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Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics Paperback – 27 Jan 2009


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  • Paperback: 456 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Press (27 Jan. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590201787
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590201787
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 16.5 x 2.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 796,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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A radical new interpretation of Hitler's character and actions which sees a perverted artistry as the driving force behind his career and his hold over the German people. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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A radical new interpretation of Hitler’s character and actions which sees a perverted artistry as the driving force behind his career and his hold over the German people. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By "smart30" on 29 Jun. 2003
Format: Hardcover
When I first saw this book I thought "Oh, yet another book about Nazi Germay." But something made me pick it up and I was engrossed. It is a fascinating book that effortlessly combines history, politics, architecture and art. It is packed solid throughout the book with pictures, photos and sketches of Hitler's plans for post war Germany, building designs, artworks, Hitler's own paintings and explains how he designed everything in Germany - the uniforms, the parades, buildings and explains that Hitler even wanted weapons to have a certain asethic quality.
I found it very readable and accessible. It gave me a new and fscinating insight into Nazi Germany and Hitler. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Nazi Germany, art and/or archtitecture.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Roger Clark on 29 Oct. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Are you tired of reading the same old stories about Adolf Hitler? Are you fed up with the fantasies people spin around him? Do you long for something new, but something that is historically sound?

Then how about this book? It breaks new ground and is mind-changing. I know the title sounds like a boring PhD thesis. But don't let that put you off. This is a highly readable book that will change the way you think about Hitler.

No, it's not revisionist. It doesn't deny the racism, or the holocaust. What it proves is that Hitler's interest in the arts was as intense as his racism and influenced the way he acted. The author notes that the first building Hitler erected after he became chancellor in 1933 was not a monument to his own triumph, but a massive art gallery in Munich. It still exists.

The historian Ian Kershaw claimed that Hitler was a 'non-person'... 'Outside politics,' he declared, 'his life was largely a void.'

This book suggests Kershaw was wrong. Hitler was much better informed and intelligent than critics allow - a satanic genius. He had a considerable hinterland and his interests extended far beyond politics. Spotts shows us how he used his artistic knowledge to enhance his political career and disguise his crimes. 'Hitler,' he says, 'was two persons - a man of hatred, violence and destruction yet also a man of quite remarkable aesthetic instincts who revered the arts above all else and wanted, after his wars and racial genocide had cleansed Europe, to create a culture-state in which the arts would reign supreme.'

