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Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi Hardcover – November 7, 2017
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"This comprehensive work should become the standard text on Hitler and the origins of the Nazi party." ―Library Journal
"[An] intensively researched account.... A satisfying, nuts-and-bolts account of the six-year span during which an obscure ex-soldier became a demagogue the German establishment should have taken more seriously."―HistoryNet
"Carefully tracking [Hitler's] life from 1918 to 1926, Weber documents the transformation that turned this rudderless opportunist into a fiery orator enjoying the support of millions who hailed him as a political genius, even a messiah.... An unflinching inquiry."―Booklist
"Compelling research and original insights bring a fuller understanding to the mind and motives of the demagogue."―Kirkus Reviews
"In his brilliant Becoming Hitler, Thomas Weber offers an original, well-documented, and enthralling account of the how and why of Hitler's rapid metamorphosis from zero to self-defined hero in the where of 1919 Munich-a city ripped apart by a short civil war and its vengeful aftermath. Weber's book makes us rethink everything we thought we knew about the emergence of Hitler as a political leader."
―Robert Jan van Pelt, University of Waterloo, Canada
"A splendid account of a vile subject."
―Nicholas Stargardt, author of The German War
"Thomas Weber showcases Hitler's terrifying originality as an extremist thinker: committed, from the beginning of his meteoric ascent, to the restoration of German greatness and to the destruction of the Jews. An absolutely compelling and original portrait of a wicked genius in all his grandeur and horror."
―Michael Ignatieff, President, Central European University, Budapest
"Thomas Weber is one of the foremost world authorities on Hitler. He refuted the mantra that there was nothing more to say about the German dictator and no new sources to be found with his path-breaking study of Hitler's First War."―Brendan Simms, author of Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1453 to the Present
"This is the most important book on Hitler and National Socialism since Ian Kershaw's monumental biography. It is amazing how much new information and documentation Thomas Weber has used to show precisely when, how, and why Hitler's world view was shaped, and precisely where the intellectual, emotional, and social origins of genocide and of the Holocaust lay."
―Harold James, professor of history, Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs, Princeton University
About the Author
Thomas Weber is a professor of history and international affairs at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. The award-winning author of several books, Weber divides his time between Aberdeen, Scotland, and Toronto, Ontario.
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Thomas Weber has done his research and produced an excellent biography of the young Hitler. Recommended.
Top international reviews
book Let’s you understand what has been missing regarding Hitlers radicalisation.
However, as that narrative proceeds it becomes increasingly ‘baggy’ and vague. Certain crucial facts are omitted which could give the reader a better understanding of Hitler’s rise as a politician-demagogue and the creation of the Nazi party as a viable political entity.
The involvement of the senior levels of the German Army in civilian politics during the Great War has been documented in some detail elsewhere, especially their interest and interventions in the field of industrial relations, the power of Trades Unions and the growth of communist and socialist ideas within the working class and latterly within the collapsing German Army. Weber neglects to mention how the OKH sought to counter Bolshevik influences in any way it could, through the establishment and promotion of small populist, Völkisch, nationalist parties such as the DAP, the DVST, DNVP and Streicher’s DSP, through the covert auspices of their political allies in the Germanenorden (of which Ludendorff was a member). He understates the extent of the military’s funding and support of the early party especially in light of Hitler’s own activities as a Vertrauensmann (a title role he blurs- between being an elected deputy of the revolutionary Soldiers Council in his barracks and being a paid secret informant for Abt.Ib/P). Hitler’s faux support for the Social Democrats as a moderating force within his Soldier’s Council aligned perfectly with the military’s political position at that time as a way to undermine revolutionary socialism and points towards Hitler being an obvious infiltrator doing the bidding of the Army- something glaringly obvious to me.
The relationship between the District Command 4 and the Germanenorden ‘front’, the Thule Society, is never clearer than when Hitler is later recruited as a propaganda speaker for Abt.Ib/P. His purpose then, (along with many Thule members) was to counteract the direct and indirect effect of Bolshevism on German soldiers about to be demobbed, including ex-POWs returning from the East- the Russian Revolution itself and the penetration and dissemination of Bolshevik propaganda on the Eastern Front, through leafleting, and the notorious newspaper ‘The Torch’ (published in German). These connections are not emphasised enough by Weber in my view. Nor are the links between the military high command, the extreme right and the Freikorps- which formed a veritable nexus of private and professional interests that collaborated in suppressing the threat of revolution through any means, including a tactical alliance with the SPD- which led to the decisive Ebert-Groening Pact, giving the Freikorps free reign (which is not mentioned at all or the ensuing ‘White Terror’ in Munich).
