Last week Michiko Kakutani reviewed the first of two volumes of the latest Hitler biography for the New York Times. I’ve got Ian Kershaw’s double-decker biography, which is huge and ought suffice, but I read the review anyway, just to see what the occasion for another biography would be, short of, say, the author locating the real Hitler diaries.
He hasn’t, and I finished the review no wiser about the book’s raison d’etre. But Kakutani has a string of bullet points that seem to operate on more than a strictly synoptic level. A sampling:
“ • Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who ‘only loved himself’ — a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what Mr. Ullrich calls a ‘characteristic fondness for superlatives.’ His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raised questions about his capacity for self-control, even his sanity.…
“ • Hitler was known, among colleagues, for a ‘bottomless mendacity’ that would later be magnified by a slick propaganda machine that used the latest technology ….
“ • He peppered his speeches with coarse phrases and put-downs of hecklers. Even as he fomented chaos by playing to crowds’ fears and resentments, he offered himself as the visionary leader who could restore law and order.
“ • … [Hitler] was typically vague about his actual plans. He often harked back to a golden age for the country, Mr. Ullrich says, the better ‘to paint the present day in hues that were all the darker. Everywhere you looked now, there was only decline and decay.’
“ • Hitler’s repertoire of topics, Mr. Ullrich notes, was limited, and reading his speeches in retrospect, ‘it seems amazing that he attracted larger and larger audiences’ with ‘repeated mantralike phrases’ consisting largely of ‘accusations, vows of revenge and promises for the future.’….
“ • Hitler’s ascension was aided and abetted by the naïveté of domestic adversaries who failed to appreciate his ruthlessness and tenacity, and by foreign statesmen who believed they could control his aggression. Early on, revulsion at Hitler’s style and appearance, Mr. Ullrich writes, led some critics to underestimate the man and his popularity, while others dismissed him as a celebrity, a repellent but fascinating ‘evening’s entertainment.’ ….
“ • Hitler had a dark, Darwinian view of the world. And he would not only become, in Mr. Ullrich’s words, ‘a mouthpiece of the cultural pessimism’ growing in right-wing circles in the Weimar Republic, but also the avatar of what Thomas Mann identified as a turning away from reason and the fundamental principles of a civil society — namely, ‘liberty, equality, education, optimism and belief in progress.’”
Historiographically speaking. none of this counts as news, of course. At the same time it seems pretty clear that Kakutani is writing about the news.
(full text of review)