As a young man Hitler never set out to become a dictator, or slaughter millions. He wanted to become a great artist - a laudable ambition. And he tried hard.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By SJ SMART on 1 Feb. 2007
Format: Hardcover
When I first saw this book I thought "Oh, yet another book about Nazi Germay." But something made me pick it up and I was engrossed. It is a fascinating book that effortlessly combines history, politics, architecture and art. It is packed solid throughout the book with pictures, photos and sketches of Hitler's plans for post war Germany, building designs, artworks, Hitler's own paintings and explains how he designed everything in Germany - the uniforms, the parades, buildings and explains that Hitler even wanted weapons to have a certain asethic quality.
I found it very readable and accessible. It gave me a new and fascinating insight into Nazi Germany and Hitler. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Nazi Germany, art and/or archtitecture.
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0 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Bunny Adolf on 29 Feb. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Adolf Hitler's entire political career as one long hissy fit. It makes a terrifying sort of sense. He thought he was a man of hochkultur. As Mr Spotts points out: It was all just gemutlichkeit! Wonderful.And the author doesn't like Speer.My kind of book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 26 reviews
91 of 97 people found the following review helpful
Cyanide Capsules Are Available At The Door... 6 Jun. 2003
By Bruce Loveitt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Do we really need another book about "Der Fuhrer"? Surprisingly, if the book is this one, the answer is yes. Because this book looks at Hitler from a different angle- one that is pretty much unknown to the layperson: this book is about the "sensitive," "artistic," and "cultivated" Hitler. As you might expect when using such words in connection with Hitler, contradictions abound. The man who could weep while listening to the music of Wagner is the same man who, the moment he came to power, fired or drove into exile musicians and artists he didn't approve of: Jews, Bolsheviks, Modernists, etc. On the other hand, if he liked you personally and thought you were talented, he would sometimes look the other way- he supported, or at least didn't harass, several people who were Jewish or who disagreed with him politically. Some of you may have winced when I used the word "cultivated" in connection with Hitler. But, consider the following: he was very well read (and had a tremendous, possibly photographic, memory); he was a competent, though unimaginative, artist- he could draw and paint as well as your average art school student (and he was completely self-taught); he knew a tremendous amount about the operas of Wagner, and was a good judge of opera singers; he was knowledgeable about architecture, could make architectural sketches, and could intelligently discuss technical aspects of the craft, etc. Having said that, we must remember the flip-side- Hitler was very narrowminded. His love of art was pretty much limited to 19th century German Romantics and some of the painters of the Italian Renaissance. He thought all modern art- which for him started with the Impressionists- was trash, and decadent to boot. He loved opera, but only Wagner and Puccini. He didn't much care for other music- he wasn't really enthusiastic about Beethoven, Mozart, etc. He couldn't stand Brahms, although he eventually did develop a taste for Bruckner. He thought modern music, with its dissonances and atonality, was horrible. In architecture, he admired the Greeks and Romans- but in his building plans for the Third Reich everything had to be magnified to colossal size to awe people. Glass and steel structures left him cold, although he grudgingly realized he'd have to agree to build skyscrapers if only to show that National Socialist Germany could outdo America. Surprisingly, Hitler generally liked his culture "neat." He didn't want political messages- he wanted high-quality, beautiful, soul-elevating art/music/sculpture. Of course, he would tell you what qualified as high-quality, beautiful, and soul-elevating. It may seem odd, but Hitler was embarrassed by the crudity of his Nazi cronies. The vast majority of them had no interest in art, music and sculpture. They'd be dragged, although only silently kicking and screaming, to Bayreuth for the yearly dose of Wagner. They'd fall asleep and start to snore. No wonder the Little Corporal preferred the company of artists, musicians and sculptors. Perhaps the ultimate irony is that the man who wanted "art" with no political content- "art" that elevated people and helped them to get away from the problems, big and small, of everyday life, succeeded in politicizing culture to an unprecedented degree. This book is a brilliant achievement by Mr. Spotts. It forces us to look at Hitler not as a ranting, foaming-at-the-mouth, caricature, but as a fellow human being with, dare I say it, some positive qualities. Yes, the devil is given his due.....but Mr. Spotts never forgets who or what he is dealing with. Why did I give this review the title I did? Mr. Spotts mentions that it was agreed that, when the end of the "Thousand Year Reich" was at hand, the Berlin Philharmonic would add Bruckner's Fourth Symphony to the programme. On the night of April 13th, 1945, the symphony was finally played. As people filed out of the concert hall afterwards, Hitler Youth were in the lobby, hawking cyanide capsules to interested takers. Poor Bruckner probably turned over in his grave.
56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant, necessary, disturbing, and unique 8 Sept. 2005
By T. Bachman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
If there is any justice in the world, Spotts' book will go a long way toward eradicating from popular consciousness the facile descriptions of Hitler as not much more than a cross between a risible, Chaplin-esque, comic book character and an insane, incarnate demon.

Part of the first notion of Hitler includes the idea that he ought to be dismissed as a failed, lousy artist. As Spott points out, the truth is that Nazism, like all self-styled utopianisms, was something like a gigantic project in aesthetics using people rather than pigments or plastics, and control and murder rather than downstrokes and glazing - and Hitler was the artist behind that (very popular for some years in Germany) project; he therefore must be taken seriously as an artist in this sense (obviously a grotesque, genocidal one).

As Spotts notes, even his hatred of Jews emerges from this context: the Jews are "ruining all art" by embracing atonalism, cubism, jazz, dadaism, etc., as well as ruining all life by embracing "Bolshevism". But in his mind, there doesn't seem to be much difference there: Picasso, Marx, Alban Berg - all the same. Since, in Hitler's view, art can't be separated from culture, and culture can't be separated from the state, and the state can't be separated from life itself, the eradication of the Jews becomes, in Hitler's mind, nothing less than a matter of national survival, or, strangely, to say the same thing, the artistically appropriate choice.

Spotts does a good job of underscoring another aspect of all this by calling attention to the seeming homoeroticism in Hitler's taste, particularly as it expresses itself toward the human being: at bottom (pun intended), Hitler preferred, aesthetically, buff blond males with blue eyes, i.e., "Nordic" types. The Jews, in addition to being greedy, "Bolsheviks", destroyers of art/culture/life, etc., just...looked "wrong". And so in this sense, in Hitler's mind, ridding the proper-looking race of these improper-looking portions of it was as obviously a necessary decision as would be getting rid of a "wrong" piece of furniture cluttering up an otherwise beautiful living room. (Spotts even includes a contemporary German cartoon caricaturing the physical features of a "typical" Jew).

But what I started out to say was this. Spotts surveys how Hitler very consciously used colour, shape, rhetoric, size, proportion, angle, material, sound, light, symbol, rhythm, story, pageantry, texture, surprise, music, fire, sculpture, formation, etc., to, quite literally, achieve a truly terrifying degree of control over the minds of his subjects, even as a conversion tool over those who had resisted him. (Spotts describes how awed even American visitors were by the Nuremberg rallies.)

