The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler, By Laurence Rees
What made Germany love the Führer?
Sunday 14 October 2012
One of the most interesting recent developments in our understanding of Nazi Germany has been the recognition of Adolf Hitler as a charismatic "personality"; an apparently magnetic character instead of a malevolent, psychopathic void. Laurence Rees's book – and the forthcoming accompanying series for BBC2 – draw on this trend, to ask how such a fundamentally dysfunctional individual could have become a figure of adulation for so many millions of Germans.
It's a valid question, and Rees goes some way to providing an answer. He argues that Hitler's rise to power was attributable – at least in part – to an unholy fusion of his own peculiar nature and the urgent desire of the German people in the interwar years for a messiah figure to save them from their malaise. Germans, he suggests, desperately projected their desires on to Hitler, while his arrogant, inflexible nature appeared to confirm that he was, indeed, someone "on a mission".
The book is a useful vehicle for many of the first-hand accounts from eyewitnesses and participants which Rees has collected over his years as a television documentary film-maker. There are numerous interesting contributions from ordinary Germans; those transfixed by a Hitler speech, or unnerved by his piercing blue eyes or unblinking stare. Skilfully employing such testimony, the book flows along briskly, and provides some illuminating perspectives along the way.
Yet, at more than 400 pages, the book feels padded and overlong. And with other venerable Hitler volumes available, it is arguable that the subject would have been better treated in a shorter, more essayistic style. It is also curious that the book comes to rather an abrupt halt, covering the last two years of the war in a final, breathless chapter, despite this being the time when – as Ian Kershaw has convincingly shown – Hitler's charismatic leadership was so instrumental in keeping the Third Reich fighting to the bitter end.
Hitler's charismatic appeal is an aspect of the story of the Third Reich that is well worth examining. Sadly, however, Rees's book does not quite do the job. It is too long, too unfocused and too obviously a TV tie-in. There is certainly a book to be written on the subject, but sadly, this isn't it.
Arts & Ents blogs
Apple's Tim Cook: Business isn’t just about making profit
Thousands of young people forced to go without food after benefits wrongly stopped under 'draconian' new sanctions regime
Ukraine crisis: New navy chief 'defects' and surrenders Crimean HQ as Putin claims ultranationalists forced intervention
Britain's top vet sparks controversy with call for ban on slashing animals' throats in 'ritual' slaughters for halal and kosher meat products
Ukraine crisis: Russia dismisses '3am ultimatum' as 'total nonsense'
If you're horrified by a flame-roasted dog, you should be shocked at a hog roast
- 1 The future of sex: The first female condoms were derided, mistrusted and shunned - but will their modern counterparts catch on?
- 2 South African rhino finally put down after roaming Kruger park for days with horn hacked off and bullet in brain
- 3 Italian pensioner hires an escort who turns out to be his son's girlfriend
- 4 Orgasm machine to deliver climax at the push of a button
- 5 Liam Neeson turned down James Bond role to marry Natasha Richardson