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Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil Paperback – June 9, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1st HarperPerennial Ed edition (June 9, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006095339X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060953393
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.4 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (111 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #593,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Debates concerning the historical and moral significance of Adolf Hitler have gone on since the beginning of his rise to power in Germany. In the decades after his bunker suicide, those debates elevated to arguments over the very nature and existence of evil. An integral part of the arguments has been the ongoing attempt to understand the why of Hitler. In this engaging work of literary journalism, Ron Rosenbaum travels the world to converse with some of the historians, philosophers, filmmakers, and others who have attempted to make sense of Hitler's actions, to find a root cause for the Holocaust.

Rosenbaum methodically examines the evidence for and against all the major hypotheses concerning the origin of Hitler's character. He sifts through all the rumors--including his alleged Jewish ancestry and what biographer Alan Bullock refers to as "the one-ball business"--and the attempts to derive some psychological cause from them. Various Hitlers emerge: Hitler as con man and brutal gangster, Hitler the unspeakable pervert, Hitler the ladies' man, Hitler as modernist artist working in the medium of evil....

But Rosenbaum's portrayals of those who would define Hitler are as fascinating as the shifting perspectives on the führer. Here we see the brave journalists of the Munich Post who attempted to reveal Hitler's evil to the world as early as the 1920s. We witness Shoah director Claude Lanzmann's imperious attempts to stifle analysis of Hitler and the Holocaust, branding such historical inquiries as "obscene." We see the effects, on a frazzled Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, of the controversy surrounding the publication of his Hitler's Willing Executioners. We see the interior crises of Hitler apologist David Irving and philosopher-novelist George Steiner, among others, as they struggle with the ramifications of their work and thought. And, best of all, we have Rosenbaum to serve as an informed, intimate, and on occasion witty guide. In White Noise, Don DeLillo depicted the satirical academic discipline of "Hitler studies;" Ron Rosenbaum breathes a life into the field that no fiction can match. --Ron Hogan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Seeking explanations for Hitler's monumental evil and the Holocaust, Rosenbaum traveled from Vienna and Munich to London, Paris and Jerusalem, interviewing leading historians, biographers, philosophers, psychologists and theologians. While this convoluted, selective survey of Hitler scholarship will frustrate readers looking for hard answers, it offers groundbreaking insights into the enigma of Hitler's psyche. Essayist Rosenbaum (Travels with Dr. Death), a frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine, gives voice to a diversity of opinion, from Hugh Trevor-Roper, whose best-selling The Last Days of Hitler presents the F?hrer as a self-deluded demigod, sincere in his demonic hatreds, to Oxford historian Alan Bullock, for whom Hitler is a shrewdly calculating, knowingly evil politician. Rosenbaum also interviewed critic/novelist George Steiner, who has interpreted Hitler as an "evil genius"Athe culmination of dark forces within European civilization; British historian of religion Hyam Maccoby, who argues that Christianity must bear responsibility for the Holocaust; documentary filmmaker Claude Lanzmann; and best-selling Harvard scholar Daniel Goldhagen (Hitler's Willing Executioners). Rosenbaum effectively re-creates the hitherto largely untold story of the heroic anti-Hitler Munich journalists who courageously took on the Nazis from 1920 to 1933. And he provides compelling testimony refuting the oft-repeated claim that Hitler had one undescended testicle. Author tour.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

It feels like magazine essays spliced together rather crudely into a book.
J. C Clark
The book explores the interesting tension between the notion of physchohistorical and sociological explanation and the concept of individual moral responsibility.
Amazon Customer
This book is every bit as much about Rosenbaum's search for the true Hitler as it is about Hitler himself.
Dan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

174 of 187 people found the following review helpful By Diane Schirf on January 18, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil by Ron Rosenbaum. Highly recommended.

Explaining Hitler is a misleading title, for the focus is primarily on the Jewish academic community's attempts to explain Hitler-to put it in grossly oversimplified terms, this is somewhat like the prey explaining the motivations of the predator. The result is that, while Hitler remains a mystery, the academic and personal biases of the explainers are revealed. To each person's theories and comments Rosenbaum adds his own analysis, finding the flaws with precision.

Hitler explanation ranges from the deeply personal (abusive father, infection by a Jewish prostitute, mother's painful death under the care of a Jewish physician) to the inevitable influence of historical forces (post-war inflation, depression). Rosenbaum discusses the personal in depth, including Hitler's rumored Jewish ancestor and bizarre relationship with his half-niece Geli Raubal, the convolutions each theory takes, and the lack of facts or reliable information to support any of them. For example, Rosenbaum astutely points out the only real "proof" of the abusive father is Hitler's own assertion and sarcastically suggests that there is reason not to trust Hitler's word. One argument that immediately comes to mind that Rosenbaum only briefly alludes to later is that millions of people have abusive fathers, bad experiences with individual members of ethnic and other groups, and so forth, yet do not turn into war criminals responsible for the deaths of millions. In short, these theories might explain Hitler's anti-Semitism, but not the results.
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Laon on May 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
Rosenbaum opened this thoughtful and literate review of the supposed "explanations" for Hitler with a gripping account of a winter journey to Hitler's birthplace in the Austrian hinterland, to glean what can be gleaned from the - largely obliterated - traces of his family and early life. There is effective use of the dangerous iciness of the mountain roads as a metaphor for some of the people and places he encountered there: cold to the bone, dangerous, and frozen in time.

That set-piece opening led to a consideration of some of the "explanations" of Hitler's madness and evil: that Hitler had been abused as a child, that he was genitally deformed, or even that he was born normal but traumatised when his genitals were mutilated by - of all things - a goat. These and some of the other speculations that have been offered - that Hitler was homosexual, that he had caught syphilis from a Jewish prostitute, that he was brainwashed into megalomania by a doctor experimenting with new psychological techniques, and so on - led Rosenbaum to a fascinating discussion of what is involved in even attempting to "explain Hitler".

Rosenbaum noted that many of the attempts at explaining Hitler tend, deliberately or not, to reduce the focus on his evil. To understand is to forgive, at least a little, and risks reducing Hitler to a victim, whether of other people or of circumstances. Worse, many of the proffered explanations put the blame on Jews, for example Weisenthal's notion of the (probably imaginary) Jewish prostitute who gave Hitler the clap.
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful By R. J. Marsella on May 30, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book examines the various schools of thought regarding Hitler and the Holocaust and the author did a wonderful job of researching and interviewing many of the scholars on the topic who have in turn influenced our understanding and perceptions of what happened and why. The questions may ultimately not have definitive answers but reading this and having Rosenbaum guide us through the various viewpoints is a worthwhile exercise in intellectual and philosophical investigation. The question of whether Hitler was essential to the Holocaust or if in his absence someone else would have set the same events into motion is one example of an unanswerable question that gets considered.
The questions surrounding the origins of Hitler's anti-semitism are also explored in detail.
There are scholars quoted who adamantly believe that any attempt to understand is misguided because understanding Hitler's motivations is considered by them to be the first step toward rationalization and diminishing the horror of the Holocaust to just a human crime on a larger scale.
This is not a biography of Hitler although many critical episodes in his life are referenced. Instead this is a fascinating look at how different perspectives on the nature of Hitler's evil have developed and how in the end there is no comprehensive answer as to the how and why of the suffering he unleashed. THere is a quote used from Primo Levi's book Survival in Auschwitz. Levi suffering from thirst reaches for an icycle. An SS guard knocks it away and Levi asks "why ?' The response.."there is no why here". I think that story captures some of the spirit of Rosenbaum's book.
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