Thoroughly researched, massive biography of one of the chief powers behind Hitler’s throne.
It is perhaps literature’s loss, but certainly humankind’s, that Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) abandoned his attempts to make a living as a writer and instead attached himself to the firebrand-cum-spectacle Hitler. As Goebbels, in an early, mawkish piece, wrote, “All modern artists…are to a greater or lesser degree insane—like all of us who have active minds.” As is his custom, Longerich (Modern German History/Royal Holloway Univ. of London; Heinrich Himmler: A Life, 2012) draws on psychology to characterize Goebbels as a classic narcissist, though one of real ability and accomplishment. He may not have been a first-rate writer, but he had a sharp mind and a strong sense of resolve, all of which he put to use as the Nazi state’s chief propagandist. In the first third of the book, the author charts the development of that ideology and the growing connection between Hitler and Goebbels, a friendship that suffered from tensions that haunted the lieutenant. As he wrote in 1934, “Führer does not call at supper time. We have the feeling that somebody is influencing him against us. We are both very pained by it. Go to bed with a heavy heart.” Hitler must have had other things on his mind, and though often slighted, Goebbels proved a loyal assistant. Of particular interest is Longerich’s account, late in the book, of efforts among Hitler’s chief aides to forge separate peace treaties with the soon-to-be-victorious Allies, with Goebbels angling for a concord with the Soviets. Close though Goebbels was to Hitler, he was never able to present the proposal, and the Nazis continued to wage a ruinous two-front war. A schemer and masterful manipulator, in short, Goebbels was seldom able to sway the chief object of his attention.
Longerich’s book is overly long and even plodding, but it is essential: it paints a definitive portrait of a man whose name has become a byword for complicit evil, and deservedly so.