Book Review: The Best Book on Hitler. Period.

May 5, 2013


There have been dozens of books written about Adolf Hitler. Unfortunately, not all of them are readable. Don’t get us wrong – we admire the scholarly efforts of some of the best historians in the world and their efforts to give us a glimpse into the mind of one of the most fascinating characters of the twentieth century. But most of these either tend to get colored by prejudice or become a tad too dry to read after a while.

John Toland’s seminal biography of Hitler cannot be accused of either. Yes, Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Book is not a lightweight affair – it spans over a thousand pages. But it never drags. What works for Toland is his sheer narrative skill, which never allows the book to be reduced to a staid narration of chronological facts. Unlike some other biographers, he also refrains from letting too much analysis get in the way of his tale. This is Toland telling the story of Hitler and it is up to you to draw your conclusions – unnecessary adjectives are kept to a bare minimum.

And it is a fascinating story. Toland is a Pullitzer prize winning journalist know for both his nose for research and his writing skills. Both come to the fore in this massive book as he traces Hitler’s childhood, his rebellion against his father, his sweethearts, his first (failed) attempt to seize power, his relationships with his friends, his rise to become Der Fuhrer, and finally, how it all ended. Do not go sniffing for controversy here – what Toland tells you is backed up by documentation (the book has a really long bibliography about sources quoted in it) and is meant to stimulate discussion rather than debate.

There is no end of detail here – based on reports and interviews, Toland tries to work out why Hitler hated Jews, why his relationships with women were not the greatest, why he distrusted so many and yet was able to lead a nation into war. And it is all done as objectively as possible. There is no agenda here. Toland does not admire Hitler, but neither does he deny him his place in history. There are quotes and trivia galore and you will be surprised time and again at just how many facets Hitler had and how many have been ignored by other biographers. There are a number of pictures here too, and a few rare ones as well, but it is the text that stands out.

Yes, you will find the book’s size intimidating. Yes, you might think that it would perhaps be quicker to pick up one of the slimmer books on the man Germany adored as Der Fuhrer, even as he threw the nation into war and destruction. But no book – and we will go out on a limb and say this – will tell you as much about the man in as much detail and in such an easy, effortless manner as Toland’s work. So let us paraphrase a Mughal emperor and say: “If there is one book on Adolf Hitler that you must read, it is this, it is this, it is this…”

‘Nuff said.

Adolf Hitler: The Definitive Biography
By John Toland
Knopf Doubleday
1120 pages
Rs 1200

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