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Diary of a Man in Despair (New York Review Books Classics) [Paperback]

Richard Evans , Friedrich Reck , Paul Rubens
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Mar 2013 New York Review Books Classics

Friedrich Reck might seem an unlikely rebel against Nazism. Not just a conservative but a rock-ribbed reactionary, he played the part of a landed gentleman, deplored democracy, and rejected the modern world outright. To Reck the Nazis were ruthless revolutionaries in Gothic drag, and helpless as he was to counter the spell they had cast on the German people, he felt compelled to record the corruptions of their rule. The result is less a diary than a sequence of stark and astonishing snapshots of life in Germany between 1936 and 1944. We see the Nazis at the peak of power, and the murderous panic with which they respond to approaching defeat; their travesty of traditional folkways in the name of the Volk; and the author’s own missed opportunity to shoot Hitler. This riveting book is not only, as Hannah Arendt proclaimed it, “one of the most important documents of the Hitler period” but a moving testament of a decent man struggling to do the right thing in a depraved world.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Reprint edition (7 Mar 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590175867
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590175866
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.4 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 315,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'one of the most powerful, moving and unclassifiable documents of opposition to Nazism to emerge from the Third Reich'

(New Statesman)

'One of the most important personal documents to come out of the war.'

(Nicholas Lezard The Guardian)

About the Author

FRIEDRICH RECK (1884–1945) was born Friedrich Percyval Reck-Malleczewen in Masuria, East Prussia, the son of a prosperous conservative politician and landowner. Having initially complied with his father’s wishes to pursue a military career, he left the army to begin medical studies. By the beginning of the First World War, for which he was ruled unfit to serve, he had begun work as a full-time theater critic and travel writer. In the following decades he became a well-known figure in Munich society, the author of both literary historical novels and popular entertainments including Bomben auf Monte Carlo (Bombs on Monte Carlo), a best-selling comic novella and the basis of a hit musical film starring Peter Lorre. In October 1944 he was arrested for the first time; in December of the same year the Gestapo returned to detain him again; in January 1945 he arrived at the Dachau concentration camp, where he was to die shortly after.
PAUL RUBENS (1927–2003), a self-educated native New Yorker, mastered the German language as a member of the U.S. occupation forces after World War II .
RICHARD J. EVANS is Regius Professor of History and president of Wolfson College, Cambridge. He is the author of The Third Reich at War.



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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It would be easy to let the title of this book put you off it: Diary of a Man in Despair, does not sound as though it's going to be an entertaining read, but it is in fact a unique testament to the horrors of the Nazi dominance in Germany in the 1940s.

Reck's hatred of the Nazi regime was so pronounced that eventually in 1944 he was denounced and sent to Dachau Concentration Camp where he was shot in the back of the neck. His diary was not the cause of his downfall, but merely a letter in which he complained about monetary inflation which was robbing his royalites of any value. The charge of "insulting the German currency" seems a very minor accusation when compared with the contents of the secret diaries buried in his field.

Friedrich Reck was a writer, well-known in Munich as a raconteur, mixing in literary and journalistic circles. While there is some doubt about his aristocratic credentials he owned an estate in East Prussia which he inherited from his father. Nobody can doubt the intensity of Reck's deep aversion to Hitler and his gang of criminals who rose to wreak such havoc across Europe and beyond. His aversion to Adolf Hitler developed into an almost Biblical level of hatred, reminiscent of the Old Testament prophet Jermiah railing against the iniquities of Jerusalem:

"I have hated you in every hour that has gone by, I hate you so that I would happily give my life for your death, and happily go to my own doom if only I could witness yours, take you with me into the depths. When I let this hate free, I am almost overcome by it, but I cannot change this and do not really know how it could be otherwise. Let no one deprecate this, nor fool himself about the power of such hatred. Hate drives to reality. Hate is the father of the action.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Must read 16 April 2013
By Paul
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Very interesting perspective on some terrible times.
The language can be difficult at times but a recommended reading. Its what happens when reason goes. Could always happen again if we lower our democratic guard.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book, good read but a tad dark. 27 May 2013
By Annon
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Translation is good, if a little complex. Does take some concentration to fully follow the book. Some very funny views of hitler
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unique Insight into Third Reich 25 Feb 2013
By Ronald H. Clark - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is one of the most interesting, and valuable, books I have read in many years on the Third Reich. The author, Friedrich Reck (1884-1945), was a proud Bavarian author, physician, critic, and commentator. The book consists of monthly diary entries, usually 2-3 pages, covering the period of May 1936 through October 1944. What makes the book so interesting is that Reck is entirely hostile to the Nazi leadership and absolutely biting in his extensive criticisms, which he levies with much relish in a document he supposedly buried each night on his estate to avoid detection.

