In This Review

Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer
Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer
By Bettina Stangneth
Knopf, 2014, 608 pp

In 1961, the political philosopher Hannah Arendt visited Israel to report on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the main Nazi organizers of the Holocaust. In the resulting book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to convey her central thesis: unspeakable crimes are carried out not by ideological fanatics but by ordinary, law-abiding officials, ignorant of the bigger picture and merely following normal bureaucratic routines. Yet this new book convincingly shows that Eichmann was no banal bureaucrat. He was a manipulative and unrepentant Nazi who cunningly deceived Arendt and many others at his trial by assuming the guise of a timid official. Stangneth’s research reveals that during the 15 years Eichmann spent hiding out in Argentina after World War II, he met with fellow Nazi fugitives, toiled away on a self-aggrandizing autobiography, and professed “no regrets” about the Holocaust—except that it hadn’t been thorough enough. Ultimately, the book reminds readers that in politics, even a banal person’s beliefs can be truly evil—and that in scholarship, even the cleverest conceits ultimately give way to banal historical research.