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Hitler: Beyond Evil and Tyranny
Russell H. S. Stolfi
Hardcover book. 512 pages.
Stock Number: 0967
This richly detailed work takes a boldly dissident look at the personality and historical role of Adolf Hitler. The author reinterprets the known facts about the German leader to construct a convincing, realistic portrait of the man. Unlike most profiles, which are relentlessly hostile and focus on recounting his deeds in detail, this fascinating work seeks to provide a nuanced understanding of Hitler’s character, outlook and motives.
With dust jacket, 16 photographs, source notes, and index.
The author, Russell H. S. Stolfi, was professor emeritus at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and a retired colonel in the US Marine Corps Reserve. He was also the author of several books.
Countless books, including several major biographies, have been devoted to the subject of Hitler. Yet, despite the mass of tantalizing detail, the man at the center of so much historical, psychological and political analysis remains elusive.
Hitler is often portrayed as a crude and unprincipled opportunist, devoid of talent except for oratory and propaganda. The familiar biographies of Hitler, Stolfi writes, “share antipathy for Hitler and an exagerrated fear of apologia. The great biographers take excessive liberties in denigrating his person, and, in doing so, they make it difficult to comprehend him.”
Even biographies that are packed with information about Hitler’s deeds fail to present a coherent, plausible picture of his character or personality. For one thing, these biographies make a fundamental error in failing to explain the vision and motivation that drove Hitler to accumulate great power.
“The penchant of [Hitler’s] biographers for gratuitous sarcasm, strained skepticism, and writing from preconceived heights of antipathy,” Stolfi writes, “has left the world with a dangerously inaccurate portrait of Hitler.” As Stolfi convincingly shows, the widely accepted portrayal is not merely inaccurate, it is absurd.
Throughout his youth and young adulthood, Stolfi points out, Hitler betrayed no sign whatsoever of anti-social, psychopathic or “evil” behavior. His record during the First World War was that of a solider of exceptional courage. Hitler was remarkably well read, knowledgeable and insightful. He had a profound appreciation and understanding of music, and was a well-informed art historian and a competent amateur architect.
Perhaps the most tendentious and misleading of the prominent biographers of the German leader is Ian Kershaw, who calls Hitler an “unperson,” a “nonentity,” a “mediocrity,” and a “failure.” But if these epithets are valid, Hitler’s career is utterly incomprehensible.
Only a man of exceptional ability and sensitivity and intelligence could have accomplished what Hitler achieved. Even before he took office as Chancellor in 1933, he had amply demonstrated extraordinary organizational talent. He had won the allegiance of millions, including men of exceptional intelligence, ability and discernment, in building by far the largest and most dynamic political party movement in Europe.
It is a major mistake to compare Hitler to the typical politician or statesman of the modern age. Instead, Stolfi emphasizes, he should be understood as a world-historical religious figure or prophet. Hitler was a personality who appears only rarely in history, comparable to Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Mohammed, and Genghis Khan.
Hitler was certainly no demagogue. As Stolfi notes, “A demagogue tells his audience what it wants to hear. A messiah tells his audience what he wants it to hear.”
Even readers who may not accept the author’s views will appreciate his perspective as stimulating and worthy of consideration.
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