Customer Reviews: Hitler: A Study in Tyranny
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on August 25, 2010
I first read this book the best part of fifty years ago.

It stands up remarkably well, even when read with a subsequent background of many books about World War II, several biographies of Hitler and other major war figures, plus smaller specialized studies.

This is not a full biography, Hitler's early years receiving fairly brief treatment. It is precisely what its subtitle says of it, a study in tyranny, and I don't believe another book offers quite the same intense exploration of the subject.

Allan Bullock writes as a genuine scholar, albeit an unusually articulate one. When Bullock is uncertain about the factors contributing to a certain event, he says so, along with giving readers a clear explanation of the alternatives. Bullock had studied the vast literature available in his time and little of substance escaped his analytical mind.

Hitler surely represents three extraordinary historical phenomena.

First, the outline of his rise is remarkable, almost unparalleled in history, rising from a tramp, would-be artist, a man with limited formal education, to become absolute leader of Europe's most important nation and then achieving a series of dazzling successes until megalomania struck, sending Europe into a ghastly spiral of horrors and destruction.

One of the few comparable rises I can think of is that of a man who shared none of Hitler's dark obsessions and hatreds: I refer to Lincoln, a man who rose from life in a dirt-floor cabin and a year and half of formal education to become a successful corporate lawyer, president of the United States, and leader of what remains America's bloodiest war.

Second, Hitler is, in a number of ways, the most important historical figure of the 20th century - not the greatest, not the most gifted, and certainly neither admirable nor heroic, but the most important as measured by his impact upon great events both in his own time and after.

Hitler's career contributed to the rise or success of some of the century's most able and heroic figures - Roosevelt, Churchill, and De Gaulle. And the gigantic destructive events Hitler unleashed profoundly affected the world to this day - the establishment of the Soviet empire, decades of Cold War, and the agonizing events following the creation of Israel.

Third, few people in all of history wielded such immense, unquestioned power over others as he did - Stalin, Napoleon, Henry VIII, Cromwell, Augustus, Genghis Khan, Attila, and a few others come to mind. Understanding the mind and methods of such a person is beyond question an important study of the human condition.

This is an essential book for students of history, statesmanship, World War II, politics, human character, and psychology. It is well enough written to hold the attention of those who are not scholars but interested in any of these subjects.

One of the most interesting qualities of Bullock's book is his avoidance of what has now become an almost de rigueur, politically correct minimizing of Hitler's skills and talents, very much a flaw in Ian Kershaw's biography, and preaching about his evil, something which is apparent just in telling the true history.

Bullock makes clear that in every relationship and project Hitler ever had, the need to be regarded as final authority was an intense, overwhelming psychological drive. He also clearly had developed something of a Messiah complex, something not unknown in our own day among politicians and religious leaders. His vision of Germany's expansion in the East was filled with ghastly concepts, yet the basic idea of a larger national landscape for Europe's most technically and perhaps culturally advanced nation, similar to the space claimed by the United States on its rise or by the British Empire, was rational if not ethical.

We know from well-regarded psychiatric studies that Hitler was not mentally ill, yet he did more damage than any mentally ill person I can think of. That fact alone makes understanding him immensely important and should serve as a continued warning concerning those who seek power in our societies. The all-too-common "Hitler the madman" is not helpful and shows no genuine learning from history.

True madmen have little chance of gaining serious power anywhere: they are eschewed by democracies where the least evidence of experience with mental problems is an absolute disqualifier and they are not supported in tyrannies because, as Bullock shows, a tyranny requires many insiders to make it work.

Indeed, one of the most important aspects of the Third Reich that Bullock so ably brings out was the endless creation of special fiefdoms to replace older fiefdoms and new offices for ambitious lieutenants to balance off against other ambitious lieutenants. It is for this reason that I believe all true tyrannies, at least in otherwise advanced states, are doomed not to last: they are actually far more unstable and inefficient than people generally realize.

If you are reading about the Third Reich, this is, quite simply, an indispensable book.

