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Diary of a Man in Despair (New York Review Books Classics) [Kindle Edition]

Friedrich Reck , Paul Rubens , Richard J. Evans
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Friedrich Reck might seem an unlikely rebel against Nazism. Not just a conservative but a rock-ribbed reactionary, he played the part of a landed gentleman, deplored democracy, and rejected the modern world outright. To Reck the Nazis were ruthless revolutionaries in Gothic drag, and helpless as he was to counter the spell they had cast on the German people, he felt compelled to record the corruptions of their rule. The result is less a diary than a sequence of stark and astonishing snapshots of life in Germany between 1936 and 1944. We see the Nazis at the peak of power, and the murderous panic with which they respond to approaching defeat; their travesty of traditional folkways in the name of the Volk; and the author’s own missed opportunity to shoot Hitler. This riveting book is not only, as Hannah Arendt proclaimed it, “one of the most important documents of the Hitler period” but a moving testament of a decent man struggling to do the right thing in a depraved world.

Editorial Reviews


“Very, very rarely one comes across a book so remarkable and so unexpectedly convincing that it deserves more to be quoted than to be reviewed…. I beg you to read this bitterly courageous book by as good a German as one could well imagine.” —Frederic Raphael, The Sunday Times
“It is stunning to read, for it is not often that invective achieves the level of art, and rarer still that hatred assumes a tragic grandeur.” —The New York Times
“Observations set down with passion, outrage, and almost unbearable sadness. . . astonishing, compelling, and unnerving.” —The New Yorker

“In his visceral loathing of the Nazis, Reck was not, of course, unique. From our perspective, however, he had one great advantage over most of his like-minded friends: he possessed the makings of a great diarist. True, he was not at the centre of things, but he knew the world and had contacts in it. He was something of a connoisseur of rumours, collecting and savouring stories about the latest Nazi scandal or atrocity and adding to them his own trenchant reflections. And if he was a slightly gullible listener, he was a very acute observer.’ —The Financial Times
“Unlike many memoirs of the Nazi period, this one is not a totally gloomy account of persecution, brutality and horrors. The dominating quality is its tough exuberance and (often black) satirical humor. From a great height of aristocratic disrelish Fritz Reck-Malleczewen looks down on the Nazis as lower middle class scum, vengefully greedy for power, with Hitler as their avatar, at once sinister and ridiculous’ —The Wall Street Journal

About the Author

Friedrich Reck (1884–1945) was born Friedrich Percyval Reck in Masuria, East Prussia, the son of a prosperous conservative politician and landowner. Having initially complied with his father’s wishes to pursue a military career, he left the army to begin medical studies. By the beginning of the First World War, for which he was ruled unfit to serve, he had begun work as a full-time theater critic and travel writer. In the following decades he became a well-known figure in Munich society, the author of both literary historical novels and popular entertainments including Bomben auf Monte Carlo (Bombs on Monte Carlo), a best-selling comic novella and the basis of a hit musical film starring Peter Lorre. In October 1944 he was arrested for the first time; in December of the same year the Gestapo returned to detain him again; in January 1945 he arrived at the Dachau concentration camp, where he was to die shortly after.

Paul Rubens (1927–2003), a self-educated native New Yorker, mastered the German language as a member of the U.S. occupation forces after World War II .

Richard J. Evans is Regius Professor of History and president of Wolfson College, Cambridge. He is the author of The Third Reich at War.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2317 KB
  • Print Length: 264 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics; Reprint edition (February 12, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007WL0K50
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #338,337 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Unique Insight into Third Reich February 25, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is one of the most interesting, and valuable, books I have read in many years on the Third Reich. The author, Friedrich Reck (1884-1945), was a proud Bavarian author, physician, critic, and commentator. The book consists of monthly diary entries, usually 2-3 pages, covering the period of May 1936 through October 1944. What makes the book so interesting is that Reck is entirely hostile to the Nazi leadership and absolutely biting in his extensive criticisms, which he levies with much relish in a document he supposedly buried each night on his estate to avoid detection.

His most pointed criticisms are reserved for Prussia, which has taken control of Germany, including his beloved Bavaria; useless Berlin bureaucrats who accomplish nothing but mass confusion; the irrational "mass man" who is manipulated easily by the Nazis; undue control exercised by "industry-minded dolts" and businessmen; the nation of greedy and blood-thirsty "cavemen" the German populace has become; and the endless mind-numbing propaganda effectively aimed at the German public in order to maintain control through "mass psychosis."

Another interesting aspect of the book are Reck's observations of contemporary events. He is outraged by the absorption of Austria; Stalingrad strikes a massive blow against German morale; the reports of mass killings of Jews in his October, 1942 entry repulses Reck and confirms that the German population had knowledge of what was occurring; and particularly his comments about the July 1944 assassination attempt on Hitler are insightful. While he feels the war will end terribly for Germany, it will liberate the country from the cloud of Nazi control and degradation.

