Ascent, 1889-1939

eBook - 2016
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"A comprehensive new biography of Hitler focusing on the dictator's personality"--Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
Characteristics: 1 online resource
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Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc. - Distributor


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May 31, 2017

By good luck as much as by professional inclination I have been fortunate to read almost all of the great biographies of Adolf Hitler. Alan Bullock, Joachim Fest and Alan Kershaw’s magisterial two volume set (Hubris and Nemesis) have each expanded my understanding of the forces that formed Hitler and the forces that he himself created. My interest has sometime struck people as being perverse but as Thomas Mann once observed, “the fellow is a catastrophe, but that’s no reason not to find him interesting as a personality and a destiny. No one should feel above dealing with this murky figure.”

To the Hitler canon we can now add the recent contribution by Volker Ullrich.

Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 follows Hitler from his birth and youth, takes us through the cauldron of World War I and dwells in the immediate post war years where political and social chaos implanted the antisemitism which he both imbibed and deployed, and created the circumstances that allowed for the rise of the Nazi party.

Though not as well-written as Kershaw (I suspect the translation may have something to do with this), Ullrich’s research skills are first rate. He rejects the notion of Hitler as a creature who emptied outside of the spotlight and presents, as far as evidence will show, a man who was human, and therefore explicable.

Ullrich’s explanation of how the Nazis came to power is dense but worth repeated readings. The weakness of German government, the contempt in which democracy was held by many of its leaders and the near-universal belief that the “Austrian Corporal” could be easily controlled combined with economic circumstances to create the perfect storm of opportunity in which a Third Reich was possible.

Ullrich makes it clear that Hitler and Nazism were not inevitable. If Hitler had served his full 5-year prison term following the 1923 attempted putsch the world would likely have never heard from him again. Had the world-wide depression not happened, or had it lifted sooner then the Nazis would likely have been less appealing. Had any man other than Hindenburg been President then Hitler might not have received the gift of the Chancellorship mere weeks after his party had failed to achieve an electoral majority – and had even lost ground.

Hitler’s greatest strength was perhaps his almost instantaneous ability to read a situation and intuitively understand the mood of his opponents and allies. The decision to remilitarize the Rhineland in 1935 was a gamble that paid off for the Nazis, as did the Anschluss of Austria and the dismembering of Czechoslovakia. At each of these points a determined effort by France and England could have prevented Nazi aggression and broken the myth of Hitler’s infallibility.

The story does not weaken with repeating, and Ullrich tells it well.

Dec 18, 2016

Fascinating portrait that illustrates Hitler's amazing ability to tap into emotional fears and desires and his knack for timing and boldness. One amazing example: by 1923 he already had s small movement and had become known in Munich.. particularly speaking in the beer halls. He finally decides in 1923 to engineer a putsch, a really reckless attempt to overthrow the local government. It is suppressed and Hitler is thrown in jail. But at his trial he asks the judge to speak and the judge allows him to speak for 2 hours!!! Much of it his oratorical frenzy brilliance. This is one example of how he'd gained the sympathies of the judge. Ultimately he only serves 6 months in jail for something that the law stated a minimum of 5 years.

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