seats and almost six million votes while the SPD's support was spiralling downward. Again, Hitler's rise was not inevitable.
Unfortunately, by skirting over these important historical details they reinforce the Führer myth. As established scholarship has asserted time and again, Hitler was an ignorant blowhard that rendered him entirely inflexible, and was a man consumed by infantile fantasies fed by cowboy novels and Wagnerian opera. He had a talent for rabble rousing, a flare for marketing, and a cunning that could sniff out weakness in others. None of these attributes are signs of genius: they are banal character traits shared by tens, if not hundreds of millions of people. In his rise to power, what is striking is less an exercise of preternatural talents but exceptional luck. Luck that his opponents underestimated the Nazi movement, despite the living example of Fascist Italy, luck that the labour movement was consumed by its own civil war, and luck that the game of government formation made the Nazis an invitation at the moment their support had started to plunge. If you're looking for the last word on this topic, Hitler: The Rise and Fall isn't it.