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Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil Paperback – January 1, 1994

4.5 out of 5 stars 192 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

While living in Argentina in 1960, Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann was kidnapped and smuggled to Israel where he was put on trial for crimes against humanity. The New Yorker magazine sent Hannah Arendt to cover the trial. While covering the technical aspects of the trial, Arendt also explored the wider themes inherent in the trial, such as the nature of justice, the behavior of the Jewish leadership during the Nazi Régime, and, most controversially, the nature of Evil itself.

Far from being evil incarnate, as the prosecution painted Eichmann, Arendt maintains that he was an average man, a petty bureaucrat interested only in furthering his career, and the evil he did came from the seductive power of the totalitarian state and an unthinking adherence to the Nazi cause. Indeed, Eichmann's only defense during the trial was "I was just following orders."

Arendt's analysis of the seductive nature of evil is a disturbing one. We would like to think that anyone who would perpetrate such horror on the world is different from us, and that such atrocities are rarities in our world. But the history of groups such as the Jews, Kurds, Bosnians, and Native Americans, to name but a few, seems to suggest that such evil is all too commonplace. In revealing Eichmann as the pedestrian little man that he was, Arendt shows us that the veneer of civilization is a thin one indeed.


If, in recalling the period, one could shut one's eyes to the scenes of brutal massacre and stop one's ears to the screams of horror-stricken women and terrorized children as they saw the tornado of death sweeping toward them, one could almost assume that in some parts of the book the author is being whimsical. -- The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

  • Series: Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin
  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New edition edition (January 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140187650
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140187656
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (192 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #342,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Before there was the O.J. Simpson double homicide trial there was the Eichmann trial. Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil provides insight into one of the most publicized "show trials" ever. After the Nuremberg trial hundreds of Nazis were still in hiding or had taken assumed identities outside of Europe. Adolph Eichmann was one of these individuals. The Israeli Mossad kidnapped him and brought him back to Israel to stand trial for "crimes against humanity" for his role in the Holocaust. Eichmann was abducted in Argentina where he was struggling with his anonymity. Eichmann hated losing his identity as a powerful Nazi. After being kidnapped, but before being flown to Israel Eichmann was asked to consent to being brought up on charges against humanity, which he did. Eichmann may have had a difficult time living without his former social standing and identity.
Arendt's book is a landmark in the workings of the Nazi machine that tortured, raped, and killed over 11 million Europeans for their religion, sexual orientation, political ideas, and nationality. However, the Eichmann trial centers more on the role Eichmann had in the "Final Solution" to the Jewish Question. Eichmann was charged with being a key player in the destruction and eradication of European Jewry.
The book and Arendt's theory regarding "the banality of evil" has created controversy since its inception in 1963. In 1963 Arendt was sent to Jerusalem to follow the Eichmann trial for The New Yorker. She published a series of articles over the course of the trial. It is often remarked by critics of the book that Arendt was not present for even half of the trial, yet the book is considered one of the principal books on the trial, if not the primary.
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Format: Paperback
I first read this book 20+ years ago in my senior year of college, in a political theory seminar on Arendt, and have re-read it from time to time ever since. The seminar professor offered a keg of beer to anyone who could find the phrase "banality of evil" in the text of the book (NOT the cover, in Arendt's text). No one won the keg because Arendt NEVER USES the phrase banality of evil anywhere in the book, and she was NOT saying evil is banal. What she was trying to drive at is that you don't need a raver like Hitler, or an obvious monster with long fangs, to do evil -- that ordinary people, the kind you live next door to or pass on the street every day without a second thought -- can do tremendous evil. it's a conclusion that I agree with in my brain but still grapple with emotionally.
I'm also grateful to her because this book is the first place where she recounted the story of the Danish Jews, who were protected by just about the entire population of Denmark when the Nazis tried to round them up.
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A previous reviewer claims that Arendt's book shows the ambivalence of human nature, proving that in effect anybody could have done what Eichmann did. In fact, this is exactly the cynical point of view that Arendt opposes in this, and her other writings. Her argument here is a revision of her earlier position on 'radical evil' advanced in The Origins of Totalitarianism, a position which Heidegger claimed to find 'incomprehensible.' She argues here that banality and "sheer thoughtlessness" (akin to Heidegger's reflections on boredom) are in fact the root of Evil. To put it better, evil continues precisely because of its inherent rootlessness, its constitutive disregard of the world. Thus, the detachment of claims such as "Anybody could have done what Eichmann did" distort her intention. Evil, she insists, is not an inevitable aspect of human nature, but instead arises from an unwillingness to understand.
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I am delighted to see this classic back in print. Jewish author Hannah Arendt has provided a wealth of timeless information that goes far beyond the trial of the German war criminal Adolf Eichmann. This review is based on the original (1964) edition.

Arendt (p. 39) gives the readers a taste of the scale of the Kristallnacht (November 1938): 7,500 Jewish shop windows broken, all synagogues burned, and 20,000 Jewish men incarcerated in concentration camps. In common with many others who wrote during the first two decades after WWII, Arendt (p. 5, 11-12) addresses the issue of Jewish passivity in the face of death during the later roundups and transports to the death camps.

Arendt briefly discusses the fate of Jews of some individual European nations. She mentions the conniving of the Bulgarians (with, of course, the implied freedom to do so) performed in order to avoid sending their Jews to the death camps, and the fact that Finland, Germany's ally, was never seriously pressured to turn over her 2,000 Jews to be murdered (p. 170). Clearly, the latter part of the oft-repeated statement, "Not all of the victims of the Nazis were Jews, but all Jews were victims of the Nazis" is incorrect.

Throughout this work, Arendt gives various biographical details of Adolf Eichmann. For example, she mentions that he was a Gottglaubiger (p. 27), a Nazi term for those who had broken with Christianity, and which Eichmann maintained right up to the very moment of his hanging, having refused the solace and Bible reading of a Protestant minister (p. 252).

Arendt briefly discusses Hitler's flouting of the Versailles treaty and his rise to power. While Jan T.
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