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THE HITLER OF HISTORY by John Lukacs

THE HITLER OF HISTORY

By John Lukacs

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-44649-4
Publisher: Knopf

 A unique study of Hitler through his many biographers. Historians grapple with Hitler (as with any other historical topic) through the prism of their own experiences, culture, and prejudices, making the goal of objectivity elusive, if not impossible. Lukacs (The End of the Twentieth Century, 1993, etc.) has the command of languages and scholarship necessary for the ambitious undertaking of studying the expression of such biases in the myriad biographies of Hitler that have proliferated over the last 50 years. Most valuable for the nonspecialist is the first chapter, where he discusses general historiographical problems, attempts to explain the extraordinary popular interest in the FĂ…hrer, and reviews how German historians, most of them unknown to an American audience, have treated the dictator (their views range from guarded apologies to rigid ideological or deterministic dissections). The following six chapters deal with such specific topics as whether Hitler was a reactionary or a revolutionary, the problem of racism and nationalism, and the tragedy of the Holocaust. Perhaps the most surprising point that emerges here is that many German historians treat Hitler in a highly nuanced manner, stressing his frequent reversals of policy, his uncertainty, the way in which other individuals could influence or manipulate him. Lukacs draws a rather pessimistic conclusion from this, suggesting that a downturn in Europe's fortunes might cause Hitler to be revived as an example of order and nationalism. Finally, Lukacs struggles with the problem of Hitler's place in history. Although scant attention is paid to the controversial ``historian's debate'' that erupted in the mid-1980s, when some German historians began to downplay the unique nature of the Holocaust, Lukacs is successful in offering a balanced portrayal- -not of Hitler--but of his biographers. A valuable contribution that will continue to remind us how central Hitler was to the history of the 20th century. (History Book Club selection)