NOTE: I advise strongly reading the full text rather than this abridged edition.
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on October 4, 2001
In "Hitler: A Study in Tyranny," Alan Bullock stated that, as an author, he has no axe to grind. He adhered to that statement. Bullock offered a very balanced and plausible account of Hitler's life atempting to understand the dictator not as a demon but as a human being.
Readers interested in tantalizing controversy will be disappointed with this book. Bullock chose not to assert blame for such things as the Reichstag fire. Bullock dismissed the popular claim that Hitler changed his name from Schicklgruber (man, I got tired of my teachers reiterating that bit of misinformation) and the myth that Hitler resorted to astrology in decision-making. As for Geli Raubel, Bullock finds her best to be left as "a mystery." Bullock took a conservative stance in his analysis focusing only on the known fact's about Hitler's life.
Bullock offers a thorough study of Hitler's days in Vienna before the First World War and the ways in which this experience formed his political views. Hitler is presented not as the originator of future Nazi principles but as a product of the anti-rational, anti-intellectual, and anti-Semetic ideas that had been circulating in Europe for the previous hundred years. His understanding of propaganda, oratory skills, and pratical exposure to street politics helped Hitler gain a following. Ultimately, it was Hitler's determination that prompted him to turn down enticing offers of political position by Franz von Papen and Bruening that were less than what he sought: the Chancellory. During the Second World War, Hitler's "warlord" image was transformed: "the human being disappears, absorbed into the historical figure of the Fuehrer." Bullock also pointed out that this devotion to power led eventually to Hitler's downfall.
Although this book may be a little burdensome for pleasure reading (I doubt I will read it again), it is a very readable biography that would be appropriate for the college student who needs to learn places, events, etc. The lack of an index in this edition does pose a problem when one is trying to find information, however. Another criticism I have is its title "A Study in Tyranny." I was expecting the work to go more into an analysis of Hitler's tyrannical personality and the susceptibility of the German people to it. Maybe I was expecting a little psychology. This book, however, is a straight foward biography with not a lot of interpretation. The works of Ian Kershaw may be consulted if a reader wants more depth.
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on March 16, 2006
This was the best profile of Hitler when I read it forty years ago (it's only rival was Shirer's `Rise and Fall of the Third Reich'). Bullock skillfully explores Hitler's public and personal world in three sections (Party Leader, Chancellor, and War-Lord). Some of his surprising habits (non-smoker, vegetarian, and teetotaler) stand in contrast with the criminal war he launched and the innocents he killed.

`A Study in Tyranny' has since been supplemented with accounts by Fest, Kershaw, and several others, but Bullock remains well worth reading for those serious in the subject.
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on June 7, 2009
The time this was written, early 60's, and the author together make it the most authentic writing I've seen. It's point of view is clear from the author's introduction, where he claims to only want to tell the story accurately as a way to stay true to his historian training. The result is a candid and intense reflection on the way a narrow genius can be used to bring down an entire society.
The circumstances of the time, where old royalty and private wealthy trusts wanted to use Hitler to regain their pre-WWI era control of Germany, made it easy for the gangsters that Hitler organized to double-cross them.
Read this and be warned that this could happen again, with the complicit help of groups and nations too naive to recognize raw ambition and moral depravation.
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on July 12, 2000
Contemporary readers may not be as impressed with this biography as they ought to be, as it has been so influential that its conclusions have been widely adopted by subsequent historians. As a result, this book should be read in conjunction with a more recent biography. However, keeping in mind how old the book is, it is still a classic, and Bullock's writing is a pleasure to read.
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VINE VOICEon April 6, 2012
No study of World War II is complete without an understanding of the man most responsible for its origin and its course, Adoph Hitler. "Hitler: A Study in Tyranny" by Alan Bullock is the best source I have found on this topic thus far. This book examines its subject from his inconspicuous Austrian birth to his world changing death in the bunker in Berlin. As indicated by the subtitle, "Hitler" is truly a study, not merely a biography. It tells the story of his life and examines his beliefs, hopes and fears as well as the environments that formed them.

Growing up in the polyglot Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hitler became a German nationalist who resented the upstart Czechs and other races who were demanding their place in the Hapsburg sun. We read of the indifferent student who lived the vagabond life of an unsuccessful artist in Vienna before becoming a Bavarian sergeant who was shot and gassed in World War I. It was out of the disillusionment with the post-war world and Germany's place in it that Hitler found a purpose and a cause to devote his life to. This Hitler the politician and author would attract collaborators who would be his liege men for life before drawing a major world power into his grasp.

