STARRED REVIEW
September 2016

Inside the Reich’s rise

By Volker Ullrich
Review by
When it comes to book titles, it’s hard to think of one more ominous than Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939. The first of a two-volume project by German historian and journalist Volker Ullrich, this is a sprawling and ambitious attempt to explain how a man from humble beginnings with few accomplishments well into adulthood could morph into a ruthless dictator whose name has become a universal insult.
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When it comes to book titles, it’s hard to think of one more ominous than Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939. The first of a two-volume project by German historian and journalist Volker Ullrich, this is a sprawling and ambitious attempt to explain how a man from humble beginnings with few accomplishments well into adulthood could morph into a ruthless dictator whose name has become a universal insult.

With the millions of words that have been written about Hitler, why another biography? In his introduction, Ullrich notes that more than 15 years have passed since the last important work on Hitler, with much research occurring in the meantime on him and surrounding figures. Moreover, Ullrich contends, a wealth of new material has appeared, including newly public notes and speeches. And finally, Ullrich sets out to challenge conventional wisdom that Hitler was a man of “limited intellectual horizons and severely restricted social skills” and shed more light on his private life, including his relationships with women and his social interactions.

Ullrich aggressively makes his case, noting that Hitler devoured books on a wide variety of topics during his struggling artist years in Vienna and Munich and that he led a varied social life, albeit one intertwined with his political activities. (Friends such as Winifred Wagner, daughter-in-law of the composer Richard Wagner, had the added bonus of advancing his political interests.) As for Hitler’s relationships with women, including mistress Eva Braun, Ullrich valiantly attempts to sort fact from myth (and downright gossip) but stops short of lurid speculation. 

At more than 1,000 pages, with a readable translation by Jefferson Chase, Hitler: Ascent is no quick read. That’s for the best, as this is a book to be studied with one eye toward the past and the other toward the future—and Volume 2.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Hitler

Hitler

By Volker Ullrich
Knopf
ISBN 9780385354387

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