An endlessly revealing look at the Nazi regime that touches on large issues and small details alike.


DOWNFALL: 1939-1945

German historian Ullrich completes his comprehensive biography of the man who is perhaps history’s most hated figure.

Adolf Hitler celebrated his 50th birthday on April 20, 1939, with a huge party. But even then, months before World War II began, writes the author, “Nemesis was knocking at his door.” Five birthdays followed until, hours after his 56th, he and the loyal though surprisingly impudent Eva Braun died by suicide. Ullrich has numerous concerns in this significant project, which, like the first installment, remains readable across its 800-plus pages. Far be it from finding excuses for his compatriots, he is unabashed in saying that “the Führer enjoyed the overwhelming support of the German populace, particularly after the Anschluss of Austria,” so much so that had he been assassinated, he would be remembered today as a brilliant leader. Indeed, Hitler himself said, “In the future there will never be a man who holds more authority than I do….But I can be killed at any time by a criminal or an idiot.” Another of the author’s goals is to supply the Holocaust with a precise chronology; he notes that Nazi leaders had made provisional plans to export Europe’s Jewish population to French-ruled Madagascar, which would become a German prison colony. This was a small mercy, however, since the Nazis figured that the Jews would quickly die in the tropical climate. Though “Hitler rarely missed an opportunity to scapegoat ‘the Jews’ as those pulling the strings behind the conflict,” the author argues that after the euthanasia of handicapped citizens as a kind of proof of conflict, the mass destruction of the Jews in areas of German control began piecemeal, with SS and police executions behind the front lines that only eventually became regularized in the concentration camps. Ordinary Germans knew about the killings, Ullrich maintains, but looked the other way. So did the Allied leaders for too long, he adds, faulting them for not stopping the mercurial Hitler while they had the chance.

An endlessly revealing look at the Nazi regime that touches on large issues and small details alike.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-101-87400-4

Page Count: 848

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.


Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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