A highly readable contribution to the literature of Nazism’s intellectual history, such as it is.



A tale of scholarly detection illuminating a little-explored corner of Third Reich history: the use of pseudoscience in the service of ideology.

Weedy and weak, a schoolyard snitch with a fanatical devotion to record-keeping, Heinrich Himmler seemed an unlikely choice to command the elite praetorian guard called the SS. Yet, writes Canadian scholar Pringle (The Mummy Congress, 2001), he was also fanatically devoted to Hitler. Moreover, he had a knack for shoring up fragments of Nazi ideology with fragments of half-learning that seemed self-evident to true believers. Thus, Himmler established a think tank that he called the Ahnenerbe (a “rather obscure German word . . . meaning ‘something inherited from the forefathers’ ”). In time, the institute would employ more than 130 historians, linguists, geographers, agronomists, folklorists and classicists with an eye to producing evidence that the so-called Aryan peoples were the font of civilization. Like Himmler, the Ahnenerbe faculty members had their own agendas, self-preservation high among them, but in the end, their body of learning was meant to be put to one collective end: to provide a kind of “Aryan education” for future generations of SS soldiers, who would use it to settle on the fertile steppes of Eurasia and there produce prodigious crops and a perfect race of latter-day Aryans. Ominously, the Ahnenerbe also provided scholarly justification, of a kind, for the elimination of the peoples who already happened to occupy that land. As Raiders of the Lost Ark had it, Ahnenerbe scholars mounted or planned to mount archaeological and scientific expeditions to the Arctic, Tibet, Africa and South America before the war confined them to German territories. Amazingly, most of those who survived the war “escaped virtually unscathed from denazification,” and the postwar Allied occupation government even branded one of the institute’s most virulent and vocal racists a “political victim of the Third Reich.”

A highly readable contribution to the literature of Nazism’s intellectual history, such as it is.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2006

ISBN: 0-7868-6886-4

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2006

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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