In This Review

Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris
Hitler, 1889-1936: Hubris
By Ian Kershaw
W. W. Norton, 1999, 700 pp

The Hitler deluge continues. A British historian, Kershaw has produced the first huge volume of a two-volume biography of Hitler. In a brilliant introduction, he dismisses the issue of Hitler's "greatness" and explains that his focus is on Hitler's power -- how he acquired it, how he exercised it, and why political resistance was so tame. Kershaw neglects the "private" Hitler and investigates instead the political and social context of the Nazi era, arguing that Hitler's main beliefs, especially his anti-Semitism, were crystallized during his years as a vagrant in Vienna and revived during World War I. In his eyes, Hitler's ascension to power was not inevitable. Rather, it resulted from the miscalculations of other politicians, Germany's flimsy democratic base, and the strands of a political culture that was peculiarly German. Hitler's egomania, fed by his successes after 1933, made hubris inevitable by 1936. Soon thereafter "nemesis" took over -- the subject of Kershaw's forthcoming second volume. This is the kind of work that one is tempted to call definitive.