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Publisher's Summary

Hailed as the most compelling biography of the German dictator yet written, Ian Kershaw's Hitler brings us closer than ever before to the heart of its subject's immense darkness.

From his illegitimate birth in a small Austrian village to his fiery death in a bunker under the Reich chancellery in Berlin, Adolf Hitler left a murky trail, strewn with contradictory tales and overgrown with self-created myths. One truth prevails: the sheer scale of the evils that he unleashed on the world has made him a demonic figure without equal in this century. Ian Kershaw's Hitler brings us closer than ever before to the character of the bizarre misfit in his thirty-year ascent from a Viennese shelter for the indigent to uncontested rule over the German nation that had tried and rejected democracy in the crippling aftermath of World War I.

With extraordinary vividness, Kershaw recreates the settings that made Hitler's rise possible: the virulent anti-Semitism of prewar Vienna, the crucible of a war with immense casualties, the toxic nationalism that gripped Bavaria in the 1920s, the undermining of the Weimar Republic by extremists of the Right and the Left, the hysteria that accompanied Hitler's seizure of power in 1933 and then mounted in brutal attacks by his storm troopers on Jews and others condemned as enemies of the Aryan race.

In an account drawing on many previously untapped sources, Hitler metamorphoses from an obscure fantasist, a "drummer" sounding an insistent beat of hatred in Munich beer halls, to the instigator of an infamous failed putsch and, ultimately, to the leadership of a ragtag alliance of right wing parties fused into a movement that enthralled the German people.

This volume, the first of two, ends with the promulgation of the infamous Nuremberg laws that pushed German Jews to the outer fringes of society, and with the march of the German army into the Rhineland, Hitler's initial move toward the abyss of war.

©1998 Ian Kershaw (P)2013 Audible, Inc.

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The heart of evil

Before reviewing this book it seems appropriate to mention that the author, Ian Kershaw, describes himself as a historical structuralist. He thus rejects the Great Man theory in which it is argued that history is created and shaped by the great personalities of history and instead believes that the structure of the society creates the environment which molds and creates the “great men”. Thus, in this argument, Hitler did not create the Third Reich and the associated Nazi tyranny so much as the structure of the German society at the time gave Hitler, as an opportunist, the chance to become dictator. But, if societal forces, rather than individuals, are responsible for great events there seems to be less need for biographies of those individuals and Mr Kershaw states as much at the start of the book. Thus this becomes a very different kind of biography, concerned with societal background as much as with Hitler and, as Mr Kershaw states, the blame for the human tragedy that was the Second World War comes to rest not on Hitler alone but has to be shared by the general intolerant and hateful society that existed in Germany during this period.

None of this means that the life and character of Hitler is ignored. I have read a great many books on the Second World War and the times leading up to The Third Reich and none of them have provided me with the wealth of information contained in this book. Here you will find details about Hitlers time in Landsberg Prison, the negotiation process that resulted in Hitler becoming Chancellor, the arguments involved in defining the German Racial Laws and much else, none of which I have seen in other books.

The book also does a wonderful job of describing Hitler’s early life, his years as a purposeless vagrant in Vienna, his change during his time in the German Army during World War I and how he was shaped and largely created by the years after the end of that war. The creation of the Nazi Party, the years during which it struggled, gained a niche in the German political scene and grew, the other people involved in the party development and their relationships with each other, are described in considerable detail.

While there is a thicket of information about people who do not normally get written into books like this (philosophers, writers, economists and so on), the book never loses the center of it’s attention. Hitler is always there, often being forced by circumstances to take actions, and the descriptions of societal forces never overshadow the subject of the book. It is hard to see how any other biography could be more interesting, more instructive or more compelling. This is a long book and only covers the period up to the occupation of the Rhineland in 1936. Still I found that it moved very quickly and frequently I had a hard time putting the book down. The narration is first class and a good match for the writing and the book is long enough to include information describing details normally left out of historic overviews. Rather than being a negative, the amount of detail clarified a lot of events and made me more interested in buying the second volume.

There is one negative. Sections of the book include considerable psychoanalysis of Hitler and his actions and sometimes they seem to degenerate into “psycho-babble”. With no live person to put on the psychoanalysis’s couch this seems like a futile and silly endeavor. It seems, at times, more than a bit annoying but the book is so complete and so well written and narrated that it seems worthy of at least 5 stars. I highly recommended for those with an interest in this period in history.

26 of 26 people found this review helpful

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  • mick
  • virginia
  • 11-09-14

Essential reading for students of history

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes I would recommend this audiobook. We must understand how this complete failure of an individual was able to become the leader of a highly sophisticated and cultured nation, and lead into both moral and military destruction.<br/>

What did you like best about this story?

The part of the story which I was least unaware of, was the way in which political elites in Weimar Germany completely misread both Hitler and the Nazi party, and thought they could co-opt them.

Have you listened to any of Graeme Malcolm’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Have not listened to any of the narrator's other performances.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

This is a period of history which is extremely sobering and to hear the things Hitler espoused and then implemented is upsetting. The sheer scale of suffering inflicted as a result of this one individual is difficult to comprehend.

Any additional comments?

As unpleasant as it may be, we must study and try to understand as best we can how this man and his regime came into being. Also it should give a person pause before throwing around the word Nazi when engaged in arguments. By reading this book you realize just how monstrous Hitler and the Nazi's were.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Better than Main Kampf!