His most pointed criticisms are reserved for Prussia, which has taken control of Germany, including his beloved Bavaria; useless Berlin bureaucrats who accomplish nothing but mass confusion; the irrational "mass man" who is manipulated easily by the Nazis; undue control exercised by "industry-minded dolts" and businessmen; the nation of greedy and blood-thirsty "cavemen" the German populace has become; and the endless mind-numbing propaganda effectively aimed at the German public in order to maintain control through "mass psychosis."

Another interesting aspect of the book are Reck's observations of contemporary events. He is outraged by the absorption of Austria; Stalingrad strikes a massive blow against German morale; the reports of mass killings of Jews in his October, 1942 entry repulses Reck and confirms that the German population had knowledge of what was occurring; and particularly his comments about the July 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler are insightful. While he feels the war will end terribly for Germany, it will liberate the country from the cloud of Nazi control and degradation.

The book includes a very helpful afterword written by Richard J. Evans, which places Reck and his diary into a helpful context. The translation is excellent, and the translator has apparently included 8 pages of endnotes explaining events and terms. This edition is from the New York Review of Books "Review Books" of outstanding reprints, many of which have not been available for years, including this title. All told, a most interesting and informative read authored by someone with not only acute perceptive insights, but also the literary skills to drive his messages home.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Heartbreak and Horror of the Third Reich 10 April 2013
By Stephen Schwartz - Published on Amazon.com
Unlike many books, stories, and articles about the Nazis, Reck's diary (or rather the excerpts we get here) does not dwell on concentration camps, slave labor, or military devastation. Reck's book is a subtle and agonizing rumination on daily life for ordinary Germans that becomes more and more nightmarish as the book, and time, progress. Reck describes the vulgarity, the stupidity, arrogance, and evilness of the Nazis by focusing on details of German life from the late 1930's to August 1944 when the diary abruptly ends. Reck is a wealthy, cultured, and well-connected semi-aristocrat who knew many leading members of Germany's cultural elite. He relates many anecdotes told him by his friends and is also a sharp and insightful observer of society. He conveys the nightmare world of the Nazis by relating small and poignant details rather than world-historical events.

Reck hates, detests the Nazis and realizes early that they will lead Germany to destruction and the world to catastrophe. Reck engages in long political diatribes which although repetitive are insightful in places. Reck is an ultra-conservative monarchist. America and England were only slightly less evil than Germany. Industrialization and bourgeois culture are to blame for the rise of the Nazis. Reck seems to focus on I.G. Farben as the epitome of the sort of the corporate greed that made Nazism possible. Industrialization, nationalism, the vulgarization of culture, and corporate greed and unhindered capitalism are the sources of the Nazi revolution, according to Reck. Reck is no darling lovable liberal chap--he has many difficult and reactionary opinions and at least in the German there are racial (but not anti-semitic) aspersions.

There are demons and devils that are only weakly held in check in the basements, caves, and corners of our societies and ourselves. It does not take much for the demons and devils to break their feeble chains and emerge from their hiding places and wreak horror and devastation. Reck has much to teach us or to remind us--since we really already know the lessons he is writing about. The demons and devils of greed, hatred, stupidity, violence, are there only waiting to emerge, always lurking just beneath the surface of peaceful, plentiful, cultured, and properous society. Slight tremors in the weak ediface leave openings for the devils to come crawling out and ruin us. We have got to make conscious and focused efforts to keep them in check before they emerge--for once they get loose, we'll not get them back in their chains without the horror of war, slaughter, and devastation. Or least that is Reck's message as I understood it.

