Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris (Anglais) Broché – 28 juin 2012
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David Cannadine, Observer Books of the Year 'The Hitler biography for the 21st century ... cool, judicious, factually reliable and intelligently argued'
Richard Evans, Sunday Telegraph 'One of the major historical biographies of our times ... a riveting read'
Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times, Best Biographies of the Year 'His analysis of Hitler's extraordinary character has the fascination of a novel, but he places his struggle and rise in the context of meticulously researched history ... Deeply disturbing. Unforgettable'
A.N. Wilson, Daily Mail 'A sane, erudite, moral and intellectually honest biography of the 20th century's most destructive politician'
Ruth Scurr, The Times Ian Kershaw's other books include Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis, Making Friends with Hitler, Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World 1940-4 and The End: Hitler's Germany, 1944-45. Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis received the Wolfson History Prize and the Bruno Kreisky Prize in Austria for Political Book of the Year, and was joint winner of the inaugural British Academy Book Prize.
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Although I must confess that I intensely dislike reading through the early years of most biographies as depicted in so many other treatments of famous individuals, I loved reading this particular book. Kershaw takes a quite different and novel approach, and it is one I enjoyed. Here, by carefully locating and fixing the individual in the context and welter of his times, it yields a much more enlightening approach toward painting a meaningful comprehensive picture of how a neglected and conflicted boy meaningfully became such a terribly flawed and troubled man. Thus, we see the boy grow and change in whatever fashion into a man, tracing the rise of this troubled malcontent from the anonymity of Viennese shelters to a fiery and meteoric rise into politics, culminating in his ascent to rule Germany. Kershaw memorably recreates the social, economic, and political circumstances that bent and twisted Hitler so fatefully for the history of the world.
Hitler was, in Kershaw's estimation, a man most representative of his times, reflecting a widespread disaffection with democratic politics, steeped in the virulent anti-Semitism of his Viennese environment, twisted and experienced in the cruelties and absurdities of the First World War, thrust by circumstance and disposition into the sectarian, dyspeptic, and rough & tumble politics of the 1920s, and rising by finding himself the most unlikely of politicians with an unusual ability to orate and emote. It is also interesting to discover that Hitler had an unusually acute (though uneven) intellect, is rumored to have possesed a 'photographic memory', and was said to have an amazing ability to discuss and quote facts and figures and then subsequently casually weave them into a conversation that witnesses found spellbinding and convincing. He was also unquestionably quite charismatic and charming.
From the beginning Kershaw argues it is impossible to understand `why' Hitler without understanding this extremely toxic and strange combination of social, economic, and cultural factors that characterized Germany in the post-war era. Thus, by the time he begins his ineluctable rise to power, we much better understand both `how' and `why' such a seemingly unlikely cast of characters as the Nazis succeeded so wildly beyond what one would expect to be possible in a sane and sophisticated modern industrial state.
This is fascinating stuff, as is his treatment of the concomitant rise of the slugs, thugs, and under-life accompanying him into the corridors of power and influence. Here is the world's greatest single collection of otherwise underachieving bullies, fanatics, pseudo-intellectuals, and fellow travelers, who clashed into an uneasy coalescence that formed the nucleus of the single greatest force for collective evil seen in the modern world. One's mind reels at the scene at the book's conclusion, as the newly formed Nazi power structure begins applying the progressively strangulating neck-lock on Germany's Jews, religious leaders, and other `malcontents'. I await the publication of volume two of this effort with eager anticipation. Enjoy!
Kershaw's keen sense of understanding mixed with detailed research has brought forth a well documented book; one that's beautifully laid out and easy to use as a research tool. The chapters, "list of works cited" along with "notes" help the reader to go back into the annals of history to locate the material used in this work. This work outlines his beginnings and uses previously unpublished material to take you into the minds of those closest to him.
Hitler was a masterful speaker and used his talents to build up the citizens of Germany giving them what they desired - self worth, obligation and a sense of duty. Germany was crying out to be rescued from a post war depression; so he took the country by the throat and pulled it from the ashes to rise like a majestic phoenix.
Adolf Hitler - a little known corporal from World War I, who believed he survived a mustard gas attack by divine intervention, rose to power and unleashed the might of the German army unto the world.
This book is a remarkable achievement and my hat is off to Mr Kershaw for all his hard work. This is an excellent biography filled with insight!
