Ian Kershaw's Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris charts the rise of Adolf Hitler, from a bizarre misfit in a Viennese dosshouse, to dictatorial leadership. With extraordinary skill and vividness, drawing on a huge range of sources, Kershaw recreates the world which first thwarted and then nurtured Hitler in his youth, from early childhood to the first successes of the Nazi Party. As his seemingly pitiful fantasy of being Germany's saviour attracted more and more support, Kershaw brilliantly conveys why so many Germans adored Hitler ...
Ian Kershaw's Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris charts the rise of Adolf Hitler, from a bizarre misfit in a Viennese dosshouse, to dictatorial leadership. With extraordinary skill and vividness, drawing on a huge range of sources, Kershaw recreates the world which first thwarted and then nurtured Hitler in his youth, from early childhood to the first successes of the Nazi Party. As his seemingly pitiful fantasy of being Germany's saviour attracted more and more support, Kershaw brilliantly conveys why so many Germans adored Hitler, connived with him or felt powerless to resist him. 'Supersedes all previous accounts. It is the sort of masterly biography that only a first-rate historian can write' David Cannadine, Observer Books of the Year 'The Hitler biography for the 21st century ... cool, judicious, factually reliable and intelligently argued' Richard Evans, Sunday Telegraph 'One of the major historical biographies of our times ... a riveting read' Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times, Best Biographies of the Year 'His analysis of Hitler's extraordinary character has the fascination of a novel, but he places his struggle and rise in the context of meticulously researched history ... Deeply disturbing. Unforgettable' A.N. Wilson, Daily Mail 'A sane, erudite, moral and intellectually honest biography of the 20th century's most destructive politician' Ruth Scurr, The Times Ian Kershaw's other books include Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis, Making Friends with Hitler, Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World 1940-4 and The End: Hitler's Germany, 1944-45. Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis received the Wolfson History Prize and the Bruno Kreisky Prize in Austria for Political Book of the Year, and was joint winner of the inaugural British Academy Book Prize.
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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.
Mar 6, 2008
This book is exquisitely researched, and a real pleasure for history aficionados. I have read all the major books about Adolf Hitler, and none painted the picture of his early life that this one did. It is not a page-turner, but it certainly needs to be read by anyone who even strives to be a student of the history of the 20th century.
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