Only a society riven by fear and desperation would have incubated a figure as initially uncredentialed and unimpressive as Adolf Hitler. A school dropout and frequent vagrant, Hitler had no achievements to speak of until he served honorably in the German army during the Great War. He remained in the army after Germany’s defeat and discovered his gift as a public speaker when he was assigned to a propaganda unit set up to encourage nationalism and root out Marxist inclinations among the troops. Eventually, he moved into a leadership position in the German Workers’ Party, a virulently anti-Semitic assemblage that tapped into the social discontent ravaging the fractious and debt-ridden country.
By late 1923, Hitler and his adherents had gained enough critical mass to move against the political establishment, which it did in the infamous “beer hall putsch.” Hitler took command of the overflow crowd at a Munich beer hall and declared that both the Bavarian and national governments were being replaced by a provisional government. It was a heady effort, but the putsch failed. Hitler and his chief conspirators were soon arrested and lodged in Landsberg Prison. Hitler was tried for high treason by a sympathetic judge, convicted and given a five-year sentence.
Providing superb detail and background, 1924: The Year That Made Hitler focuses on the few months he actually served at Landsberg, during which he was treated royally rather than punitively. Freed from the daily demands of party politics, Hitler was able to put his thoughts on nationalism and strong-man governance into a book that would become the first volume of Mein Kampf—and the grand rationale for the murderous Third Reich.