Perhaps more impressive than Kershaw's research and writing, is his analysis. The reader will come away from this book with, at this point in time, the most cogent, insightful interpretation one can find of how Hitler came to power. Kershaw brilliantly lays out how Hitler's "belief" system was formed, where it fit into the Germany of Hitler's time, and how Hitler was able to match his talents as a propagandist and mesmerizing speaker to the "needs" of the German people. Kershaw does not accept simplistic explanations about Hitler's rise to power--there was nothing inevitable about it, it was not the "nature" of the German people that produced Hitler, etc. Instead, Kershaw presents a sober, balanced account that clearly lays out in detail the political, economic, and social situation in Germany, the times, and the man--and his luck--all of which led, as he notes in his final setence, Germany into the abyss.
This book does not attempt to sensationalize Hitler. Rather it is an extraordinary piece of scholarship, analysis, and writing--this is the one book about Hitler and Germany that should be read. I look forward with great anticipation to a second volume.
Returning to the problem of footnotes in Kershaw's study, there is much, much information in the notes that should have been incorporated into the text. For instance, the whole account of the Reichstag fire (weak in the text) is fleshed out in more detail in the footnotes. Numerous other examples of this abound: Kershaw simply has a poor notion of what should be read in the text and what should be in the footnotes. Footnotes should be to document the text not to supplant it.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in this biography--and it is a major one--is that Hitler himself gets lost many times in Kershaw's pages. I have little notion of Hitler the man from these numerous pages--certainly less so than that provided by Toland for instance, who is also a far superior writer. When he does talk about Hitler's personal life, he seems to almost recount it along the lines of Nerin E. Gun's Eva Braun, Hitler's Mistress while only footnoting that source, I think, once. To my mind, Gun provides an essential amount of information into Hitler's psyche that is largely missing in this work. I further believe that Kershaw overemphasizes Hitler's blandness and he underestimates his talents (his superb sense of timing, his ability to read his enemies). Although Hitler undoubtedly was the beneficiary of the economic chaos of his times and the aftermath of WWI, he surely brought more to the table than what Kershaw gives him credit for. All in all, I found this work largely predictable and given its newness, with very few new insights.
Indeed, the more one reads about Hitler - his humble roots in provincial Austria, his poor academic performance and general lack of higher education, his lack of discipline and poor work habits, his complete lack of organizational acumen, his prissy behavior and eccentric, aloof personality - the more inexplicable his emergence as a national demigod in one of the most advanced cultures in the world becomes.
Many attribute the success of the Nazis solely to the unique social and political circumstances of Weimar Germany: the humiliation of Versailles, the threat of Bolshevism from the East and internally, native and increasingly virulent anti-Semitism, and the economic hardship of reparation payments and then the affects of the Great Depression. Kershaw cites all of these as contributing factors to the Nazis electoral gains beginning in the early 1930s, but he argues that it was Hitler - and only Hitler - that could have made the Nazi's ultimate political triumph a reality. In the early 1920s there were nearly 100 small nationalist groups in Germany (known as the Volkisch movement) that preached roughly the same ultra-patriotic, socialist and anti-Semitic themes as the Nazis. And there were scores of Hitler-like leaders out speaking in beerhalls promoting the cause of German national redemption and the inherent evil of Marxism and Jewry. But there was only one Hitler. Only he could pack the largest theaters in Germany with wild-eyed supporters. Only he could unite the far Right in a concerted effort to topple the Weimar Republic. Only he could convert a diverse mix of rural schoolteachers, urban professionals and Protestant clergy to his vision of a new Germany in hour-long harangues in massive public addresses that looked and felt more like religious revivals than political speeches. Hitler benefited from the tumultuous times in which he lived and he certainly needed the patronage and support of others along the way, but Kershaw maintains that his unlikely journey to the apogee of power in Germany was no accident.
Two points stressed by Kershaw struck me as especially interesting and quite surprising. First, with the notable exceptions of an unusual gift for public speaking, an innate understanding of the power of propaganda and a powerful memory for facts and figures, Hitler was a man remarkably devoid of talent and, as Kershaw tells it, rather lazy and disinterested. Second, Kershaw also stresses how little Hitler and his Nazi party actually did proactively to secure their complete dominance over the German government, military and economy. Many of the most far-reaching changes after Hitler became Chancellor in January 1933 were undertaken on the initiative of others, while the main opposition groups just basically closed up shop.
In closing, the idea that a man with Hitler's background, limited natural abilities and radical viewpoints could rise so far, so fast is so improbable (not to mention horrifying) that it almost defies believability. And when Hitler boldly completed the re-militarization of the Rhineland in 1936 and held a plebiscite on his rule, he received 99% endorsement. He was probably the most genuinely popular leader in the world at the time. Incredible.