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Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris Paperback – 25 Oct 2001
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Is there anything fresh to be said about Hitler? He is an icon, maybe the icon, of the 20th century. He was a failed artist with Wagnerian fantasies, a slob who could not get up in the morning, but he exposed the frailties of modern civilisation in a way that should still make us giddy. How? Was it his doing, or German society's? Professor Ian Kershaw has produced a work of definitive scholarship that will be the standard for years to come. It was badly needed; since Alan Bullock's 1952 classic Hitler: A Study in Tyranny and Joachim Fest's Hitler (originally published in 1973) there has been much valuable research, all of which Kershaw seems to have read (there are 200 pages of notes). Add to this the media (and, by extension, public) fascination with the nature of evil, and a resurgent interest in right-wing groups, and this book becomes long overdue. Kershaw deals rigorously with the bones of his subject's life. He has no truck with psychological padding, and calmly demolishes most of the quasi-facts that have sprung up--if in doubt, he allows space within the chronology. His description of the path to the Chancellorship, which was always more messy than messianic, is painful to behold but gripping to follow, and concludes in 1936 with Hitler at the height of his "Hubris". This is an important study of the character of power, as clearly written as it is intellectually engaging. --David Vincent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Supersedes all previous accounts. It is the sort of masterly biography that only a first-rate historian can write (David Cannadine Observer Books of the Year)
The Hitler biography for the 21st century ... cool, judicious, factually reliable and intelligently argued ... Kershaw triumphantly succeeds in showing that Hitler's rise to supreme power depended not just on his own talents, nor on the nature of German society, but on the interaction of the two (Richard Evans Sunday Telegraph)
One of the major historical biographies of our times ... Kershaw has written a dazzlingly lucid interpretation of the central dynamics of the Nazi regime which draws on a wide new range of sources and expertly manages a huge cast of accomplices ... a riveting read (Jackie Wullschlager Financial Times, Best Biographies of the Year)
His analysis of Hitler's extraordinary character has the fascination of a novel, but he places his struggle and rise in the context of meticulously researched history ... Deeply disturbing. Unforgettable (A.N. Wilson Daily Mail)
A sane, erudite, moral and intellectually honest biography of the 20th century's most destructive politician. Every page is focused on the historical question we would prefer to forget: how did it happen? (Ruth Scurr The Times)
This new biography is of profound importance and will ... quickly establish itself as the standard work on Hitler and his regime (Thomas Childers Boston Globe)
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This is a fascinating, gripping, and compelling account centred on the man whose life story is the focal point in the unfolding of one of the twentieth century's greatest traumas. Hitler's early unfocused slacker lifestyle was brought sharply into focus during WWI, which brought him focus, a role and position in society, and his first sense of self-esteem, having previously been something of a loner and failure as an artist in Vienna. His sense of injustice at the outcome of WWI became a monomania which he combined with a particularly virulent strain of antisemitism (both of these things seemingly commonplaces in German culture at the time), forming his lifelong creed: never again, Hitler swore, would Germany suffer the shame it did in 1918. And the alleged enemy, international Jewry - be it capitalist or Bolshevist (for many, but perhaps none more so than Hitler, the Jews were an all-purpose bogeyman) - would be made to pay.
Kershaw covers the whole story admirably. But one of the parts that's most fascinating is Adolf's rise from art-school reject to beer hall demagogue, and then ultimately Führer. Early on in that 'resistible rise', during Hitler's interment after his failed putsch (Munich, 1923), he wrote Mein Kampf, in which he laid out the manifesto he would later implement, seeking 'lebensraum' (living space) for Germany in 'the East', the east chiefly being Russia. During this erratic and uncertain ascent a dynamic set in which, prior to 1941, seemed to some to cast Adolf as an infallible leader of indomitable will, but after that point rapidly overreached and unravelled, revealing itself to contain the seeds of its own destruction.
One of Kershaw's chief contributions to the massive literature on all things Third Reich-ian appears to be the 'working towards the Führer' idea. I don't know if this is an original idea of his or not, and it does seem like just the kind of term to arise in academia (Kershaw's a professional academic as well as author). I must admit such phrases often irk me somewhat, but it has to be conceded that it fits the bill here admirably. Kershaw is also very strong on the notion that Hitler achieved his form of leadership only by dissolving norms of government, such that the whole system inevitably evolved into a complete mess, the only common thread in the chaos being the clarity of 'working towards the Führer'.
I do have a few gripes: given the massive range of sources available, Kershaw's repeated recourse to Goebbel's diaries was at times so frequent as to be a little annoying. Also, in some areas - e.g. air warfare - he occasionally appears to be happy trotting out familiar clichés (which a book like Overy's Bombing War elucidates more accurately). But all things considered this is undoubtedly an excellent rendering of a hugely important and massively fascinating if dark chapter of our recent history. I once visited a concentration camp in Germany, and it was extremely sobering to stand on the very ground where unspeakable and barely believable barbarism occurred (and the camp I visited was only a 'transit' and not a 'death' camp), so close to home both in time and space.
One can only hope we might learn something from history.
Would recommend to anyone interested in learning more about Hitler or on WW2!
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