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Explaining Hitler Paperback – June 9, 1999
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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 alternate Paperback edition.
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 alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
What these theorists are doing, Rosenbaum convincingly argues, is trying to come up with a single theory that says more about themselves than it does Hitler. A single theory advances their specialty and more importantly a theory is a form of consolation, a comfort because we deluded ourselves into believing that evil--even the kind of evil on the magnitude of Hitler--can be explained.
In fact, what I got from reading this book is that evil cannot be explained entirely. Hitler, the mountebank, became a cult figure who created an Evil Culture, complete with art, architecture, music, and fashion, and the Cult of his Personality was necessary for the Nazi evil. You couldn't replace him with some other anti-Semite to advance his vision. In other words, Hitler was Nazism.
What I concluded from this book is that Hitler was a fake, a clown who became intoxicated by his own cheap demagoguery and the German people's belief in it and in this intoxication he unleashed pure evil: a man who takes sadistic pleasure in torturing and killing others.
Rosenbaum warns us not to try to explain evil with one over simplistic theory to suffer the either/or fallacy of Hitler was either a true believer or a cunning manipulator because he was in fact both.
The book is admirable in many ways, not least in that it marshals the main positions within "Hitler psychohistory" in a very readable fashion. But it is a fine piece of journalism, rather than a work of scholarship, and unlikely to provoke as much thought -- or stir up as many hornets -- as (for example) Daniel Goldhagen's flawed but extraordinarily illuminating "Hitler's Willing Executioners."
You won't find any explanation for the origin of Hitler's evil here, unfortunately. In fact, this book is oddly bloodless and shadowless. But Goldbaum's fine intelligence is evident in every line.
interesting perspective and addition to a debate without resolution, but not lacking in relevance
Criminal politician or Political criminal?
My heart goes out to the Munich opposition papers who tried to report what they saw, and serve as
one of Rosenbaum's major sources on the progression that led to the transformation of the German state.
Also fascinating is the section on Claude Lanzmann, who despite the marvelous accomplishment of the movie "Shoah," proves to have clay feet; he's an intellectual bully.
A very rewarding, challenging and stimulating book on Hitler and the Holocaust.