On these pages the reader becomes acquainted with the Beer Hall Putsch, his involvement with political movements, his rise in those organizations and the milieu in which he worked his way to supreme power. Here we meet the magnificent politician who could outmaneuver his domestic rivals and outguess his generals in predicting the reactions of foreign leaders to his aggressive advances. In the Rhineland, Austria, the Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia Hitler knew that Britain and France would not march. In these bloodless victories he laid the groundwork for his ultimate goals outlined in his book, "Mein Kampf": all German people united in one Reich with Lebensraum, living space for all. Hitler saw the role of Eastern Europeans as that of workers for their German masters. Ultimately the confidence built up over years of conquest would be his undoing when his luck ran out in the snows of Russia and the forests of the Ardennes.

The Hitler who emerges is a man with a vision, a plan to achieve it and the energy and talent to almost bring it about. His dreams and his hatreds are depicted as true beliefs, not mere political opportunism. He is seen as a man who went into politics to do something, more than to be somebody.

The world in which Hitler lived is a different one from that which we know. He lived in a world in which a public speaker could openly speak of an ethnic group as a problem without veiling it in coded language and in which a demagogue could openly denigrate democracy rather than redefine it in his image.

The book is well written and skillfully utilizes a wide range of sources. One thing I particularly like about this work is that it permits the reader to sample selections from Mein Kampf without the need to plod through the whole book. Before reading this book I knew a lot about World War II, but now I also understand a lot more about its paramount villain. "Hitler" is indispensible to any serious study of World War II.
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on April 12, 2013
Alan Bullock wrote a very good and easy read about one of the worst people in history. I would recommend anyone interested in Hitler and the nazi's to read this along with William Shirer's " The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich " both great reading with lots of info.
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on December 11, 1998
I studied this book in high school; this is a history book.
This is by no means a complete depiction of Hitler's life and generally focuses on historical events rather than Hitler the person.
If you don't know much about Hitler, I would recommend this book to you. You will learn a lot.
Unfortunately, there is not much information about the Holocaust.
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on August 22, 2012
Sir Alan Bullock (1914-2004) was one of the most distinguished British historians of the twentieth century. His groundbreak biography of Hilter was first published in the early 1950s. The edtion I am reviewing is an abridgement of the original biography to 500 pages. The book is old but still a sine qua non of biographies of Hitler biographies.
Hitler (1889-1945) was born on the border of Germany and Austria. His father was cruel and distant. Adolf was the third child born to Alois Hitler and Klara his much younger third wife. Hitler was an indifferent student. He failed to win entrance to Art School in Vienna. The future Reich Chancellor was often lazy and had a difficult personality. Hitler moved to Munich where he joined the German Army in World War I. The future Fuehrer won the Iron Cross as a dispatch runner. Hitler was deeply Anti-Semitic and hated Communism. Bullock recounts a long and complex history of how Hitler formed the Nazi Party and gained complete control as dictator of Germany in January, 1933. The Nazis launched a regime of terror the world had not before witnesses. Hitler and his paladins were among he worst criminals of mass murder in the long bloody history of humanity.
1. This biography is very good in discussing Hitler's expansionistic policy in which he engulfed neighboring nations such as Poland, France, Czechoslovaki through military warfare. Hitler's 1941 invasion of the USSR began his downfall. Hitler committed suicide in his bunker under Berlin's Chancellory in April, 1945. Hitler had married Eva Braun, his mistress of many years, a day before their dual deaths.
Hitler was a cruel and evil man who began the worst war in history. The Nazis government murdered millions of Jews in extermination camps and deprived other millions of their lives. The twelve year reign of the Nazis was one of the worst periods of European history.
Much has been learned about Hitler and the Nazis since Bullock wrote this biography. Modern biographies by Ian Kershaw, John Toland ad others have expanded our knowledge of the incredible cruelness of Hitler and his odious regime. Nevetheless, Bullock's work holds up well and is worthy of being read.
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on July 4, 2014
This may be a five star book for a keen history buff. For me I find it very interesting as it gives us a clearer picture of how Hitler started out from the very beginning. His determination and conviction was certainly admirable. It was incredible that he succeeded at all. I'm only approx. 100 pages into the book and I find it compelling in many ways. The historical detail makes this a little heavy going for me. I'm reading this book as it was recommended as one of the most thorough on the subject of Hitler. It's fascinating to see how Hitler and the Nazi movement evolved against many odds.
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