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Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris Hardcover – January 1, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Noted for his excellent structural explanation of the Third Reich's political culture in The Hitler Myth, eminent historian Ian Kershaw shifts approach in this innovative biography of the Nazi tyrant. The first of a two-volume study, Hubris is far from a simple rehearsal of "great man" history, impressively exploring the historical forces that transformed a shiftless Austrian daydreamer into a dictator with immense power.

In his forthright introduction, Kershaw acknowledges that, as a committed social historian, he did not include biography in his original intellectual plans. However, his "growing preoccupation" with the structures of Nazi domination pushed him toward questions about Hitler's place and considerable authority within that system. He argues that the sources for Hitler's power must be sought not only in the dictator's actions but also (and more importantly) in the social circumstances of a nation that allowed him to overstep all institutional and moral barriers. In a comprehensive treatment of Hitler's life and times up through the remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, Kershaw draws from documents recently made available from Russian archives and benefits from a rigorous source criticism that has discredited many records formerly understood to be reliable. Hubris thus supplants Alan Bullock's classic Hitler: A Study in Tyranny as the definitive account of a man who, with characteristic smugness, indicated that it was a divinely inspired history that made him: "I go with the certainty of a sleep walker along a path laid out for me by Providence." Kershaw's penetrating analysis of how such a certain path could emerge from the dire circumstances of post World War I Germany is the abiding strength of Hubris. --James Highfill

From Publishers Weekly

We surely need books like Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's Hitler's Willing Executioners that examine German society as a whole in an effort to understand how Hitler came to power and held it for so long. But we also need classic, political biographies that focus on the dictator himself. Kershaw's book, the first volume of a projected two-part biography, pays some attention to how ripe a demoralized Germany was for demagoguery after the Treaty of Versailles, but the author's focus is on Hitler and his political career?the decisions he made as he rose to power and those he made once he attained it. What distinguishes this effort is the extent of documentation as Kershaw, a professor of history at the University of Sheffield, exploits the full Goebbels diaries and texts of early Hitler speeches only recently made accessible. Also notable is the portrait Kershaw draws of Hitler as surprisingly remote from the thuggery, greed and corruption of his followers, high and low, even as he actively encouraged the development of a cult of personality. Kershaw closes with an examination of Hitler's remilitarization of the Rhineland, a fait accompli made possible by the timidity and disarray of Germany's supine neighbors. Had the French marched, Hitler said later, "we would have had to withdraw... with our tails between our legs." By 1936, Kershaw writes, events had substantiated Hitler's hubris. A "nemesis" (subtitle of the next volume) would in reality not emerge before 1941. Kershaw's massive work (made somewhat too massive by some repetition) is valuable for the rigor with which it portrays Hitler not as some supernatural evil force ejected into history from beyond but as a thoroughly natural figure?evil, surely, but historically evil. Photos.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Hitler (Book 1)
  • Hardcover: 912 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (January 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393046710
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393046717
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (105 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #329,302 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

