Books by Gitta Sereny

Released: Oct. 1, 2001

"A surprisingly novel addition to a crowded field of scholarship."
A witness to German cruelty makes the case that Germans are adequately confronting their past. Read full book review >
Released: April 13, 1999

An abused child who killed two toddlers is the subject of a lengthy profile that attempts to understand the root causes of such acts and pleads for a different approach to the treatment of youthful offenders. This study is Sereny's second book on Mary Bell, whose highly publicized trial she covered in 1968, and a continuation of her exploration of crime and conscience (Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth, 1995; etc.). Working closely with Mary for two years, Sereny explores her feelings about her life as a child, as an adolescent in detention, as an adult in prison, and now as a mother trying to live a normal life outside prison. Sereny recounts the investigation, trial, and Mary's incarceration, including Mary's present-day reflections on past events. After being convicted of manslaughter, Mary, a clearly disturbed 11-year-old, was sent to a reform school for boys, a relatively benign environment where the staff was well-meaning but untrained in psychotherapy. At age 16, however, she was transferred to a maximum security prison for women. Seven years later, she was released on parole, poorly socialized and ill equipped for life outside. Under Sereny's persistent questioning, Mary reluctantly talks about her disastrous childhood and her love-hate relationship with her mother, a prostitute who had sexually abused her, had twice tried to give her away, and had made several attempts to kill her. Sereny, who has faith in the innate goodness of human beings and the healing power of therapy, argues that before the killings Mary was reaching a breaking point that ought to have been recognized by those around her and that children who commit serious crimes should be regarded not as evil but as severely disturbed. This book may not have the sensational appearl here that it had in England, where it was a bestseller, but this study of her case raises important—and very relevant'social and moral questions about responsibility, rehabilitation, and redemption. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 1995

A monumental attempt to pierce the facade of lies, deceit, evasions, and half-truths erected by Hitler's favorite architect and minister of armaments and war production in the Third Reich. Sereny (The Invisible Children, 1985, etc.) here continues a project that began with Into That Darkness, her work on Franz Stangl, commandant of Treblinka, trying to explain the capacity of men to commit horrendous crimes. Speer, who died in 1981, evolves as a much more human and complex character than the stereotypical Nazi, although he is no less a grotesque and in some ways even more frightening. At the heart of the work are years of personal interviews with her subject, who was released from prison in 1966; the interviews are compelling not just in what they reveal about Speer, but in how Sereny responds to him. Behind ``those dark intelligent eyes,'' she felt, lay ``a real literary talent''; yet it was a first-rate mind that masked the absence of a soul. Speer claimed to have no knowledge of the mass exterminations taking place in Eastern Europe, insisting to the end that he found out about the camps only at his trial in Nuremburg. Yet here was a master of detail and a genius of organization; how could the immense effort to exterminate the Jews have possibly escaped his attention? Sereny, to her credit, does not impose her judgment until the end, where she argues that Speer was living a ``Great Lie''; morally blind to the evil of the Nazis, unable to comprehend or acknowledge his love of the FÅhrer (a love that was not without its erotic aspect), and fully aware of the murder of the Jews, Speer somehow managed to convince himself that he knew nothing. More than a biography or an attempt to prove guilt, this is a struggle to understand how evil seduced a modern Faust. (24 pages b&w photos) (First printing of 50,000; Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection; History Book Club main selection; author tour) Read full book review >