A resourcefully imaginative examination of our desperate search for an explanation of ultimate evil. In the vast literature...

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EXPLAINING HITLER: The Search for the Origins of His Evil

A resourcefully imaginative examination of our desperate search for an explanation of ultimate evil. In the vast literature on Hitler and the Holocaust, one question recurs again and again: Why? If the ""how"" (the mechanics and bureaucracy) of the ""final solution"" has been detailed, then the vexatious ""why"" still haunts the world's collective conscience. Rosenbaum (Travels with Dr. Death. 1991; Manhattan Passions, 1987), a New York Observer cultural affairs columnist, brings a journalist's vigorous, querying temperament to a topic that all too often drowns in opaque pedantic moralizing. Rosenbaum has read extensively and thoughtfully; he also casts a wide intellectual net, writing chapters on the interpretive musings of H.R. Trevor-Roper, Alan Bullock, Yehuda Bauer, the philosopher Berel Lang, literary critic George Steiner, filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, and even the Hitler apologist and revisionist David Irving. (Conspicuously and curiously absent is Primo Levi, whose work The Drowned and the Saved is a classic in the field.) Potentially explosive subjects--for example, Hitler's reportedly ""abnormal"" sexuality--are handled with discerning intelligence. Rosenbaum employs a brilliant methodological stratagem by taking Albert Schweitzer's 1906 study, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, as a model. Schweitzer realized that the 19th-century school of German Protestant ""higher criticism,"" which prided itself on its ""scientific"" positivism in explaining Jesus, actually revealed more about scholars themselves than the historical figure they were studying. Similarly, Rosenbaum shows how the various attempts to ""explain"" Hitler are prisms that reflect our own fears and desires. This leads, of course, to the not insignificant matter of Rosenbaum's own fears and desires, ironically not fully addressed by the author. Yet his great contribution is that, unlike most Holocaust scholars, he refuses to offer a definitive explanation. Instead, he lays out with memorable clarity a series of tantalizing interpretations, preferring a ""poetry of doubt"" that allows us to grapple for ourselves with the question of evil. Profound and provocative.

Pub Date: July 10, 1998

ISBN: 006095339X

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Random

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1998