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am 13. Juni 2000
This superb book draws the reader closer to understanding this historically enigmatic and often bizarre human being who so changed the world of the 20th century. Although there are a myriad of such books that have appeared in the half-century since Hitler's demise in the dust and rubble of Berlin, this particular effort, which draws from hundreds of secondary sources, many of which have never before been cited, paints an authentic and masterful portrait of Hitler as an individual. This is an absolutely singular historical work; and it will almost certainly displace other, older tomes as the standard text on the early life and rise of Adolph Hitler.
Although I must confess that I intensely dislike reading through the early years of most biographies as depicted in so many other treatments of famous individuals, I loved reading this particular book. Kershaw takes a quite different and novel approach, and it is one I enjoyed. Here, by carefully locating and fixing the individual in the context and welter of his times, it yields a much more enlightening approach toward painting a meaningful comprehensive picture of how a neglected and conflicted boy meaningfully became such a terribly flawed and troubled man. Thus, we see the boy grow and change in whatever fashion into a man, tracing the rise of this troubled malcontent from the anonymity of Viennese shelters to a fiery and meteoric rise into politics, culminating in his ascent to rule Germany. Kershaw memorably recreates the social, economic, and political circumstances that bent and twisted Hitler so fatefully for the history of the world.
Hitler was, in Kershaw's estimation, a man most representative of his times, reflecting a widespread disaffection with democratic politics, steeped in the virulent anti-Semitism of his Viennese environment, twisted and experienced in the cruelties and absurdities of the First World War, thrust by circumstance and disposition into the sectarian, dyspeptic, and rough & tumble politics of the 1920s, and rising by finding himself the most unlikely of politicians with an unusual ability to orate and emote. It is also interesting to discover that Hitler had an unusually acute (though uneven) intellect, is rumored to have possesed a 'photographic memory', and was said to have an amazing ability to discuss and quote facts and figures and then subsequently casually weave them into a conversation that witnesses found spellbinding and convincing. He was also unquestionably quite charismatic and charming.
From the beginning Kershaw argues it is impossible to understand 'why' Hitler without understanding this extremely toxic and strange combination of social, economic, and cultural factors that characterized Germany in the post-war era. Thus, by the time he begins his ineluctable rise to power, we much better understand both 'how' and 'why' such a seemingly unlikely cast of characters as the Nazis succeeded so wildly beyond what one would expect to be possible in a sane and sophisticated modern industrial state.
This is fascinating stuff, as is his treatment of the concomitant rise of the slugs, thugs, and under-life accompanying him into the corridors of power and influence. Here is the world's greatest single collection of otherwise underachieving bullies, fanatics, pseudo-intellectuals, and fellow travelers, who clashed into an uneasy coalescence that formed the nucleus of the single greatest force for collective evil seen in the modern world. One's mind reels at the scene at the book's conclusion, as the newly formed Nazi power structure begins applying the progressively strangulating neck-lock on Germany's Jews, religious leaders, and other 'malcontents'. I await the publication of volume two of this effort with eager anticipation. Enjoy!
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am 3. Februar 2000
This is the first biography of Hitler that I've read. Kershaw is a social historian who admits his bias against biography in the preface. His discomfort with biography shows, and this book suffers in comparison with his earlier book on "The 'Hitler Myth,'" a study of Nazi propaganda that is better written, more interesting, and mercifully shorter.
Even so, I could hardly read 600-odd pages on Hitler without absorbing much that was new. I learned how, during his unhappy childhood and his aimless wanderings through Vienna, Hitler was constantly exposed to anti-Semitism from the ravings of Schornerer and other extremist xenophobes. I understand better now why Hitler's ranting and raving about exterminating the Jews wasn't taken more seriously even by the unprejudiced; Jew-baiting was such a common rabble-rousing ploy that few realized until too late how serious Hitler was about it. The book shows how it was only after the disastrous Munich Putsch that Hitler began to conceive of himself (as opposed to Ludendorff or a player to be named later) as the one true "Fuehrer."
Kershaw also argues that Hitler's own anti-Semitism was not formed in Vienna, as he claimed in Mein Kampf, but was adopted rather opportunistically when he became a political officer after World War I. And I think (though Kershaw himself doesn't say this), that I understand better why Hitler preached divisive, anti-Semitic hatred even though most German Jews were patriotic, and even though it was anti-Marxism rather than anti-Semitism that was his prime selling point to his audiences. Since Hitler's ideology was socialist (even though his actual practice when he attained power contained few elements of socialism), anti-Semitism was the only way he could distinguish himself from the socialists of the more numerous SPD and KPD. By pretending that these parties were mere Jewish puppets, Hitler could offer his brand of socialism as the only form of socialism that would benefit the great majority of Germans, while claiming that his opponents' version worked for the sole benefit of some fantasized international Jewish conspiracy. Even when the Nazis abandoned their strategy of outcompeting the SPD for the urban labor vote in favor of rallying support in the rural middle class, they still couldn't afford to abandon urban laborers completely. The Nazis still needed some of them, if for no other reason than to swell the ranks of the SA.
