Top positive review
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A great read - and a warning to all Hitler authors!
on 29 December 2011
I first bought the paperback edition of this book in 1991. I've re-read it so many times over the years the book is now battered. So I've bought a new copy. Despite inflation etc it's cost me £4.50p here on Amazon - only 51p more than it did in 1991! It's not been updated in any way, but I'm prepared to live with that as it's a classic. It's also been printed in a larger format with a bigger typeface so it's easier to read.
No Less a person than Sir Richard Evans - Regius Professor of History at Cambridge University - described this book as 'excellent' in his book "In defence of History". I've just re-read Robert Harris's extraordinary account of the ultimate publishing fraud and the book is as fresh, fast-moving, funny and informative as when I first read it. It's a complex story moving backwards and forwards in time, with numerous characters and locations. But Robert Harris handles the complexities effortlessly so you always know where you are. Indeed, he builds in a tension so this book reads like a thriller. What, you wonder, is going to happen next? It's great entertainment, a real page-turner.
But the book contains a serious message - an awful warning to people who write about Hitler - get your facts right. If you fail the roof will fall in. In the case of the Hitler diaries fiasco the whole house collapsed burying large numbers of people in the rubble.
Since then - 1983 - more and more Hitler books have poured off the presses. The controversial historian, David Irving, wrote at the time that 'Adolf Hitler is still big box office'. That's true 30 years later. It's one reason why authors want to write about the Nazi dictator. He sells books. But the perils are many, as Robert Harris demonstrates, and only the foolhardy would ignore them. If you do you're courting trouble - big trouble!
Having praised this book can I make a plea for an updated edition? The text can stay the same, but perhaps Robert Harris could add a couple of chapters telling us about other Hitler publishing misadventures that have happened since. An historian said to me there are two markets for Hitler books - those for people with a serious interest in history and those that appeal to fantasists and conspiracy theorists.
Sadly, innocent people are still being fooled. Hard to believe? Then take a look at a book published in 2011 called "Grey Wolf - the escape of Adolf Hitler." The authors argue Hitler never died in the bunker in Berlin in 1945. Instead they claim he escaped to Argentina with Eva Braun, two daughters, Martin Bormann and Hitler's favourite dog Blondi. There the world's most wanted man lived in luxury undiscovered by anyone! The book has become a best seller despite critical reviews by me and other people. Just look at the number gullible customers who have written comments praising it to the skies. Perhaps Robert Harris might like to include some comments on this latest example of publishing stupidity in an updated edition of "Selling Hitler." Bizarre things have been going on - enough to delight any author with an eye for the absurd.
Many people will have a good laugh at the Hitler diaries saga. Some may ask if it really matters? I think it does. Truth matters. Polluting the wells of knowledge matters. In an angry editorial the "New York Times" argued it was important to know what drove one of the century's most diabolical tryrannies. It mattered that Hitler should be seen in the light of truth and not reincarnated and redefined by forgeries. Modern authors should bear that in mind before publishing books that trample over people's feelings.
Leaving aside Hitler for a moment ... I think anyone interested in history - whatever period - should read this book - especially if they're a student. For the book demonstrates dramatically how important it is to evaluate evidence. You need to be on guard all the time, particularly when people make extravagant claims.