The story of the man who set the mold for Adolf Hitler; both were delusional, megalomaniacal, irrational, and brilliant propagandists.
Brownell (So Close to Greatness: The Biography of William C. Bullitt, 1988) and Drace-Brownell introduce us to one of history’s most fearsome and least-known characters. Erich Ludendorff (1865-1937) helped lead the German army in World War I; victories were rousingly reported and losses rarely mentioned, even to the kaiser. Though the authors describe Ludendorff as a man without a shadow, impossible to fathom, a biographer’s nightmare, they successfully describe this beast of a man. He hated Jews and swore Germany would build a world empire. He had no friends and was rude to everyone, including the kaiser; he was effectively a dictator whom no one dared question. A short war required a speedy conquest of France before turning on Russia, foreshadowing World War II. The authors stress that the war was lost early on, stalled by the Belgians. In 1916, there was a chance for a compromise peace, but Ludendorff refused to accept anything but complete victory, convincing gullible Germans of their greatness while doubling causalities. The authors amply demonstrate the absurdity of some of his wild plots, none of which featured reasoned or workable strategies. Allowing Lenin to return to Russia changed world history, but it was useless in freeing up troops who were needed to enforce his draconian peace. He never really had a Plan B and never took responsibility for his failures. He invented the stab-in-the-back legend that Germany lost because of the Jews, and he swore that the “next war” would see them gassed just as his troops had been. Hitler and Ludendorff had similar philosophies, identical fanaticism, a strong belief in the German superman, and a desire to eliminate the Jews.
Despite a dearth of material, the authors deliver a chilling, well-researched biography that opens a whole new window on the world wars and the German psyche at the time.