The Books That Shaped His Life
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Ryback (The Last Survivor, 1999) investigates the reading habits of a man better known for burning books than collecting them.

Hitler owned some 16,000 volumes contained in private libraries at three separate residences, the author notes. Ryback examines the two principal surviving portions, the larger at the Library of Congress, the other at Brown University. Arranging the chapters chronologically, he takes us through Hitler’s reading interests from World War I until the night before his suicide, speculating that in those final hours he might have read from Carlyle’s biography of Frederick the Great, a favorite historical figure. Hitler liked to read biographies of powerful men and books about the military; he owned a copy of Theodore Roosevelt’s account of the Spanish-American War. He enjoyed thrillers and the Westerns of bestselling German author Karl May. Naturally, he favored titles that celebrated Aryans and their apparent superiority, including philosophical tracts; Fichte was a favorite. He had several collections of photographs, given to him, and fondly inscribed by filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. Ryback also provides a useful account of Hitler’s own literary ambitions. He discusses the composition and publication of Mein Kampf, noting its “vacuous intellectual content and its painfully flawed grammar,” and he assesses a damaged 324-page typescript that is all that remains of a manuscript dealing with Germany’s role in the world. The author tries to extract as much significance as he can from Hitler’s textual marks, but this is an uncertain and perhaps even pointless pursuit, since it’s not always clear who made the marks. Ryback notes more definitively the influences of writers Julius Friedrich Lehmann and Maximilian Riedel. An afterword properly credits Philipp Gassert and Daniel S. Mattern’s scholarly The Hitler Library (2001) as a “road map” for his own work.

Adds fresh color and texture to the evolving, increasingly detailed portrait of der Führer.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-4000-4204-3
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2008


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