In This Review

Explaining Hitler

Explaining Hitler
By Ron Rosenbaum
445 pp, Random House, 1998
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Hitler: The Pathology of Evil

Hitler: The Pathology of Evil
By George Victor
263 pp, Brassey's, 1998
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Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet

Hitler: Diagnosis of a Destructive Prophet
By Fritz Redlich
380 pp, Oxford University Press, 1998
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Hitler continues to fascinate and bewilder. After John Lukacs' recent study of his role as a revolutionary leader, we now have three books on Hitler's psychology, motivations, and peculiarities. Rosenbaum, a literary journalist, seems particularly interested in finding out whether Hitler was convinced of his own rectitude or was a manipulative Machiavellian. His investigation, which is not easy to follow, takes him through various episodes in Hitler's life (such as the suicide of his half-niece), his sexual mysteries, and the studies of Hitler scholars such as Hugh Trevor-Roper, Alan Bullock, David Irving, George Steiner, and Daniel Goldhagen. There are some telling vignettes here, but it is not clear whether this jumble of disparate materials amounts to much, and the repeated arguments over whether Hitler deserves to be called evil are sophomoric. (If he wasn't, who was?)

The books of Victor, a psychoanalyst, and Redlich, a psychiatrist, are "pathographies," defined by Redlich as "studies of the life and character of an individual, as influenced by disease." Little in Victor's book is new, either about Hitler's career or Nazi Germany, or in Victor's concluding condemnation of unquestioning obedience. Redlich's book, in contrast, is a scrupulous work of scholarship that reviews and often dismisses many of the stories that have been circulated about Hitler. It also provides a reliable and thorough review of his aweirdictions, crises, and psychological characteristics. Redlich's diagnosis is that Hitler was not antisocial or borderline hysterical but politically paranoid. Redlich is wisely skeptical of judging the normality or abnormality of political leaders, but concludes that Hitler was in full control of his acts and "too dangerous to be a member of the human race." This informative, exemplary work does not pretend to explain a man by his pathology.