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While Hitler maintained that his life had been characterized by “struggle” from its very beginnings, Wilson shows that the reality could not have been more different. Hitler grew up in middle-class comfort and, as a young man, lacked ambitions of any sort besides a vaguely bohemian desire to become an artist. And while the Hitlerian mythos holds that he forged his skills as a leader during the First World War, Wilson explains the truth: Hitler spent most of the war as an office boy miles from the front lines, and only received his cherished Iron Cross because of his slavishness to the officers he served. The army gave him a sense of purpose and brotherhood, however, which continued to inspire Hitler once the war ended.
Hitler left the army with no skills, contacts, or money—and yet, within fourteen years, he would become chancellor of the German nation. Wilson describes the story of Hitler’s ascent as one of both opportunism and sheer political shrewdness. He possessed no real understanding of the workings of government but had a prodigious knack for public speaking, and found that a large number of Germans, despairing at their country’s recent defeat and terrified by the specter of international communism, were willing to listen to the right-wing fantasies that had taken root inside his head. Allying himself with the extremist German Workers’ Party (soon renamed the National Socialist Party), Hitler offered many Germans a seductive vision of how the country might raise itself back up and reclaim its rightful place at the center of world politics.
Wilson shows that, although Hitler’s bid for power stalled at first, he soon gained traction with a German public starved for hope. Using his skills as a manipulator, Hitler found himself first at the head of the Nazi Party, then at the helm of the German nation. Wilson explores the forces that allowed Hitler to become Chancellor of Germany, and later to march Germany into total war. He examines Hitler’s increasingly virulent anti-Semitism and his decision to implement the Final Solution to exterminate European Jews, and he considers Hitler’s tactical successes—and failures—in World War II. Wilson also reveals a great deal about how Hitler’s personal life affected his time as Germany’s leader, from the lasting pain caused by the death of his mother and the suicide of his young niece to his poor health and addiction to the drugs prescribed by his doctor. As Wilson demonstrates, Hitler the Führer was not so different from Hitler the bohemian: lazy, moody, and hypersensitive, he ruled more through intimidation and the mystifying force of his personality than through any managerial skill or informed decision-making. His story—and that of Germany—is ultimately a cautionary tale. In a modern era enamored with progress, rationality, and modernity, it is often the darkest and most chaotic elements of society that prove the most seductive.
Hitler’s unlikely rise to power and his uncanny ability to manipulate his fellow man resulted in the deaths of millions of Europeans and a horrific world war, yet despite his colossal role in world history, he remains mythologized and, as a result, misunderstood. In Hitler, A.N. Wilson limns this mysterious figure with great verve and acuity, showing that it was Hitler’s frightening normalcy—not some otherworldly evilness—that makes him so truly terrifying.
days after the attempted putsch, Hitler was arrested. If Hitler had been an inhabitant of the rational world, the world of John Locke or Abraham Lincoln, the ridiculous putsch of 1923 would have been seen as an abject and humiliating exposure of weakness. But he lived in strange times, and he had an altogether anti-rational take on events. Hitler made his trial a piece of drama. General Lossow was the man who did not survive the trial. He emerged as a Prince Hamlet, unable to decide whether he
the actions of the November criminals. So, although it is in many ways a boring book, My Struggle is also one of stupendous historical importance. Other men write their autobiography when they have passed through their great life-experiences. Hitler wrote his autobiography as a manifesto of what he wanted to do. The Struggle was one which he believed himself to have passed through. But in another sense, the clever title is an indication of what is to come. Over 500 visitors came to Landsberg
called a Brown – Black (Nazi – Catholic) coalition. Papen clearly had no idea that such an idea was out of the question. Hitler was a good hand at the political poker game. At the very beginning of his career he had managed to oust the pathetic founder-membership of Anton Drexler’s Nazi Party, and to say, in effect, that unless he had total control, he would not play. The same technique worked with the hardened politicians of Germany’s sane Right, and would later prove effective with the Prime
Yet one of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reasons for returning to Germany, where he intuitively knew that he would die a martyr’s death, was because, when living in New York where he could have stayed as an academic, he went with a friend to a restaurant and was not served because the friend was black. It is easy to treat history as a pantomime with heroes and villains, and to heap all our guilt about our own beliefs, or those of our grandparents, on to a few maniacs strutting about with swastikas on
among whom Hitler served considered him a strange bird. They noted his teetotalism, and his aloofness from their jokes and conversation. He would sit apart from them, reading history (perhaps in fact Karl May novels?), writing letters (to his mother-substitute, the Munich landlady Frau Popp) and sketching. They nicknamed him ‘the artist’ or ‘the painter’. They mocked his physical incompetence. He could not open cans of meat with a bayonet as they all could, and they ribbed him that if he worked