The award-winning journalist, biographer and novelist offers a short, often-pugnacious biography of the Führer.
Wilson (Dante in Love, 2011, etc.)—who has written a novel about Hitler (Winnie and Wolf, 2008) and who in 2009 announced his return to the Christian faith he’d abandoned for atheism—finds in Hitler an avatar for a century that turned away from God and embraced Darwin. “He believed in a crude Darwinism,” writes the author, “as do nearly all scientists today, and as do almost all ‘sensible’ sociologists, political commentators and journalistic wiseacres.” Wilson concludes his otherwise sensible biography with the observation that Hitler was just like the rest of us—only more so. The author appears to attribute to atheists and “the liberal intelligentsia who control the West” most of the blame for World War II—and for the perils of today—though he never gets around to mentioning the wars and other horrors visited on people because of religion. His tendentiousness aside, he provides a useful, even entertaining, life of Hitler. He revisits the expected events—his rise, his incarceration, Mein Kampf, his vicious henchman, his anti-Semitism, his enormous prewar popularity (not just in Germany), his poor military judgment, his women, his fall and death—and adds some nasty details (he couldn’t control his farting; he was lazy and dressed oddly). He has few kind words for Churchill (crediting him with a “brutal mind”) and also takes some shots at Americans, noting that we named one climactic action the Battle of the Bulge because we didn’t bother to learn local place names. Wilson declares that Hitler’s greatest gift was his ability to dazzle and motivate crowds (and, of course, his mad ambition), and he traces our current fondness for political pageantry to the Nazis’ mass gatherings.
The author’s salty certainty both enlivens and diminishes his work.