Ian Kershaw was a medievalist who, nearly 30 years ago, turned his interests to the history of the Third Reich. This is the second volume of his encyclopaedic biography of Hitler, and the best thing in it is his treatment of Hitler's effect on the German people. He intersperses his biography with evidence of German popular sentiment, fragmentary and yet telling.
Many Germans (perhaps understandably) have tried to separate the history of Hitler from the history of the German people during the Third Reich, one historian going so far as to declare that there were no National Socialists, there was only Hitler. This is nonsense, and Kershaw knows it very well. The great majority of the Germans followed Hitler until the very end.
Kershaw's Hitler is more telling about the Third Reich than about the man himself. The result is a one-dimensional portrait, and not an illuminating one. This is a pity, because we shall see more and more studies of Hitler (including, I fear, more and more cleverly composed and carefully disguised apologies). There is not one trace of defence or apology here, and Kershaw makes the much-needed and persuasive argument that even when no evidence of direct orders exists, there is no reason to think that his minions were committing their brutalities contrary to, or even without, Hitler's wishes. But Kershaw's portrait of Hitler is that of a single-minded fanatic with crazy ideas who was doomed to defeat. It was not as simple as that. Hitler was no fool, and his abilities as statesman and strategist derived from the same talents that had enabled him to become ruler of Germany. These talents were protean - for instance, his uncanny capacity to foretell what his enemies would not do.
Kershaw does not see how close Hitler came to winning the war, not only in the summer of 1940 but in 1941. His knowledge does not extend sufficiently to Hitler's adversaries, or to foreign policy. After November-December 1941 Hitler could no longer win the second world...
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