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Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris (Penguin Press History) Paperback – 2 Sep 1999
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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
Kershaw presents an understanding of Hitler and of the sequence of events which allowed a misfit to climb to the leadership of Germany. As Hitler's pitiful fantasy of being Germany's saviour attracted more and more support, Kershaw conveys why so many Germans adored and connived with him or felt powerless to resist him.See all Product description
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As a boy Hitler emerged as a leader in war games and adventure stories, which appears to have continued throughout his life. His aptitude for drawing led him to conclude he was going to become an artist. His interest in the arts extended to the anti-Semitic Wagner and his operas. His personality, like that of his father, was overbearing and opinionated. He viewed himself as the great artist of the future. He travelled to Vienna and applied for membership of the Academy of Fine Arts which he failed, although the Rector agreed he was suited to architecture rather than painting. This disappointment was followed quickly by the death of his mother. The family doctor described Hitler at the time as a boy who ‘lived within himself’. Between 1908 and 1913 Hitler lived the life of a drop out in Vienna. While he saw women as subservient and prefered them to be stupid Hitler was more of an abstainer from sex than the closet homosexual that later detractors claimed.. He experienced poverty, flirted with socialism and came to detest Social Democracy. Yet his description of his time in Vienna was doctored when he wrote Mein Kampf.
Early in his career Hitler considered himself a person who considered all aspects of a problem before reaching a decision. This was not borne out in practice. After the Munich Putsch fiasco in 1923 Hitler fled and hid for two days. He had tried to emulate Mussolini’s march on Rome in the mistaken belief that he could overthrow the Weimar Republic. In 1934 he vacillated over the decision to destroy the SA and, even after the Night of the Long Knives, hesitated about killing Rohm. Shortly before the outbreak of war he sacked two generals on what were trumped up charges influenced by those amongst his cronies who wanted more power for themselves. He surrounded himself with acolytes who did not provide him with the support required, gradually reducing his ability to control the governance of the Reich itself. The government broke up into ‘the near anarchy of competing fiefdoms and internecine rivalries’. Theoretically in control Hitler rambling outpourings ‘were the purest expression of unbounded megalomaniac power and breathtaking inhumanity’.
Hitler contributed his survival from the final assassination attempt on his life in July 1944 to Providence when, according to Kershaw, it was the luck of the devil that he avoided more than a dozen attempts on his life between the outbreak of war and Operation Valkyrie. In addition, although there was widespread opposition to the Nazis it was not organised and not encouraged by the Allies who did not want to alienated the Soviet Union. Valkyrie reinforced Hitler’s belief nothing would happen to him as he fulfilled his self-proclaimed destiny. Not all those involved in the Valkyrie were executed but over 200 were. Newsreels of the show-trials were circulated as a warning. Hitler still believed in his own ability, ignoring Rommel’s warning that ‘the unequal struggle is heading for its end’.Goebbels’ declaration of ‘Total War’ was an admission that the war was not going well for the Germans. By the end of 1944 the UBoat war was lost. The Luftwaffen were ineffective and Hitler imagined his new rockets would win the war. Hitler was physically ill and mentally deranged, convincing himself that he could still win the war in the west. When things went wrong he blamed everyone but himself.
Yet it was Hitler whose ideas had become fossilised which prevented effective direction of the war. He was obsessed with the war, relying less on reason and more on gambling with the fate of other Germans. It was obvious that he had grown old before his time and by 1944 was a stooped, warm out parody of the great dictator. Surviving twenty-eight pills a day he developed Parkinson’s disease and shuffled rather than walked. As all decisions required his authorisation he was unable and unwilling to delegate and effectively became paralysed in his thinking. Having lost the ability to sway the masses he stopped talking to them creating a chasm between rule and ruled. His only role was preventing the end to the war which he did by clinging to his fantasy world. Upon hearing the Russians had broken into Berlin Hitler knew the war was lost but pretended he would lead the fight for control of the city. Goring claimed Hitler was no longer head of state and said he would surrender to the Americans in the west. Hitler (under Bormann’s influence) declared him to be a traitor.
The hubris of Hitler’s rise ended with the nemesis of his downfall. It was all so predictable yet it could have been different as the corporal not imagined himself to be a great general. Those who supported him proved to be more even fanatical than himself, the Goebbels murdering their children rather than live in a non-Nazi world. They were not the only ones. The Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Leipzig did the same with over a thousand attributable to propaganda about Soviet brutality, although in practice it was on a par with Nazi brutality. Kershaw’s book reads like fiction. Regrettably it is factual, specifically separating reality from myth. A must read book for everyone, five stars.
This is a shortened version of Kershaw’s massive two-volume biography. It has a bibliography but no notes or references. It still gets on for a thousand pages. Despite the condensation it’s full of statements followed by statements of the same thing. I’m not a believer in the efficacy of this kind of repetition for emphasis or memorisation and it would in my view have been better if Kershaw had spent more time and the considerable effort to achieve terseness.
If you want to know more about Nazism or its period, I recommend this book amongst others.