After joining the Nazi Party in the early 1920s, Hermann Goering quickly established himself as one of its most important players.
Goering helped Ernst Roehm to organize the Nazi Storm Troopers, and in 1922 he was appointed commander of the S.A. Over the course of the next ten years, he rose steadily through the ranks of the Nazi Party, and in 1928 Hitler chose him to be one of the party's representatives in the Reichstag. In 1932, Hitler's political wheeling and dealing ensured that Goering was elected President of the Reichstag (the equivalent to the Speaker of the House).
After Hitler became the Chancellor and then the Fuehrer of the German Reich, Goering oversaw the steady growth of the Luftwaffe (the German Air Force). By 1934, he was Minister of Aviation—"supposedly civil aviation," Shirer writes—and had ordered the production of German war planes, in clear breach of the Treaty of Versailles.
Throughout the drawn-out Second World War, Goering commanded the Luftwaffe in its many strikes against Nazi Germany's adversaries, and in 1938 Hitler promoted him to the rank of Field Marshal, "which made him the ranking officer of the Reich," and, as Shirer says, "apparently pleased him to no end" (3.10.38). In all of the atrocities that occurred throughout the war, including the organization of "the final solution," as the Nazis called it, Goering was front-and-center. He had become, effectively, Hitler's second-in-command.
In 1939, Hitler named Goering as his successor in case anything happened to him. That order would remain unchanged until the spring of 1945, when Hitler, at his wits' end as invading Allied and Soviet armies converged on Berlin, unjustly accused his loyal Number Two of being a low-down traitor. Goering was arrested by his fellow Nazis, and after the Allied and Soviet victory, he was transferred to the supervision of the conquering armies.
Convicted at Nuremberg and sentenced to death, Goering killed himself by swallowing poison that had been smuggled into his prison cell. Shirer's final words in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich reflect on the significance of his suicide: "Like his Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler, and his rival for the succession, Heinrich Himmler," Shirer says, "he had succeeded at the last hour in choosing the way in which he would depart this earth, on which he, like the other two, had made such a murderous impact" (Epilogue.10).