Miriam Cosic reviews 'Hitler: A biography, volume I: Ascent, 1889–1939' by Volker Ullrich and translated by Jefferson Chase

There is a point of view that says we shouldn't humanise a tyrant such as Adolf Hitler since that reduces the symbolism, the power of his name as a synonym for pure evil, and can lead to excuses and to relativism. Another argument holds that we must understand the psychology and sociology of the individual's rise to power if we are to recognise, and prevent, such developments in the future. The former position is a quasi-religious juxtaposition of good and evil, often held, understandably, by historians of the Holocaust. The latter is the more disinterestedly scholarly and pragmatic approach to political history.

Despite the millions of words written about him since his death by suicide on 30 April 1945, and the ubiquity of imagery spread by everyone from historians to neo-Nazis to pop culture, few comprehensive biographies have been written about Hitler. Read Ian Kershaw's magisterial work (1991) and Joachim Fest's more psychological take (1974) for a thorough overview of the man and his times. Experts add Konrad Heiden and Alan Bullock. These authors' works offer not only multiple perspectives but points of view from the 1930s onwards. Given that Hitler died seventy-one years ago, is there any need to revisit his life?

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Published in October 2016, no. 385

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