In This Review

Hitler: Downfall, 1939–1945
Hitler: Downfall, 1939–1945
By Volker Ullrich. Translated by Jefferson Chase
Knopf, 2020, 848 pp

Few figures have been more thoroughly debated and dissected than Adolf Hitler. Today, one can only hope to retell his tale in clear prose, striking a proper balance between argument and narrative while citing the most vivid evidence. Ullrich, a German journalist, does this as well as any. In his account, Hitler was above all a high-stakes gambler convinced that those with the strongest political will were destined to prevail—or to die trying. This conviction was at once a strength and an inherent flaw. No matter how much Hitler won, he continued to take greater risks in a quest for world domination. It is easy to mistake such obsessive evil for insanity. And it is true that Hitler, like many politicians, was at times overconfident, holding dubious views about the world around him and firing those who told him differently. But he was also a tactical genius who trusted his own gut instincts. He knew exactly what he was risking and why—and came dangerously close to succeeding. In the end, he was willing to die for his beliefs—staging his own demise in the manner he thought most likely to serve as a heroic inspiration to future generations. Fortunately, that final effort failed utterly.