From Publishers Weekly
Books on Nazism, Hitler and the Third Reich always seem to find an eager audience, though it is the rare volume, such as Daniel Goldhagens Hitlers Willing Executioners, that actually manages to spark interest beyond that specialized circle. And so, though this volume is blessed by careful research, by an author who is an expert in his field and by a gripping, tightly focused narrative, it hardly seems destined to appeal to anyone beyond diehard enthusiasts. The book details Hitlers increasing mental and physical disintegration during the final days of WWII, when he was secreted underneath the battle-ravaged streets of Berlin with a last core of supporters. It ends with his suicide as Russian troops close in. Fest is the author of several previous books about Hitler and Nazism (The Face of the Third Reich; Speer; Hitler; etc.). His command of diaries, letters and other primary sources allows him to share such illuminating details as the following: "Hitlers...facial features had become puffy, bloated. The thick, dark pouches under his eyes became more and more noticeable...cake crumbs stuck to the corners of his mouth." Photos.
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With Ian Kershaw, Fest is the most authoritative and reputable of the numerous biographers of the Nazi dictator, and he here continues the reconstruction, initiated by British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper's The Last Days of Hitler (1946), of Hitler's suicide. Fest's may not be the last word, either, as he notes that historians have not yet accessed some Soviet interrogation records of Hitler's retinue. With such caveats, Fest narrates the sequence of the final Soviet offensive against Berlin, as reported to the bomb shelter where Hitler was holed up. Fest pauses in four chapters for interpretive reflection on the spectacle of apocalyptic destruction that was Berlin in April 1945. It had a demented theatricality, Fest argues, in which Hitler took some jubilation and even fulfillment. As his final act in history, willing the city's destruction was a characteristic if intensified outer spectacle of Hitler's inner pathologies. Fest connects his last ravings with the exaltation of hatred, conquest, and death of his preceding course. Well-rendered and judged, Fest's treatment will provoke thought about Nazidom's finale. Gilbert Taylor
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