Ohler, Norman. Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany. Translated by Shaun Whiteside. London: Penguin Books, 2017. Review also posted at Goodreads. Copies available at Powell's and other fine bookstores.
This book covers an area of historical research I had not even thought of before: the effects of psychoactive drugs on war.
The book is broken into four sections: “Methamphetamine, the Volksdroge,” a short history of the German pharmaceutical industry’s development and marketing of psychoactive drugs, “Sieg High,” on the use of methamphetamine as a battlefield performance enhancer during the Blitzkrieg, “High Hitler: Patient A and His Personal Physician,” about Hitler and his personal physician Theodor Morell, and “The Wonder Drug,” about the end of the war as an amphetamine crash, and desperate attempts to create new and more powerful drugs.
Every chapter covers something I had not heard of before. Giants of the pharmaceutical industry turn out to have been founded on psychoactive drugs – Merck on morphine, Bayer on heroin as well as aspirin, and the less-widely known but major Temmler (they are now part of Aenova Group) on the drug they called Pervitin, a methamphetamine-based pharmaceutical. “Sieg High” covers how the Blitzkrieg, where Guderian and Rommel raced through France to the sea, was fueled by sleepless soldiers relying on Pervitin. In passing, one thing this chapter makes clear – it is not news, I expect, to any historian, but I was not aware of it – was just how incompetent a military leader Hitler was. Guderian and Rommel were responsible for the success of the Blitz, and Hitler ordered Goering to change his strategy midway through the Battle of Britain, possibly losing the Battle. Popular English-language accounts of the Battle of Britain focus on Churchill’s determination, but it would have gone worse for Britain had it not been for Hitler’s foolish interventions; likely there would have been no Dunkrik boatlift.