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4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 29 August 2016
Has there ever been a biography that gives you at once an insight into not only the life but the soul of a man and at the same time gives you a front row seat to the machinations of the most evil tyrant of the last three centuries.
The book is balanced and LONG - and it achieves a great deal of understanding by dealing with, and looking at in great detail the childhood of Speer . The battle with truth is perhaps one that we all have. The battle to make sense of the truths that human nature and their acts confront us with. The late Gita Sereny spent a lifetime looking at the darker corners of the human condition, and often from the darkest tales and the darkest of place finds hope.
It is perhaps one of the finest biographies I have every read, and the best book, the most balanced on Speer.
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on 18 October 2017
Brilliant insight
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on 13 January 2000
This is more than jut a book, it is an experience. Never have I been so eager to get to the next page, and at the same time absorb all the information on the page I was currently reading. This story of the man, Speer, was all the more convincing as it looked past his apologies to the victims of the Third Reich, and tried to find out what made him follow Hitler so zealously. At the same time it gives one a valuable insight into Hitler's court, Himmler, Goebbels etc., and their interactions, ambitions and personalities. This is a fantastic book and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone.
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on 28 November 1999
An excellent account of the man at the centre of Hitler's circle, Gitta Sereny is a tremendous writer. Her facinating account of Albert Speer's life, from minister for Armaments under the Nazi regime to his 20 year spell in Spandau prison and his release into an hostile world, is a masterpiece. I could not put the book down.
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VINE VOICEon 17 July 2015
I first read this substantial book shortly after release in 1997 and have to admit that I found the wandering non-linear narrative along with the regular deviations from the main subject an irritation and as a result did not complete it. Although well researched and beautifully written, this melancholy tale of self-delusion by an extremely talented and educated man seduced by power and Hitler himself didn’t hold my interest. The sheer number of people to learn about, the unending facts and figures, the same incident described by two or more individuals was wearying and ultimately too much. The battle within Herr Speer about his ultimate role within the Nazi party and its policy of racial hatred, expansionism, and barbarity on the grandest of scales should have been fascinating but it wasn’t.

I have recently re read it, now in my fifties, and could not put it down. The wandering narrative has gone replaced by occasional interesting asides; the regular deviations from the main subject have become systematic additions to the text that now back up, reinforce, or contradict preceding information. The text that didn’t hold my attention now gripped it like a vice and I found myself reading in the early hours when I should have been asleep.

This is perhaps a book for the more mature mind that has seen a bit of life and understands that ideals and intentions can and are often affected by circumstances. People do not always do the right thing, they will look the other way, act out of personal interest, lie, deceive, and allow themselves to be pressured to act, and perhaps even think, and in a way that perhaps they would not have done in other circumstances. In Speer’s case I think all of these things apply and probably many more.

Being close to Hitler and the Nazi elite for many years and having to, at least on the surface, accept and concur with their extremely unpleasant and unrelenting ideology about race, must have affected his ability to exercise independent rational though even on the most basic of levels. This shifting of one’s moral compass is covered in some depth and applies to many of the top Nazi’s who took on roles in mass murder on an enormous scale and then tried, at least in their own mind, to justify their actions as necessary and unavoidable.

Ms Sereny’s book is not like any other biography I have ever read. She seems to gently pick at her subjects allowing them to respond as they feel fit. This gentle approach has the effect of drawing more from the subject and this “drip drip” effect adds up to an astonishingly detailed and readable account of someone who by chance got caught up in the whole Nazi experience but who also never made any real effort to extricate himself from the looming storm clearly on the horizon. Until almost the very end of the conflict he appears to have been a loyal Hitler supporter, or at the very least an efficient and obedient one. Only months before the final devastating defeat does his conscious seem to reassert itself.

Speer is an enigma who will never be fully understood, and this is because Speer didn’t fully understand himself. His contemporaries, who were interviewed or left written evidence in the form of diaries or published works, also found him difficult to assess. Some believed him calculating and unfeeling others an unwitting victim drawn along by events and without the character or ability to distance himself from his brutal masters. Even the Nuremburg trials seemed unable to define Speer’s role in the attempted extermination of an entire people or his knowledge of the terrible conditions within the forced labour camps that he used to ensure his building and armaments programmes were fully implemented.