What did you like best about Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris? What did you like least?

With the rise of popular nazi-like movements around the world, the itch to re-examine hitler and draw unhealthy parallels is taking over the media like a storm. And yet, such examination might actually be in order, if only one had a solid source of material instead of wikipedia and pop history. Behold: the book that goes into painstaking details examining Hitler's rise to power. And i'm talking painstaking, which i can't really fault the book, but at the same time this is long and occasionally mind-numbingly boring, especially because the author keeps reiterating that it wasn't just hitler, but the circumstances that caused, blah, blah, blah.

What else would you have wanted to know about Ian Kershaw’s life?

nothing

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A chilling portrait.

I had read the second volume of this biography of Hitler when it was first published, but never got around to reading this first part. It was worth the wait. I was unable to stop listening to it for long. Ian Kershaw shows how Hitler's youthful sloth, vanity, and self-importance blossomed after WW I in the anger and fear omnipresent in Germany. Evolving from a small time agitator ("the drummer") to a charismatic leader in the political maelstrom of the Weimar Republic, Hitler found himself embodying the hatred and violence many Germans from every class wished to unleash against their fellow citizens and the world. In "working towards the Fuhrer", as reported by Kershaw, local leaders were given the freedom to commit the many crimes against humanity which have made the Third Reich the exemplar of evil in the world. Kershaw shows how Hitler through his megalomania and psychological acuity was able to use hatred of foreigners and religious minorities to mobilize the economic anxieties of unemployed and impoverished citizens into a program of military and diplomatic confrontation with the outside world. To paraphrase the author's final sentence, Germany in its hubris was about to be led to the abyss. The reader is left to draw any current parallels by himself.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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facinating!

he navigated from a broken home, living in the street with no ambition, military evasion, 3-years in prison to chancellor with 98.1% votes with an evil platform! How can that happen!?

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Interesting

I found this book interesting. The whole WWII/Hitler history is something that I grew up studying in school and hearing about from family who fought in it.

This book provided a thorough analysis of the rise of Hitler. The idea that it was ALL Hitler's design and fault, but that there were dozens of "movements" or "philosophies" that were already building foundations, for what became Nazi Germany, long before Hitler was known was an interesting thought. For me it re-enforced the idea that Germans were responsible for not just letting Hitler happen but they actually had parallel ideas and encouraged Hitler.

One was... Eugenics wasn't a Hitler-only concept forced on the German people... there had been discussions in political and medical arenas for years prior to the first Nazi political vote.

Also, listen for similarities to modern world politics. There are glaring similarities to a current leader who is a known megalomaniac.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Learn History Easily

When I was in school they taught history through the eyes of the school system and those in charge. This book was very informative well read by the reader and it has anew slant on the history that I learned at school. I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in History. AUDIBLE 20 REVIEW SWEEPSTAKES ENTRY

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The past holds many insights to the human cycle

This was by far the longest Audible book for me. A month and half of commuter drives.

The first two thirds of the book lays groundwork for understanding the development of Hitler's psyche, which is frankly unsettling in how unremarkable he was.

I can understand the many shared comparisons to the current US political climate, but note very different geopolitical issues. Not to mention it's impossible to completely 'control the message' unless you live in North Korea.

This book is for the seeker of a deeper analysis behind the forces (and luck) that brought Hitler to power. It's a tale of shameless pandering to the fear of the base population during a time of desperation...which pretty much sums up most authoritarian regimes' rise to power.

One take away: if you're going to sail to power on the wings of hate, have some solid legislative plans in place. Otherwise, the most FANATICAL haters among your team will come up with the most outrageous policies that will lead your country and people to ruin.

Oh, and don't live large when the people you 'serve' are desperate. I suppose that's why Communism just wouldn't die.

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Complexity made comprehendible

Graeme Malcolm is an extraordinarily fine narrator. He could read a cereal box and I'd be enthralled.

Ian Kershaw takes a remarkably complex subject, Adolf Hitler, anchors him in the contest of his time and place, and makes all the formidable currents and forces of history understandable and appreciable. This is particularly true right now in this time when democracy in the US is under such threat and comparisons are made between the rise of Hitler and the nationalism of the current president and his party. While it is convenient to see the parallels it is important to see the stark differences between Germany post WWI and America post-Obama.

What I have gleaned from the book is this: Had Stalin been born in Austria and Hitler born in Georgia, we would have never known of these men. True, they are extraordinary and terrible persons, but without the specific context into which they were sewn, they would not even be footnotes. This gives me hope that we may yet weather the awful storm that is buffeting our fragile democracy in 2017.

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Fills in the Blanks of Hitler's Rise to Power

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This is well read. It starts from Hitler's and his families earliest beginnings. It seems to be complete and authoritative on the subject.

Who was your favorite character and why?

It's hard to have a favorite character in the History of Nazism.

What about Graeme Malcolm’s performance did you like?

His inclusion of well accented German words to describe various actions and organizations

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

The rise to power of a Bohemian WWI army veteran.

Any additional comments?

I've read extensively WWII history. I've never read this much detail of the transition of power between 1932 and 1936. Much of the the rise of this monster was to luck and chance. I'm looking forward to the sequel.