Summary: an exceptional work of historical biography
With the instincts of a high-stakes gambler, and a remarkable gift for public speaking – but with absolutely no other discernible gifts or redeeming qualities – Hitler managed in the chaotic aftermath of the First World War to parlay his modest skills into the dictatorship of Germany, and then from that office to unleash the most cataclysmic conflict that Europe has yet seen.
Kershaw’s account of this career was widely praised when first published and rightly so. It remains a gripping, elegantly written portrait of the pathetic monster and a succinct account of much of the suffering he caused.
For me the piece de resistance of this remarkable book is, appropriately enough, the account of Operation Valkyrie, Staffenberg’s doomed attempt to overthrow the monster and grasp some flicker of redemption for Germany. The chapter is as gripping as the best thriller and a reminder that, in the midst of the horror, heroism was still possible.
Like so many of his minions, Hitler was a study in the banality of evil. But, as we have already seen in the 21st Century, sad, narcissistic little men with delusions of grandeur can still wreak terrible devastation.
Consequently this book deserves continued study, so that humanity never completely forgets that.