My personal view is that Speer could not possibly have been as unaware of the horrors of Nazism as he makes out. Being within the Nazi elite for many years and also in positions of immense influence and authority, he could not feasibly have been in ignorance of so much for so long. It beggars belief that ordinary Germans had “suspicions of terrible things happening in the east” but he was in total ignorance.

Albert Speer: His battle with truth is a sobering book about the terrible things that can happen when myth and ideology are perceived as more important then life itself.
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on 20 October 2009
Albert Speer was Hitler's architect during the 30's and Minister for Armaments during the Second World War, and after the war he was the only high-ranking Nazi to apologize and to renounce National Socialism. He was tried at Nuremberg, where he expressed contrition but always maintained that he himself was unaware of the genocide perpetrated by his party. He pleaded guilty to using slave labour in his arms factories and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. It was probably only his cooperative attitude, contrasting with most of his co-accused, that saved him from the death penalty. The British Chief Prosecutor Lord Shawcross later said:
My own view is one of great surprise that Speer was so leniently dealt with, and I still think it wrong that his subordinate Sauckel, who worked under his instructions, was sentenced to death while Speer escaped.

After his release, Speer wrote several bestselling books on the Nazis and often appeared on TV and in the print media, apologizing for the Nazi regime but always denying knowledge of the "final solution". Many applauded his bravery for attempting to confront the horrors of that time but others doubted his sincerity, claiming he must have known. In this book, Sereny weighs up the evidence. An important piece of evidence was uncovered in the early 70's, which indicated that Speer was present at a conference when Himmler spoke explicitly of "extermination" of the Jews. Speer claimed to have left the conference before that speech, but Sereny suggests this is untrue.

Speer was a very complex and interesting character, and this book is a very detailed portrait of him. Though his remorse was undoubtedly genuine, there was always a self-serving element to his character. It was this that enabled him to ignore what was happening around him in 1930's Germany. He seems to have had no sense of personal morality at this point, blithely accepting National Socialist doctrine as gospel. Had he been born in another country he would undoubtedly have been a valuable and upstanding member of the society, as a man of intelligence and uncommon organizational skills. But to play by the rules in Hitler's Germany meant to facilitate crimes against humanity. Later he developed a conscience about this, but too late, and even then, it seems, he was not quite able to admit the full extent of his complicity to others, or probably even to himself.

This book is well-written, well-researched, and non-judgemental, which is important when dealing with a character as ambiguous as Speer. It is based on many long conversations with Speer himself, and many others close to him. It gets to the very depths of its subject, and also serves to demonstrate how Nazism came to seem acceptable, and even necessary, to many intelligent, rational and responsible people in 1930's Germany. Truly fascinating.
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on 20 December 2015
I've read this enthralling book a couple of times since it was first published. For context I've also read all of Speer's own accounts of his life and times plus biographies by Joachim Fest and Dan Van Der Vat and many of the major historical works on the Third Reich. I'm currently a short way into the latest volume, Albert Speer, Hitler's Architect, by Martin Kitchen. Speer still has some distance to go before he attains the level of biographical overkill associated with, for but one example, T.E. Lawrence.

Since Gitta Sereny's book was published there have been numerous revelations about the extent of Speer's duplicity and complicity in the crimes for which he so miraculously - indeed brilliantly - evaded execution. Whereas she concentrates principally on the lies and evasions associated with Speer's presence at Himmler's Posen conference (or absence, in his account) in order to convict him of dishonesty, subsequent authors have detected huge discrepancies in his account of many other aspects of his life. It has now been shown beyond much doubt that Speer was actively complicit in the forcible expulsion of Jews from Berlin - in order to make their properties available for re-development or re-allocation - as well as witting enthusiasm for the slave labour program, a responsibility which he managed to offload onto Fritz Sauckel at the Nuremburg trials. In addition it's been shown that Speer profited massively from an art collection which he had acquired somehow during his pomp and which he covertly sold off in gradual increments after his release from Spandau.

