Sunday, November 9, 2008

Hitler's Private Library The Books That Shaped His Life by Timothy W. Ryback

English: Book burning memorial on Bebelplatz at night in Berlin, Germany.

Photographed by Daniel Neugebauer (nick: Energiequant)

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Hitler's Private Library The Books That Shaped His Life by Timothy W. Ryback

Right now, I am reading Hitler's Private Library The Books That Shaped His Life by Timothy W. Ryback. It is very different than I expected. I am learning something about how the "war of ideas" or creation of an ideology works, specifically the nazi ideology. There are many things in this book which are not part of the standard history books so far.

The majority of Hitler's private papers were burned after he committed suicide in 1945 before the allies got to his bunker. This left a kind of hole in the history on what was going on inside the mans head. I think the author is trying to reconstruct the ideology of Hitler through the books he was reading and the marginalia or notes inside the books he had read. The Library of Congress houses The Hitler Library in the Rare Books and Manuscripts division.

The book traces many early influences on Hitler, his Catholic upbringing, his army experiences, his mentors who provided the underlying ideology which shaped Hitler. It takes the man out of a vacuum and shows the roots of his thinking. Books and ideological conflicts inside nazi Germany are gone over to give an argument of how Hitler thought.

We get a picture of an obsessive man who would read until two or three in the morning every single day, at least one book a day, then get up and recite portions of his readings to his secretary in the morning. Hitler had an incredibly extensive library. There are some influences and books which are not what you expect; Shakespeare, Goethe, Henry Ford, and Carl Von Clausewitz. Henry Ford, the industrialist, wrote a virulent anti-semitic tract, The International Jew.

This book is a little bit dry. I find it too objective and not scathing enough against Hitler's personality. It is almost like someone dissecting a frog to find out what is inside the frog. At times it can be creepy, but rarely outright condemning. It is a bit intellectually tiring.

It is definitely not the kind of book which I could bring on the train. There is a big picture of Hitler on the cover and the cover is very visible. It is quite provocative. It is the kind of book which you read in private at home.

Each chapter seems to be a patchwork of accounts and articles on what might have been with Hitler's library. At the end of the book, we learn that only 1200 of Hitler's books are extant in the Library of Congress in the United States.

There were some that were supposed to be stored in a church in Moscow, but they disappeared. Apparently, the allies looted the library and the majority of the books are spread between the homes of various World War II veterans as souvenirs.

This book is entirely based on accounts of what people perceived the library and Hitler's reading habits to be. There is an Appendix A which says Hitler had 16,300 books in his private library of which 7,000 were military books, a large portion were art books, and the rest were a mix of things related to nazi ideology and philosophy.

There are some consistent threads throughout the book. Hitler seemed to be obsessed with Frederick the Great and Prussia, as well as military details from all the armies of the world.

One of the most interesting sections in the book I found was the fight over ideology between the Catholics and the Nazis. Hitler was raised as a Catholic and was a choirboy. Apparently, a Catholic bishop, Alois Hudal wanted to fuse catholicism with nazism to change the ideology of nazism from one of anti-semitism based on pseudoscientific racism to one of anti-Judaism based on religious intolerance and remove many of the stranger ideas of the nazi party; sterilization of the disabled, and polygamy.

Hudal did not succeed, Alois Hudal's book was placed on the Index of Prohibited works for Catholics. Pope Pius the XI sent Hudal to an obscure monastery.

The story is very interesting to me because Spanish fascism created strong ties between church and state. Francisco Franco encouraged the fusion of religious intolerance with fascism.

This book is chronological in nature. It starts with his induction in the army in World War I and his reading The Architecture of Berlin. Then it moves to his mentorship under Dietrich Eckart and his first joining the nazi party. The book attempts to chronicle the most important works which Hitler read throughout his life. I have a hard time believing that everything is accurate about when he read various works. It seems a bit contrived at times.

There is almost nothing on the atrocities being committed by Hitler and which books convinced him to build the gas chambers. There are some hints that he was reading works that suggested the extermination of the Jews as early as 1918. Hitler claims Dietrich Eckart created the lie of a conspiracy between jewish people and bolsheviks. I find this to be very strange. It is a giant hole in the book. Maybe the author found it too dark to contemplate.

This book is deeply fascinating and deeply researched. It is an attempt to dig out of the historical background what Hitler read when where there are only vague hints. I think the book is not dark enough. It does not go deeply enough into the dark corners of Hitler's mind which would lead him to committ atrocities. It successfully shows Hitler's imbalanced military ambitions and drive to conquer. The book is darkly fascinating.

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