The role of Dietrich Eckart and Julius Lehmann also appear to have been downplayed or at the very least neglected. Eckart’s esoteric anti-semitism gets the barest of mentions and the leaflet ‘From Moses to Lenin’ - important due to its bearing on the development of Hitler’s jewish policy, is not mentioned at all. Eckart’s ‘Auf gut Deutsch’, widely distributed to counter Bolshevik leanings among working class soldiers is hardly mentioned in respect of Hitler’s relationship with the Army’s and Thule Society’s propaganda efforts or his own political development. Lehmann, while he is described as having little to do with Hitler, was in fact instrumental as an influential Right Wing fixer, facilitator of contacts and support for the nascent Nazi Party (as detailed in Ryback’s ‘Hitler’s Private Library’). It was Lehmann who supplied Hitler with the books that influenced him in Landsberg Fortress. This included Madison Grant’s infamous ‘Passing of the Great Race’ as well as H.K.Günther’s ‘Racial Science and the German People’, while Weber acknowledges the latter as being influential on Hitler, he completely ignores the former, which Hitler himself said was his ‘bible’. The focus on H.S. Chamberlain is important but I certainly don’t think he was as influential to Hitler as was Madison Grant’s more contemporary take on racial politics.
The section on Hitler’s perception and the political role of a ‘genius’ failed to include the fact that the Extreme Right in Germany had long expected the emergence of a mythical and messianic national führer-genius-saviour in the tradition of the ‘Sleeping Barbarossa’ or that Ludendorff and others such as Lehmann and Heinrich Class were actively seeking a demagogue who could connect with the working class and push it in the direction of bellicose hyper-nationalism in the face of a catastrophic military collapse. They also wanted their protege to lean heavily on anti-semitism to achieve their goals, using the Jews as a ‘lightning rod’ to deflect popular discontent. Hitler’s rapid, almost overnight, conversion to a virulent form of anti-semitism is simply not analysed enough in light of Weber’s later conclusions.
Weber ends his work rather hurriedly, (about a chapter or two short to my mind), as he begins to examine the genesis of Hitler’s ideology whilst imprisoned after the Munich putsch. The conclusions he draws in his epilogue also seem to be strangely at odds with the body of his text. He consistently points to Hitler being an absolute opportunist, one who fears becoming a ‘nobody’ once again, (with that fear being transferred by him onto the fate of the nation) which is correct, but then he uses the inception of his racial politics as proof of his early ideological fanaticism and the ultimate foundation of the Holocaust; almost as if he is dismissing his own conclusions regarding the use of anti-semitism as a cynical political instrument by all parties on the Far Right, where Hitler outstripped his competitors by virtue of the violence and force of his rhetoric (where Weber even gives tantalising glimpses of how Hitler contradicted that rhetoric in his private sphere). This simply doesn’t ‘gel’ as a convincing thesis to me.
To be clear, this isn’t a ‘bad’ history, I just found it somewhat disappointing in that it frustratingly goes only so far in weaving together the disparate influences on Hitler at the end of the war and in the early Twenties, particularly the role played by the German military and their allies on the pre-Hitler Far Right. Perhaps this was simply a missed opportunity. Nonetheless I found this an engaging read and certainly thought-provoking as you can see!
The book begins with Hitler’s release from military hospital in 1918, when he was 29. Unlike most of the soldiers returning from WWI, he made the decision to stay in the army. Interestingly, this meant that, in effect, he supported the new, socialist and revolutionary government; at least just after the war. It also shows that he probably had few options open to him – the author is clear that for most of those who decided to stay in the army, it was probably because they had nowhere else to go. However, before long, Hitler was picked as a representative for the men of his company, which was the earliest sign he was transforming into a leader in the making.
The Treaty of Versailles obviously had a huge impact on Hitler. By 1919 he was working as a propagandist for an intelligence department and then became involved with the German Workers Party (DAP). Despite reservations, Hitler’s inaugural speech was an instant success and he soon became a regular speaker.
It is interesting to read about Hitler’s very early forays into politics. This obviously covers the putsch, his time in Landsberg and writing Mein Kampf, but I knew less about the period just after the war. Overall, this book, and the earlier volume, give a lot of background into why Hitler developed as he did, how he became a public speaker (Wagner was a huge influence on his presentation), how those thought he could be controlled found themselves wrong, as he fought off party plots to emerge as a leader who would bring forth destruction on his country and the world.
This book is not about the narrative of Hitler's rise to power, his militarism, his persecution of the Jews, and so on - after all, how can we have more to say about the most studied man in history, you might argue? This is specifically about his character, his origins and his motivations - and his luck - that enabled him to rise to power by 1933. Think of it as an explanation of why Hitler became Hitler, rather than just another mere bit-player in History.
A fascinating read, erudite, well written and reserched but with an approachable style