BIOGRAPHY

Hitler: Downfall: 1939-1945

Knopf. Sept. 2020. 848p. tr. from Germany by Jefferson Chase . ISBN 9781101874004. $40. BIOG
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Journalist Ullrich offers a magisterial but unoriginal sequel to Hitler: Ascent, 1889–1939. With the first volume, Ullrich depicted Adolf Hitler’s 50-year rise to power; here, he traces the dictator's apex and downfall during World War II. Elegantly translated by Chase (Inciting Laughter), this biography steers a course between the structuralist view of historian Ian Kershaw, who sought to explain Hitler through historical and social context, and the great-man school of history represented by Joachim Fest, who emphasized Hitler’s "singular personality." According to Ullrich, "only the reciprocal influence of individual and collective sensitivities and neuroses can explain Hitler’s otherwise baffling rise." Ullrich contends that Hitler radicalized his social inheritance of resentment, hawkishness, and the German political right’s fear of Jews and Bolsheviks. He enacted the German nation's social pathologies to their utmost. Thus, Hitler was "both a continuity in German history and a fundamental caesura." None of these insights are original, but they are lucidly formulated for a new generation of readers and scholars.
VERDICT A cogent retread of old ground, much of this densely detailed volume is about World War II and not Hitler personally; readers expecting a psychological deep dive should look elsewhere.

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