101 of 113 people found the following review helpful By Barron Laycock HALL OF FAME on June 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This superb book draws the reader closer to understanding this historically enigmatic and often bizarre human being who so changed the world of the 20th century. Although there are a myriad of such books that have appeared in the half-century since Hitler's demise in the dust and rubble of Berlin, this particular effort, which draws from hundreds of secondary sources, many of which have never before been cited, paints an authentic and masterful portrait of Hitler as an individual. This is an absolutely singular historical work; and it will almost certainly displace other, older tomes as the standard text on the early life and rise of Adolph Hitler.
Although I must confess that I intensely dislike reading through the early years of most biographies as depicted in so many other treatments of famous individuals, I loved reading this particular book. Kershaw takes a quite different and novel approach, and it is one I enjoyed. Here, by carefully locating and fixing the individual in the context and welter of his times, it yields a much more enlightening approach toward painting a meaningful comprehensive picture of how a neglected and conflicted boy meaningfully became such a terribly flawed and troubled man. Thus, we see the boy grow and change in whatever fashion into a man, tracing the rise of this troubled malcontent from the anonymity of Viennese shelters to a fiery and meteoric rise into politics, culminating in his ascent to rule Germany. Kershaw memorably recreates the social, economic, and political circumstances that bent and twisted Hitler so fatefully for the history of the world.
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66 of 76 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Ian Kershaw's book is simply exceptional in every way. His grasp of the primary and secondary sources on Hitler and Germany is astonishing. Despite what might appear to be a weighty tome, with thousands of footnotes, Kershaw has organized his material and presented it in elegant prose that drives the Hitler story along at a brisk pace--and draws the reader along too.
Perhaps more impressive than Kershaw's research and writing, is his analysis. The reader will come away from this book with, at this point in time, the most cogent, insightful interpretation one can find of how Hitler came to power. Kershaw brilliantly lays out how Hitler's "belief" system was formed, where it fit into the Germany of Hitler's time, and how Hitler was able to match his talents as a propagandist and mesmerizing speaker to the "needs" of the German people. Kershaw does not accept simplistic explanations about Hitler's rise to power--there was nothing inevitable about it, it was not the "nature" of the German people that produced Hitler, etc. Instead, Kershaw presents a sober, balanced account that clearly lays out in detail the political, economic, and social situation in Germany, the times, and the man--and his luck--all of which led, as he notes in his final setence, Germany into the abyss.
This book does not attempt to sensationalize Hitler. Rather it is an extraordinary piece of scholarship, analysis, and writing--this is the one book about Hitler and Germany that should be read. I look forward with great anticipation to a second volume.
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51 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Chef Scott VINE VOICE on February 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Through Ian Kershaw's masterful use of all available sources, including primary and secondary source material he has put together a most intriguing study on one of the many men that shaped the 20th century. From a small Austrian village to the promulgation of the Nuremberg laws, this book takes the reader through Hitler's rise to power - one of epic proportions.
Kershaw's keen sense of understanding mixed with detailed research has brought forth a well documented book; one that's beautifully laid out and easy to use as a research tool. The chapters, "list of works cited" along with "notes" help the reader to go back into the annals of history to locate the material used in this work. This work outlines his beginnings and uses previously unpublished material to take you into the minds of those closest to him.
Hitler was a masterful speaker and used his talents to build up the citizens of Germany giving them what they desired - self worth, obligation and a sense of duty. Germany was crying out to be rescued from a post war depression; so he took the country by the throat and pulled it from the ashes to rise like a majestic phoenix.
Adolf Hitler - a little known corporal from World War I, who believed he survived a mustard gas attack by divine intervention, rose to power and unleashed the might of the German army unto the world.
This book is a remarkable achievement and my hat is off to Mr Kershaw for all his hard work. This is an excellent biography filled with insight!
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56 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Frank on April 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a solid but unspectacular study of Hitler--hardly the definitive account trumnpeted by its publisher and by some reviewers here. Many reviewers have commented on how many sources--including primary ones-that the author turns to. I had the opposite reaction. To be sure, there is a huge bibliography and many notes (more on these later)but I saw, as someone trained in history, a lot of padding here. Perhaps more surprising is how frequently Kershaw turns to a handful of works to guide him--and these are almost always secondary ones. For instance, on the question of the role of big business in Hitler's rise to power, Kershaw relies almost exclusively on Turner's Big Business. Maddeningly in the text, (Chapter 10, p. 392 in the paperback version) he writes that on 19 November, "the Reich President (Hindenburg) was handed a petition carrying 20 signatures from businessmen demanding the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor." Yet Kershaw fails to mention who these businessmen were and in the footnote he provides no further information about them, only that the document is printed elsewhere. This is not terribly helpful for the reader. Also, Kershaw relies a great deal on Goebbels notebook accounts of Hitler, sometimes almost exclusively, but Goebbels the supreme sycophant is hardly the most reliable observer.

Returning to the problem of footnotes in Kershaw's study, there is much, much information in the notes that should have been incorporated into the text. For instance, the whole account of the Reichstag fire (weak in the text) is fleshed out in more detail in the footnotes. Numerous other examples of this abound: Kershaw simply has a poor notion of what should be read in the text and what should be in the footnotes.
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