The book includes a very helpful afterword written by Richard J.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Heartbreak and Horror of the Third Reich April 9, 2013
Unlike many books, stories, and articles about the Nazis, Reck's diary (or rather the excerpts we get here) does not dwell on concentration camps, slave labor, or military devastation. Reck's book is a subtle and agonizing rumination on daily life for ordinary Germans that becomes more and more nightmarish as the book, and time, progress. Reck describes the vulgarity, the stupidity, arrogance, and evilness of the Nazis by focusing on details of German life from the late 1930's to August 1944 when the diary abruptly ends. Reck is a wealthy, cultured, and well-connected semi-aristocrat who knew many leading members of Germany's cultural elite. He relates many anecdotes told him by his friends and is also a sharp and insightful observer of society. He conveys the nightmare world of the Nazis by relating small and poignant details rather than world-historical events.

Reck hates, detests the Nazis and realizes early that they will lead Germany to destruction and the world to catastrophe. Reck engages in long political diatribes which although repetitive are insightful in places. Reck is an ultra-conservative monarchist. America and England were only slightly less evil than Germany. Industrialization and bourgeois culture are to blame for the rise of the Nazis. Reck seems to focus on I.G. Farben as the epitome of the sort of the corporate greed that made Nazism possible. Industrialization, nationalism, the vulgarization of culture, and corporate greed and unhindered capitalism are the sources of the Nazi revolution, according to Reck. Reck is no darling lovable liberal chap--he has many difficult and reactionary opinions and at least in the German there are racial (but not anti-semitic) aspersions.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "I can't help it." October 11, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
No vocabulary on the planet is malign enough to describe either the planned or random savagery of Nazi Germany. So Friedrich Reck breaks the madness into pieces like vicious syllables that -- slammed and packed together -- help define the essence of evil. An accomplished writer living the nightmare as a German citizen, he records the daily Reich, the one continually dripping poison into life even when the guns are quiet and the fires banked.

This is a haunting book, haunting in the way you would feel looking out your window and seeing degradation on the street and murder underway. Reck shows Germany rotting. He records a line of people blocking Munich traffic in broad daylight to visit a bordello while local women volunteer to help out. He speaks of bizarre shortages in which people use machine oil for salad dressing. Women scoop and swallow gravel on which Hitler has just walked. He notes the rumors of poison gas, a channel tunnel and the atom bomb. And he writes of eleven German guillotines, busy ones, beheading those who, for example, cause "ridicule of the Fuhrer."

He believes technology is dehumanizing his country, and blasts the existence of nationalism as "a state of mind in which you do not love your own country as much as you hate somebody else's."

Reck is eventually arrested for having a heart attack after hearing that his son is a prisoner of the Russians. For having this heart attack at age 60 and consequently refusing to accept a draft notice, he is charged with "undermining the morale of the Armed Forces."

He writes of his own deep hatred. He notes it often. He wants the generals, the industrialists and the journalists hanged and those who survive condemned to lives selling waste paper and matches.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Courage exemplied
The best review of Friedrich Reck’s ‘diary’ is the afterword included in this volume, written by Richard Evans. Read more
Published 14 days ago by Geoff Crocker
5.0 out of 5 stars Only at Amazon
Update: I was delighted to find this book again and began reading it as soon as it arrived. About a third of the way through I stopped and I'm pretty sure I won't read it again. Read more
Published 1 month ago by MJH
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
It gave me, a non-scholar, a new perspective on Nazi-run Germany.
Published 6 months ago by Patrick T. Narcisi
2.0 out of 5 stars Complicated, Obscure and Unenlightening
What a disappointment!

The only readable parts of this diary come when the writer expresses his visceral hatred of the former-corporal, Adolf Hitler and his... Read more
Published 7 months ago by vmcla
4.0 out of 5 stars Reck sees the Nazis as lower middle class revolutionaries intent on...
I'd never heard of Friedrich Reck before reading this book.It is arguable I should have read the afterword first.Reck was clearly a bit of a character. Read more
Published 8 months ago by JAK
5.0 out of 5 stars a spellbinding contemporary work on the Nazi era
"Diary of a Man in Despair" by Friedrich Reck is the diary of a conservative German during the 1930s and early 1940s as he watches the rise of the Nazis and the country they create... Read more
Published 9 months ago by K. Kennedy
5.0 out of 5 stars The Hate Was Mutual
A conservative German predicts the events of the end of the war with creepy prescience. Startling scenes of the aftermath of the Hamburg firestorm as experienced by average... Read more
Published 11 months ago by K. Egan
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard to say anything but
It's hard to say anything but how great a book this is. The man is a borderline crank. But he gets most everything right (I do disagree with a lot of things, but then again one... Read more
Published 13 months ago by BronxRev
5.0 out of 5 stars A master of invective
Friedrich (Fritz) Reck-Malleczechewen was a complicated and stubborn figure, with strong, often unpopular views and multiple biases. Read more
Published 17 months ago by exurbanite
5.0 out of 5 stars A Major Reality Check
Before GPS, to set sail for anywhere and know where you are, you had to know what time it is. The same is true about history. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Jim Altfeld
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