Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris

by Ian Kershaw

Published by W.W. Norton & Co.

845 pages, 1999


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Reading Hitler's Rise

Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley

 

A boy was born in a small Austrian village to Klara and Alois. He grew, and the misfit ascended from a Viennese shelter for the indigent to the uncontested ruler of Germany. Meet Adolf Hitler.

Ian Kershaw has written an important biography of -- for better or worse -- one of the most important men of the last century as we move into the next. Do we need another look at the most hated man in history? Ian Kershaw himself thought this. Hundreds of biographies have been written on Adolf Hitler and his impact. But as Kershaw's interest about the Third Reich coupled with his scholarly approach to the subject grew, a biography surfaced. Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris binds together many facets of a space in time that changed the whole of human history.

Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris discusses how a man could do what Hitler did. Not just how he could gain power, but how he was about to spread that power, unfold his wings and cast an unrelenting shadow over all of Europe and the world. It binds personal elements of his life along with impersonal elements. It ties together his private life with his social life. It connects military history with social commentary. It is a complete look at a complex man in a complex time.

Germany had tried democracy and rejected it in the aftermath of World War I. With vividness and a sometimes chillingly clear eye for subjectivity, Kershaw details Hitler's rise: the anti-Semitism that was rampant in prewar Vienna; the crucible of war; the fanatic nationalism that gripped Germany in the 1920s; the deterioration of the Weimar Republic; the hysteria when Hitler seized power; and the brutality against the Jews and other condemned enemies of the Aryan race.

As these issues and events sweep through war-ready Europe, we follow Adolf Hitler through his change from obscure fantasist to the leader of the Nazi party. It is an amazing look, firsthand, with previously untapped sources, of a man and a country.

This volume -- the first of two -- ends with Hitler marching his way towards the abyss of World War II. Fascinating and disturbing, balanced in judgment, and with a keen eye towards detail, Ian Kershaw, a true scholar of the Third Reich, Hitler, and the Nazis, has written a remarkable book. Indispensable to anyone who wants to understand Hitler. Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris will be a benchmark for other biographies to be judged by.

Ian Kershaw's Hitler: 1889-1936 Hubris takes an unblinking look at the past that will -- hopefully -- allow our future to be more clear. | April 1999

 

Jonathan Shipley is a graduate of Washington State University and the editor of the literary magazine Odin's Eye. Shipley works for The Seattle Times and anticipates the day when he'll write his own novel for others to review.