And page by page, one begins increasingly to get a sense of what it would have been like, to be a human being, subject to all the mental and emotional strengths and weaknesses we are, living in a country (our world, for all purposes) which only a year or two before had been totally chaotic and depressed...and then to be stirred, roused, when that world around us begins to change, prompted to feel different, pleasurable things, think different, exciting thoughts, and in the end, perform different - and ultimately - indescribably horrific actions. In every way, we are preyed upon by the mesmeric, sick genius of a man who was rejected by the art school in Vienna, and who sought his revenge for this affront by dominating human psychology through all those elements I mentioned above more totally than perhaps any other "artist" of the 20th century.

I saw a BBC documentary a couple of weeks ago, in which several elderly Germans candidly recalled with fondness Hitler's early years. What they said they missed most were the euphoric feelings they had, going to the pageants and rallies, seeing the flags, hearing the speeches and the music, those feelings of belonging, meaning, "specialness". And for the first time, reading Spotts' book, in a really disturbing way, I could imagine what that might have been like, imagine that I might have been just as susceptible to the manipulator as millions of Germans had been. For the first time, how the whole thing could have happened seemed imaginable. Scary.

Bravo to Spotts for his brilliant and disturbing book. I would love to see him now do a documentary on this, using real footage.

Highly recommended.
59 of 66 people found the following review helpful
Who Is Afraid of Adolf Hitler? 19 April 2003
By Daniel J. Cragg - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I lived in Germany 45 years ago I simply could not understand how those decent and civilized people had allowed themselves to be taken in by Hitler. And amazingly in our many conversations they freely admitted that they still believed, up to a point, that Hitler had been "good" for Germany!
Since then I have turned over a whole library trying to find an answer to that question. Three books go a long way toward explaining the phenomenon of Adolf Hitler: Ian Kershaw's two-volume biography; "Hitler's Table Talk" edited by John Toland; and now Frederic Spotts' "Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics."
"Who is afraid of Adolf Hitler?" Frederic Spotts asks at the end of this extraordinarily revealing book. "Just about everyone," is his rhetorical response. Another question this book asks, tangentially, is "Who doesn't loathe Adolf Hitler?" Well, Hitler was personally responsible for the murder of millions of people and a war that destroyed Europe. All of this within living memory -- many of us were nurtured on the events of WWII. So how could any decent person admit to a shred of sympathy or even understanding for a monster like this Hitler? One would rather admit to sympathy for the Devil.
If you wish for any insight into a person's psychology, start with the music he likes and his taste in art. In this book Mr. Spotts makes the case that that these things were essential and central in Hitler's life and career and he does this convincingly. He also proves, to my satisfaction at least, that Adolf Hitler actually had some talent as a painter and an architect, not first-class by any means, but enough that he knew good stuff from trash and that he knew full well the "socialist" art produced during the Third Reich was trash. But one of the most revealing aspects of "Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics" is what it reveals about us, the readers. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that much of the art and music and architecture Hitler liked, we like it too, and the stuff he didn't like, that turns us off also. Mr. Spotts concludes that Hitler's personality had many facets and the value of this book is that it forces us to look closely at them and open our eyes to the tiny glimmers of ourselves in there.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
The Medium is the Message 25 Mar. 2005
By ROBERT REESE - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Some years ago I thought I had overdosed on WWII books and swore I would never read another. I had also felt that something was missing from all those accounts of Hitler's Germany: Just how did he do it--what was the attraction? This book finally answers that question. Hitler was a great artist, and Germany was his stage. His art was a series of spectacles: pageantries of flags, parades, uniforms, massed formations of men, and skillful oratory--all surrounded by searchlights reaching towards the sky like luminous Roman columns. I can see now how so many people were mesmerized by his show. That's a warning for us today--pay more attention to the message and less to the medium.
29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
A Tremendous Achievement 25 Jun. 2004
By A. S. Haropulos - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is the book that I wanted to write. That having been said, I think Mr. Spotts did a considerably better job of it that I ever could. It is impossible to begin to understand Adolf Hitler without understanding his aesthetic approach to the world as he wanted it to be. Usually, histories and biographies of Hitler dismiss his interest in art as either sub-bourgeois sentimentality or propaganda-oriented. This book is intelligent enough not to take either of these tacks, and as a result delivers an exhaustive and meaningful account of how Hitler was, ultimately, an artist who achieved political power.
I wrote an initial paper on the subject in college (imagine how popular that was), but my thesis centered primarily on Hitler's hopes for his art career and the psychological issues underlying his artistic preferences. This book addresses the former, but not the latter, I think quite rightly. What Spotts does, which I would never have been able to do, is exhaustively examine Hitler's work schedules and attendance at specific meetings and events, not to mention budget allocations. This establishes without question the priorities he put on various components of the arts, versus politics or even the business of fighting the war.
Spotts is mostly objective, or mildly condemnatory. This makes for a more focused read.
I think this is the only book I have ever seen on Amazon.com where all the reviews are five stars. It absolutely deserves it.
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