Review: Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris

Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris
Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris
Ian Kershaw
New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1999

Review Copyright © 2001 Garret Wilson — 30 June 2001 10:06 a.m.

Ian Kershaw's Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris by all accounts is set to become the standard work on Hitler for the 21st century. That's certainly possible, but how would I know? The facts and figures he cites certainly seem extraordinarily complete, but I certainly don't have the background to question his opinions on which sources should and should not be trusted, which have or have not been discredited, and which have pieces missing. This volume chronicles Hitler's birth to his rise to power. I haven't even read the sequel, yet.

This volume at least is astonishing in that it makes so evident how easy it is for one to "know" about Hitler and his extermination of the Jews during World War II, while knowing nothing about German politics, previous wars, Hitler's rise to power — in essence knowing nothing substantial about Hitler at all in anything but name.

This is not to say that Kershaw claims in any way to reveal the "real" Hitler, the true, undiscovered individual that eluded even those close to him. Rather Kershaw documents a series of events, as accurately as possible, providing just as much emphasis on Hitler's environment as on Hitler himself. What comes out of this is a whole new story — no new core revelations or dramatic historical alterations, perhaps, but a brilliant display of how one person could discover in himself a gift of rhetoric in a particular political climate. In Hitler's messianic view, he and the German people found each other.

This mythos emanated no less from the people's reception than from the constant underhanded political manipulation by Hitler, and it is again astonishing how one man could in whatever environment control such a manipulation, while in many cases having so little control on grassroots circumstances.

Too much commentary here would certainly do injustice to this first volume of such a thorough work. The seemingly never-ending yet never boring work succeeds best at its constant pace of filling in the structure of that history. Here are a few salient items that I found particularly interesting.