William L. Shirer, Author of 'Third Reich' Chronicle, Dies : Journalism: Reporter covered Europe in the '20s and '30s and based his 1960 bestseller in part on his diaries. He was 89 and recently completed a book on Tolstoy.

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Journalist and author William L. Shirer, who covered World War II from Berlin and wrote the acclaimed chronicle of Hitler's regime, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," died Tuesday night at age 89.

Shirer died at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he had been treated for heart ailments since Dec. 5, hospital officials said.

Shirer, of Lenox, Mass., recently completed a book on Leo Tolstoy that is to be published by Simon & Schuster in the spring, said his daughter, Inga Dean.

His reporting career, first in print, then in broadcasting, took him across Europe in the 1920s and '30s, and as far afield as India and Afghanistan.

From 1939 until December, 1940, he reported for CBS from wartime Berlin, sometimes attempting to foil German censors by using American slang to give information on the operations of the German army.

After the war, he reported on the formation of the United Nations and, back in Germany, the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

Shirer said of two of the main subjects he covered: "It's sort of ironic that in my journalistic career that the two great men that I spent most of my life covering were Gandhi and Hitler. Both of them geniuses, but Hitler an evil genius."

"The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," published in 1960, was a huge bestseller, with 1.5 million copies sold through the Book-of-the-Month Club alone. It won a National Book Award in 1961.

Shirer described it as "the work of a newspaperman, not a university scholar." It was based on extensive diaries he kept in Germany and smuggled out when he left, as well as on voluminous confidential German archives that the Allies captured at the close of the war.

Among his other books were "Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent," "The Sinking of the Bismarck" and a three-volume set of memoirs.

Shirer was born Feb. 23, 1904, in Chicago. After graduating from Coe College in Iowa in 1925, he was lured by the mystique of Europe. "All the students that year were going to Paris," he recalled in a 1989 interview.

He borrowed $200 from his uncle, then president of Coe, and worked his way across the Atlantic on a cattle boat. When his money ran low and he was about to return home, he received an offer from the Paris office of the Chicago Tribune. Shirer found himself working next to humorist and fellow expatriate James Thurber.

For the next 15 years, Shirer roamed from one European capital to another, with side trips to Afghanistan and India, first for the Tribune, later for the Universal News Service. In 1937, with the help of his friend Edward R. Murrow, he became chief of the CBS bureau in Vienna.

Shirer experienced Hitler's hypnotic presence early in the 1930s when he attended an art lecture in Nuremberg.

"It was a gloomy, dank church, it was Sunday evening and he was talking about art, about which he knew absolutely nothing except that it was bad, and for two hours he spoke without a note and he held this audience absolutely," Shirer recalled.

Shirer's years of Hitler-watching drew to a close in late 1940, a year after the war broke out in Europe. As the Gestapo was building a case against him, he left Germany, the diaries hidden underneath piles of radio scripts, each page of which had been stamped by German censors.

On returning to the States, he worked as a commentator for CBS and as a columnist for the New York Herald Tribune. His first book, "Berlin Diary: The Journal of a Foreign Correspondent," was published in 1941 and became a bestseller.

He left CBS in 1947 after a dispute with Murrow and worked for the Mutual Broadcasting Network as a commentator until 1949.

During the McCarthy era he was blacklisted for his support of Hollywood writers accused of leftist tendencies and for his early support of anti-fascists in Spain. He earned money by lecturing at colleges.

Despite the hardships, he called his years out of work "the best thing that happened to me" because he had the time to complete "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich."

In 1990, he completed the last of three volumes of memoirs, "A Native's Return." The first volume was "20th Century Journey," in 1976. The second, "The Nightmare Years," which recounted his days in Berlin and was published in 1984, was made into a cable television miniseries starring Sam Waterston as Shirer.

In addition to Inga Dean, Shirer is survived by his wife, Irina Lugovskaya; another daughter, Linda Rae, and four grandchildren. He was divorced from his first wife, Theresa, in 1970. Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

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