Kershaw also clarifies just how eagerly most of German society cooperated with the Nazis' takeover of total power after Hitler was appointed chancellor. I was shocked to learn that the German military's personal oath of allegiance to Hitler was not the Nazis' idea, but originated with War Minister Blomberg and Reichswehr commander Fritsch, under the insane delusion that this would subordinate Hitler to the armed forces rather than vice versa!
Still, this book has many problems. The prose style is convoluted and confusing. Kershaw is disturbingly ready to reject theories out of hand because they don't match his preconceptions, rather than by pointing out any actual evidence against them or any superior evidence in favor of a competing theory. Kershaw's treatment of Hitler's treason trial after the failed putsch is X-Files conspiracy-mongering, positing an agreement by prosecution, tribunal, and an unnamed Bavarian "elite" to go easy on Hitler so Hitler wouldn't reveal the complicity of high Bavarian officials in the putsch. But Kershaw's own evidence suggests that the prosecution presented its case against Hitler vigorously and zealously, that the Bavarian officials Hitler could have implicated weren't really that complicit (their timely warning to the Reichswehr in fact helped crush the putsch), and were in any case promptly sacked after the trial, casting doubt on the theory that the Bavarian government cared about their fate. Hitler's absurdly light sentence is best explained not by any secret, sinister "elite" maneuvers, but by the simple fact that the chief judge was flagrantly, reprehensibly biased in favor of the putschists.
In similar style, Kershaw suggests that Hitler's absence in Landsberg proved him indispensable as the "unifying" force on the German nationalist fringe. But his evidence suggests the exact opposite: that Rosenberg tried to unite the banned Nazi party, still mostly a Bavarian party, with north German racist radicals, and Hitler opposed this. And it was through Hitler's influence that the coarse, boorish Streicher was allowed to dominate the party, who so alienated everybody else on the nationalist right that all hope of union was lost.
Kershaw also fails to explicitly present any explanation for why Hitler's anti-Marxist message was so popular. He briefly tells the story of the Ratesrepublik, the attempted Marxist revolution in Bavaria, but nowhere suggests that it might explain the Germans' widespread fear of Marxism. Nor is there even the most casual reference to the Russian Revolution and the subsequent murderous behavior of the Cheka, which could hardly have failed to impress the German populace. Presented in this way, the popularity of Hitler's anti-Marxist message is made to appear like a mere prejudice as irrational as anti-Semitism, rather than a well-founded fear that Hitler exploited with grisly and tragic results.
In all, Kershaw's biography is better than no biography, but I hope that there are other, better biographies available to help understand the single most disastrous figure of the 20th century.
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am 7. Dezember 1999
Ian Kershaw's book is simply exceptional in every way. His grasp of the primary and secondary sources on Hitler and Germany is astonishing. Despite what might appear to be a weighty tome, with thousands of footnotes, Kershaw has organized his material and presented it in elegant prose that drives the Hitler story along at a brisk pace--and draws the reader along too.
Perhaps more impressive than Kershaw's research and writing, is his analysis. The reader will come away from this book with, at this point in time, the most cogent, insightful interpretation one can find of how Hitler came to power. Kershaw brilliantly lays out how Hitler's "belief" system was formed, where it fit into the Germany of Hitler's time, and how Hitler was able to match his talents as a propagandist and mesmerizing speaker to the "needs" of the German people. Kershaw does not accept simplistic explanations about Hitler's rise to power--there was nothing inevitable about it, it was not the "nature" of the German people that produced Hitler, etc. Instead, Kershaw presents a sober, balanced account that clearly lays out in detail the political, economic, and social situation in Germany, the times, and the man--and his luck--all of which led, as he notes in his final setence, Germany into the abyss.
This book does not attempt to sensationalize Hitler. Rather it is an extraordinary piece of scholarship, analysis, and writing--this is the one book about Hitler and Germany that should be read. I look forward with great anticipation to a second volume.
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am 27. Februar 2000
Through Ian Kershaw's masterful use of all available sources, including primary and secondary source material he has put together a most intriguing study on one of the many men that shaped the 20th century. From a small Austrian village to the promulgation of the Nuremberg laws, this book takes the reader through Hitler's rise to power - one of epic proportions.
Kershaw's keen sense of understanding mixed with detailed research has brought forth a well documented book; one that's beautifully laid out and easy to use as a research tool. The chapters, "list of works cited" along with "notes" help the reader to go back into the annals of history to locate the material used in this work. This work outlines his beginnings and uses previously unpublished material to take you into the minds of those closest to him.