I read this book in the original German which is difficult and convoluted. Reck is a brilliant writer but his style is anything but easy. There are also many obscure, at least to me, references to events and people in the Third Reich and the earlier history of Germany that meant nothing to me. I'm sure that I did not "get" it all and had to skim particularly difficult passages. There were few notes in the German edition I had. But I understood enough to become drawn into Reck's world, his personality, and his and Germany's and Europe's nightmare.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I can't help it." 11 Oct 2013
By VerbRiver - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
No vocabulary on the planet is malign enough to describe either the planned or random savagery of Nazi Germany. So Friedrich Reck breaks the madness into pieces like vicious syllables that -- slammed and packed together -- help define the essence of evil. An accomplished writer living the nightmare as a German citizen, he records the daily Reich, the one continually dripping poison into life even when the guns are quiet and the fires banked.

This is a haunting book, haunting in the way you would feel looking out your window and seeing degradation on the street and murder underway. Reck shows Germany rotting. He records a line of people blocking Munich traffic in broad daylight to visit a bordello while local women volunteer to help out. He speaks of bizarre shortages in which people use machine oil for salad dressing. Women scoop and swallow gravel on which Hitler has just walked. He notes the rumors of poison gas, a channel tunnel and the atom bomb. And he writes of eleven German guillotines, busy ones, beheading those who, for example, cause "ridicule of the Fuhrer."

He believes technology is dehumanizing his country, and blasts the existence of nationalism as "a state of mind in which you do not love your own country as much as you hate somebody else's."

Reck is eventually arrested for having a heart attack after hearing that his son is a prisoner of the Russians. For having this heart attack at age 60 and consequently refusing to accept a draft notice, he is charged with "undermining the morale of the Armed Forces."

He writes of his own deep hatred. He notes it often. He wants the generals, the industrialists and the journalists hanged and those who survive condemned to lives selling waste paper and matches.

And of all this he says: "I can't help it."

This educated, perceptive and gifted man shows himself packed with a separate brand of hatred only lacking the means to inflict it. He "can't help it." And he did not survive it, dying in Dachau three months before the German surrender.

So much hatred in Germany, inflicted, taught, endured, latent, aimed at nations, at faiths, at each other, at those who are different, at the mad men in charge. What kind of people lived in Germany from the early 1930's to the mid 1940's who forever mark the period as a time when some of history's most profoundly evil people ruled? Or lived just down the street. Some of them are here, in the Diary of a Man in Despair.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside Hitler's Germany 22 Mar 2013
By John ODonnell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a personal diary kept by a political conservative who preferred the Hohenzollern monarchy. He tells his own reactions to the rise of the Nazi government and the increasing madness inside Germany as the end approached. Reck chronicles the many different economic and social currents swirling around from 1919 to 1944 and provides some insight into just how such a gifted country could fall into such despair. The manuscript was not fact-checked or edited although some footnotes are added for clarity about personages and events that might not be familiar to most.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A master of invective 23 Oct 2013
By exurbanite - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Friedrich (Fritz) Reck-Malleczechewen was a complicated and stubborn figure, with strong, often unpopular views and multiple biases. He literary legacy became controversial as his posthumous writings gained popularity in post war Germany. Reck's exaggerations sometimes mingled with fantasy. He could be sloppy with facts and dates. He also affected a bogus posture of Junker nobility; the Malleczechewen he added to his name represented not the ancestral family estate he pretended, but property acquired by his father, from whom he was long estranged. Though born and raised in Prussia, he despised Prussians and lived most of his life in Bavaria.

Little of the above really matters. What matters is that Reck was a superb writer and polemicist. Equally important is that as a personality, in his social and political views, and as an author in the Germany of the 1920's to 40's he was sui generis. Politically, he was a royalist and arch-conservative. He romanticized the soul and vitality of the German past, its music, literature, and culture. He detested alike the materialism of the modern industrialist class, the banality of the bourgeoisie, and the vulgarity and baseness of the canaille, or what he called mass-man. Most of all he hated the Nazis, whom he regarded as barbaric arrivistes and deluded opportunists.

Diary of a Man in Despair is not a conventional diary. It does not record mundane events or daily comings and goings. Rather it is a compendium of philosophic, social and political musings in which Reck transcribes his views on the unfolding political and military drama preceding and during the war. On the latter, he is remarkably prescient. Reck was a master of invective. His vituperation is lethal, amusing, and implacable. In this he is reminiscent, in many ways, of his American contemporary, H.L. Mencken.

Any hint of dissent in the later stages of the war was dangerous. But Reck's anger grew and his anti-Nazism became increasingly reckless. He was reported and arrested several times and eventually died at Dachau in 1945, only weeks before the war's end.
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