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Inside Hitler's Bunker: The Last Days of the Third Reich Hardcover – April 1, 2004
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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top customer reviews
The book's brevity is apparently the reason why quite a few readers don't like it. That's somewhat understandable (and it may be true, as some reviewers complain, that the point of this book was to exploit Hitler mania and make a "quick buck"?). Nevertheless, it was an excellent read. This was not because it is a history of the Battle for Berlin (such as Antony Beevor's excellent book on that subject: The Fall of Berlin 1945). Likewise, it was not because this book is meant to be an exhaustive treatment or comprehensive recreation of the last ten days or so of Hitler's life. The fact is, there really are not that many new historical facts to be gleaned on this topic anymore and it would be presumptuous to tout a book as some "new definitive" history of the Führerbunker. Indeed, as Fest himself mentions, one of THE best books on this topic, if not THE best, remains Hugh Trevor-Roper's "The Last Days of Hitler," written way back in 1947 (which, incidentally, is also a very brief book). Having said that, Fest does offer some new material here, which did inspire the movie "Downfall", but less in the sense of major elements of story and more in the sense of brief, evocative vignettes (e.g., the grisly suicide of Ernst Grawitz, vice president of the German Red Cross, who detonated two hand grenades under the dinner table around which his wife and children had assembled).
What made the book interesting was precisely what some reviewers found irritating: Fest's apparent digressions from the immediate plot of the "downfall story" to ponder bigger issues looming in the background. These interpolations are the fascinating parts of this book. For example, Fest muses about this question: when Hitler put the pistol to his head in his final personal act, did he consider himself and his life a "failure"? At first glance, this seems an odd question to ask about a political leader who had raised his country from defeat, disgrace, and debilitation to become conqueror of Europe and now found himself, only a few years later, huddling 35 feet below the surface of an earth that had been transformed into a barren landscape of rubble and destruction (and not just by his enemies, but by his own orders as well). As Germany's most distinguished historian of Hitler and the Third Reich, Fest has some interesting things to say in answer to this ostensibly quirky question. Another example (and apparent digression) is one Fest first tackled (in English) in his landmark 1974 biography of Hitler: does the phenomenon of Hitler represent "consistency" in German history, or divergent catastrophe? This is relevant because, depending upon one's perspective on this issue, the cataclysm culminating in April 1945 was (or was not) an inevitable, perhaps even foreseeable event in German history. Again, Fest's lifetime spent studying the Third Reich, his German background, his age (he was 18 when the events in this book transpired), his professional connection with some of the protagonists (e.g., Albert Speer) all make his thoughts on this question, on German history, culture, and national character of singular interest. I do not agree with everything he says (for example, I think he seriously misses the point when he says of Germans at the time of Hitler's rise to power in 1933 that no one "could have imagined how far things would go"). Nevertheless, his answers are thoughtful, and therefore worth reading and thinking about.
True, at the end of this brief book, one might be left "wishing for more", but in a sense the book can thus be viewed as a précis of a particular position on the relationship of Hitler to Germans and Germany. In that sense, it's worth a read.
The claustrophobic life inside the Bunker...the cruel devastation of war...the mania of a brutal dictator. It's all hair, brutally forthright and shockingly objective which makes it all the more terrifying.
Today, in a new world of war, it is especially interesting and eerie to read a true tale such as this.