Following the current trend of focusing a work of history on a single year, a journalist and academic examines the year that Hitler spent in Landsberg Prison for his failed putsch of 1923.
Range (Murder in the Yoga Store, 2013, etc.)—a former correspondent for U.S. News & World Report and a visiting scholar who’s sojourned at several prestigious institutions, including Harvard and the University of North Carolina—takes some time escorting us through 1923, and even earlier, before arriving at 1924 nearly 125 pages in. He rehearses the life of Hitler, the German defeat in World War I, and the horrible postwar economy that was one of the factors enabling a fiery ex-corporal from Austria to rise in Germany’s extreme right-wing political world. Range seems simultaneously disgusted and dazzled by his subject. Hitler’s political and cultural views were, of course, repellant and murderous, but the man could deliver a stemwinder and could somehow attract to his cause all sorts of adherents, from the thugs who pounded on his enemies to the wealthy folks who kept him financially afloat. One society woman bought for him the typewriter that he used to pound out the first volume of Mein Kampf during his yearlong incarceration. (He wrote the second volume shortly after his release.) Range shows us Hitler’s despair after his failed putsch late in 1923 and his hunger strike and other behavior in Landsberg. It was, the author demonstrates, his trial that re-energized the future dictator and drew even more Germans to his cause. He had a steady stream of visitors, and one fellow prisoner, Rudolf Hess, became a key figure in the Third Reich. Range’s style is generally fluid and journalistic; his deep knowledge of the figures and events enables him to narrate clearly without being sucked into excessive explication.
A lucid description of a year that made all the horror possible, even inevitable.