Hitler was a masterful speaker and used his talents to build up the citizens of Germany giving them what they desired - self worth, obligation and a sense of duty. Germany was crying out to be rescued from a post war depression; so he took the country by the throat and pulled it from the ashes to rise like a majestic phoenix.
Adolf Hitler - a little known corporal from World War I, who believed he survived a mustard gas attack by divine intervention, rose to power and unleashed the might of the German army unto the world.
This book is a remarkable achievement and my hat is off to Mr Kershaw for all his hard work. This is an excellent biography filled with insight!
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am 1. Mai 1999
There is much most people donot know of Hitler and his rise to power in Germany. Professor Kershaw's book explains his rise in such detail. It is very revealing. What most interested me is that Hitler had very little to do with his ability to rise to the peak of power. He was a ne'er do well growing up before World War I. He swindled his Mother and Aunt of their savings. He showed little talent during the war. While he was an artist, I suspect he had little talent. He showed very little ability except for public speaking. In this endeavor he was able to rally the blue collar workers to his causes, which were few in number and non-sensical . He was very illogical in his beliefs about Jews and Bolsheviks. He condemned the Jews for their Bolshevik beliefs and for their Capitalist positions. How contradictory? It seems he was always at the right place at the right time. It seemed as if history carried him along rather the he directing history. The right wing industrialiststs thought they could control him, but discovered how little power they had. Even the leaders of other countries were fooled. This book should be recommended reading in the high schools and colleges. It is written in a prose style that's easy to read and comprehend. I am looking forward to Professor Kershaw's second volume.
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am 25. Februar 1999
The author does a superb job in putting into context the rise of Hitler. He examines the forces that led to the rise of Hitler including Hitler's own skills with emphasis on the underlying support that Hitler received from others. Hitler's struggle for power succeeded as a result of his nationalistic views,anti-semitic and anti-marxist views which found a willing audience during the economic calamity and social unrest of the time. Through his personality - his negotiatiing skills that tended toward brinksmanship, all or nothing attitude, and his careful articulation of ideas through appropriate propaganda machines he managed to become the spokesman of an extreme nationalistic party. But as the author effectively contends there was a power structure for which he became the spokesman. It is in understanding the nature of this power structure - the people behind the Nazi votes and their psychology that one can get an insight into how a non-German leader with genocidal tendencies could have become the leader of one of the major western powers.
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am 4. Juni 1999
One might think all that needs to be said about Hitler has already been said. Kershaw's biography proves the opposite. What matters is fresh interpretation of facts, and in this respect the author provides an interesting new approach. He places Hitler firmly in the context of his times, both before the First World War and after the Versailles settlement. He argues that Hitler was not some monstrous Uebermensch but a demagogue and prejudiced fanatic who was propelled to power largely because of the type of society Germany was in the 1920s. It sounds like a semi-sociological approach, but Kershaw's keen sense of the historian's discipline makes his book anything but faddish. He also corrects some long-held errors about Hitler's early life and career that have lasted since Bullock's biography of 40 years ago. Highly recommended.
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am 9. März 2000
If you have an interest in European history, Germany, Hitler, important historical figures in general, etc, you will want to read this. The author is thorough and manages to avoid obvious, simplistic, or trite criticisms of Hitler. I have one criticism and one warning about this book.
Critisim: Kershaw does not make a real effort to explain Hitler's hatred for Jews and does not mention Gypsies at all (though comment on Gypsies may come in the second volume).
Warning: Kershaw's audience seems to be other Ph.D historians, or at least people highly familiar with inter-war German politics. Since I am neither, I know I missed some of his more subtle points.
Still, can't wait for the second volume.
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am 24. Februar 1999
Ian Kershaw does an amazing job of vividly portraying Hitler's life and times. But I have several criticisms. In his introduction, he explicitly refutes the view that Hitler was a tragic figure. Nonetheless, he uses Greek terms in his title (Hubris in the first volume, Nemesis in the forthcoming) that more than impart a Greek tragic flavor to the live of Hitler. I hope that this is not evidence of conceptual confusion. Secondly, Kershaw's prose style leaves a little to be desired. Indeed, his prose sometimes reads like German painfully and literally translated into English
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am 11. März 1999
This book is the most detailed account of how and why Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. Minute detail regarding letters, notes, conversations, opinions of important associates and Hiter's whereabouts on almost a daily basis are interwoven by Kershaw to answer the question of how Hitler rose to power. Though the book is rather long I was totally engrossed in it and finished it within days of receiving it. Now I eagerly await the second volume which will begin with accounts in 1936 and continue to Hitler's death in 1945.
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