The definitive Hitler biography Dec 6, 2012
In his preface to 'Hitler, 1889-1936': Hubris Kershaw warns us against eschewing analysis (a swipe at John Toland?) but he also warns us against skewed or partial analysis. He recognizes that subjectivity is a slippery slope. Hitler was not, he assures us, only a pliant stooge of German right wing nationalists, nor of the Warrior class, nor of German Industrialists. Nor was he only a manifestation of world Capitalism (a la classic Soviet History), nor only the inevitable result of the Versailles Treaty (though that helped make him). Nor did he triumph by shear force of will. He was not stupid, nor was he a genius. All of these are one-note analyses posited heretofore. Hitler’s Third Reich was the result of a confluence of a number of specific events and historical/cultural trends that could not have happened in a different time and/or place. Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris gathers those trends and weaves them together for us. Kershaw gives just enough of what happened and focuses on how and why.
As gratifying as Kershaw’s book is historically, I found it stylistically wanting. Kershaw is a great historian, but not a great writer. I often found myself getting lost in sentences that were interminable strings of clauses separated by commas, with sets of dashes tossed in on rare occasions failing to relieve the tedium. Apparently Kershaw doesn’t know that the parentheses may be found at the upper right of his keyboard, and that it’s OK to employ a semicolon now and then. Oh, and sometimes two or even three sentences can express a thought more clearly than one gigantic one. This is a book sorely in need of an editor with a goodly handful of red pencils.
However, stylistic concerns are not enough to detract from the value of 'Hitler' as history. If you are going to read only one biography of Hitler (and more than one, at least in a short period, would be enormously depressing) then 'Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris' is it. It is probably the definitive Hitler biography to date.