I bought this book in part to help me understand how close to authoritarianism we (in the U.S.) are lurching under Trump. Yes I understand the effrontery some find in comparing anyone to Hitler. This is not denying or belittling the Holocaust, it is examining how a republic failed and the key role a single personality played. Such understanding is critical to preventing fascist takeover of a republic.
It is a long entry, as it’s a long book: 758 pages of content with a stunning 187 pages of notes. I only read some of the notes, mea culpa.
So, why undertake such a behemoth? I always wondered, when reading about Hitler in general history texts, what they meant by “he seized power”—how did he do that, exactly? Well, Ullrich tells us how: legally, by playing on the fears of an electorate beset by crisis after crisis, and promising stability and order. We also hear the now-familiar tale of the ‘conventional’ politicians who thought they could surround and ‘control’ Hitler. It reminds one of Reince Priebus, John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, Jon Bolton, Dan Coats, James Mattis, Jeff Sessions and others. Trump steamrolled them all, and in Ascent, we see how Hitler did the same to his ‘handlers.’
I admit, I bought this book in part to help me understand how close to authoritarianism we (in the U.S.) are lurching under Trump. I may write more about that aspect in another post. But this entry is about the book. It is a long entry, as it’s a long book: 758 pages of content with a stunning 187 pages of notes. I only read some of the notes, mea culpa.
So, why undertake such a behemoth? I always wondered, when reading about the rise of Hitler in general history texts, when they said “he seized power” — how did he do that, exactly? Well, Ullrich tells us how, with a very detailed forensic investigation, using personal diaries and other primary sources which unearth precisely both the motivations and means of the Nazis. And in doing so, he does an excellent job of unearthing the methods and frailties of a man who still remains an enigma. We know very little of Hitler’s personal thoughts, as he had papers about his early life confiscated (p.17) and all his personal papers were burned at his death. Very few examples of his personal writing remain, and his outward facing persona was just that — a persona. As for that, he put all of his outward-facing concepts into Mein Kampf. So while Hitler’s thoughts may remain obscured, the man’s actions are not. Ullrich applies a magnifying glass to Hitler from his very beginnings. It turns out to be a very consistent view. Hitler did not vacillate, at least not strategically.
I like history a lot – especially history which gets into the nitty-gritty of what people did and their motivations. That is often lost in histories, especially histories which are of large temporal scope, as this on (the entire 14th century). The tendency in many histories is to discuss events, as if they just happen, with insufficient setting as to understand why people pursued the amazing things they did.