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A bravura work of imagination, veracity and force.
on 23 March 2001
The extraordinary life of Adolf Hitler holds enduring mainstream and cult fascination. The best-selling placing of Professor Kershaw's recent Hitler biography (Vo.2) shows a public still unsatiated.
The sheer volume of the Third Reich archive available to researchers, and the rewards which bring some of the most skilled historians to work on this material has meant the Hitler publishing industry has been very well served.
None more so than by Joachim Fest. It is a testament to Fest's 'Hitler' that it remains a landmark biography more than twenty years after first publication in Germany.
Joachim Fest was not a professional historian when 'Hitler' was written, nevertheless he created a prodigy of a book. Weighty, perceptive and impressively researched, it is a remarkable history of a period so personally identified with the Dictator.
The sustained power of the book derives from the flair with which the author analyses the psychological drives of his subject and explores the contrasts between the self-image and the actuality. Fest's 'Hitler' belongs to the 'psycho-History' school of historiography. He examines Hitler's essential rigidity, the intellect dwarfed by prejudice and the origins of the enormous up-draughts of his imagination (autobahn, racial-extermination, New World Order) which his autocrats hastened to accomplish.
He successfully tests his assumptions about Hitler against the choices he made (and didn't make) through his personal odyssey from obscurity to power and the final days as a 'cake-gobbling wreck' in the bunker.
With wonderful fluidity and expression, Fest has raised biography to an art form in this book, but 'Hitler' is not an easy read. Philosophically it is determinist, unravelling a bleak view of unstoppable fate and destiny. In spite of this it remains a bravura work of imagination, veracity and force.