Speer was a truly remarkable individual. It's not hard to imagine him having had great success in a number of different administrative fields: architecture probably being the exception - in the absence of a megalomaniacal patron. Perhaps his greatest talent was his patrician ability to charm and manipulate, a talent that enabled him to escape the noose. It's also almost certainly true that he was intelligent and affable company during the era of his post-Spandau celebrity. He certainly managed to charm Gitta Sereny who was no pushover. I say this having read most of her work and having had the pleasure of meeting her under quite unusual circumstances. I think that Speer cast his spell over her and that this is perhaps a deficiency in the book - at least insofar as it stands as a critical analysis of his self-created biography. Whether he really managed to delude himself about the extent of his active complicity in the crimes of the regime (as opposed to the "theoretical complicity" which saved his neck) or whether he had simply decided that his self-exoneration, a rationalisation carefully constructed during a 20 year incarceration, was sufficiently robust to withstand all scrutiny. Since his death this has been proved not to be the case.

This is an excellent book by any standards. Speer was by far the most interesting high-ranking member of the Nazi regime. By his own account "if Hitler had a friend, that would have been me..." A statement which has not been questioned and which makes his life worth investigation on its own. Gitta Sereny was a remarkable woman and an outstanding writer, all of whose works are worth investigating. I only wish I'd been able to convince her to apply her forensic skills to Robert McNamara's apologia seen in the film "Fog of War", which I had the pleasure of seeing at the same time as her. The astonishing coincidence that occasioned that will have to wait for a more appropriate occasion.
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on 16 July 2002
This book is superbly researched and thorough. It is also tremendously exciting and sustains a level of analysis which brings not only Speer but the whole of that period into sharp focus. With the new A2 History exams involving synoptic papers which have as their starting the analysis of documentary evidence this book is an absolute must for the able student. Quite apart from Speer's equivocations about the fate of the Jews and his knowledge of such matters, the study offers views on the other key figures in the story and their roles. The debate about Hitler and his dealings with his henchmen is superbly illustrated. Gita Seregny leaves no doubt about the centrality of Hitler, but opens up very interesting reflections on the rest, especially Himmler and Bormann. The vicious infighting after 1943 is described with great detail and irony.The book pauses from time to time with reflections that cover a whole gamut of other issues.... which themselves are sufficiently penetrating to invite further study. A true piece of academic research and a tremendous read in the process.
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on 31 March 2001
Gitta Sereny handles her subject as professionally and thoroughly as she had in her interviews with Treblinka's last commandant, F. Stangl (serving a life sentence) in Into That Darkness. Her study of Speer, while exploring essentially the same questions, carries with it more dimension because Speer's life and personality had certain further dimension to them than had Stangl's. Whether covering aspects of his relationship with Hitler and toward his own power-jostling peers in the highest echelons of Nazi hierarchy, or Sereny's encounter with the now grown children of those latter and how she finds them coming to terms with their parents' world, the world of their own childhoods, this book provides certain relevant and valuable insights and surprises which should impress the reader. There is no personal fascination paid to Speer, and this thanks to the masterful balance of Sereny's style in getting to know not only her subject well but his immediate family, for perspective in reaching the answers to those questions which so drive the study of Holocaust and all forms of Nazi abuse of power.
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on 31 January 2016
I am around half way through Albert Speer, His Battle with Truth. The part I am at is gripping however this hasn't always been the case with the read so far. Sereny is not any unbiased writer, from the beginning of the book, almost on every commentary on her meeting with Albert Speer she indicates she believes he is hiding and not telling the truth - I do wonder whose truth, Herr Speer's or the truth that Ms Sereny has convince herself must be. Whilst a book of this nature cannot be written in isolation I am finding that that are vast tranche that have gone away from the subject. I have also been concerned about interpretation, Speer wrote in Spandau and then again a number of books on release, he writes slightly (and I meant slightly) about a time and Sereny jumps on this. If an incident happened in 1942 then unless thoughts, feelings and reaction were recorded immediately then thoughts and feelings and indeed the passage of time will affect this, I feel Sereny is less than trustworthy here. On the other hand from her writings she appears to have had access to many closest to Speer, his wife, his children, a secretary and his friends. The one reflection that she does give is less about Speer but the developments in Nazi Germany and how laws and loss of liberty took place very slowly and the price seen at the time as being worth paying by the German's who had experience economic and civil catastrophe in the Weimar Republic. I feel the book could have been improved with both good editing and a little self reflection by Ms Sereny.
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