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the Complete Review
the complete review - history / books

Hitler's Private Library

Timothy W. Ryback

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To purchase Hitler's Private Library

Title: Hitler's Private Library
Author: Timothy W. Ryback
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2008
Length: 244 pages
Availability: Hitler's Private Library - US
Hitler's Private Library - UK
Hitler's Private Library - Canada
Dans la bibliothèque privée d'Hitler - France
Hitlers Bücher - Deutschland
  • The Books That Shaped His Life
  • With numerous photographs

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting approach, fairly well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist . 2/10/2008 .
Financial Times . 16/2/2009 Bertrand Benoit
The New Republic . 24/12/2008 Anthony Grafton
The NY Sun . 24/9/2008 Ian Kershaw
The NY Times Book Rev. . 4/1/2009 Jacob Heilbrun
The New Yorker . 1/12/2008 .
Sunday Times . 1/2/2009 Ian Thomson
The Telegraph . 6/2/2009 Simon Heffer
The Washington Post . 26/10/2008 Michael Dirda
Weekly Standard . 26/4/2010 Michael McDonald
Die Welt . 17/4/2010 Marion Lühe
Die Zeit . 18/3/2010 Volker Ullrich

  From the Reviews:
  • "The author neatly weaves together Hitlerís political career with his book-collecting habits, tracing the well-thumbed volumes that Hitler consulted during the writing of Mein Kampf. Mr Rybackís knowledge of German literature and the politics of the Nazi era makes him well placed to follow clues and draw inferences, both from the time and place of acquisition and from the marginalia that can be found in the books." - The Economist

  • "This is no substitute to such monuments as, say, Ian Kershawís two-tome biography. But it serves as a companion to more traditional studies -- and deepens our understanding of Hitlerís personality." - Bertrand Benoit, Financial Times

  • "Thanks to his imaginative research -- and his willingness to investigate a very creepy subject -- we come closer to one of the most elusive men ever to shape world history. (...) His effort is worthwhile: one finishes this short, packed book with a firmer take on the sort of intellectual -- or pseudo-intellectual -- who persuaded the best-educated nation in Europe to make war on civilization and try to exterminate the Jews. But deep insights remain elusive." - Anthony Grafton, The New Republic

  • "What distinguishes the slim, elegantly written, meticulously researched, fascinating volume by Timothy Ryback, Hitler's Private Library, is his careful analysis of a small, selected number of works that he associates with formative episodes in Hitler's life. By evaluating the passages that Hitler has underlined, or added marginalia to, Mr. Ryback seeks to extract and elucidate what about the books was important to the man, and moreover what "occupied Hitler in his more private hours, often at pivotal moments in his career." " - Ian Kershaw, The New York Sun

  • "Still, Ryback has provided a tantalizing glimpse into Hitlerís creepy little self-≠improvement program. While being a bookworm may not be a precondition for becoming a mass murderer, itís certainly no impediment." - Jacob Heilbrun, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Ryback relies heavily on Walter Benjaminís idea of the private library as a map of its ownerís character, but Hitlerís reading yields few new insights, and some of what Ryback dredges up is merely peculiar" - The New Yorker

  • "Timothy Ryback has tried to glean some insight into the emotional life, hatreds and enthusiasms of the Nazi leader. There are few surprises. Rather than yield with humility to writers and their books, Hitler used them merely to bolster his preconceptions. (...) Hitler's Private Library, the fruit of eight years' research, provides a warning against the dangers of blind adherence to ideology and the damage that a deal of selective reading can do." - Ian Thomson, Sunday Times

  • "Ryback has made an original and interesting contribution to the study of this monster, not least by showing that, in some respects, he was just like many of the rest of us." - Simon Heffer, The Telegraph

  • "While Hitler's Private Library is crisply written and covers the dictator's reading life from World War I to his suicide in 1945, Ryback could have dug a little deeper. (...) While thoroughly engrossing, like virtually all books about the Nazi dictator, Hitler's Private Library does sometimes leave a reader slightly annoyed or puzzled. Details are occasionally wrong or at least fuzzy and in need of clarification. (...) These gripes aside, Hitler's Private Library is still fascinating -- and unnerving." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

  • "Ryback knows the history of this period exceptionally well, and has a good eye for spotting and highlighting revealing vignettes; the links he establishes between the books and the life invariably make for absorbing reading. (...) Ryback deserves praise for his investigative labors and, especially in our increasingly virtual and digitalized age, for recognizing what the physical nature of books may reveal about their owners. He also deserves a readerís gratitude for being a graceful and interesting writer. Nevertheless, Rybackís approach is seriously flawed." - Michael McDonald, Weekly Standard

  • "Eine faszinierende Studie, die interessante, aber nicht überraschend neue Einblicke in die Persönlichkeit Hitlers bietet." - Marion Lühe, Die Welt

  • "Rybacks Buch fügt dem Hitler-Bild keine grundlegend neuen Erkenntnisse, wohl aber unbekannte Facetten hinzu." - Volker Ullrich, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       There are a number of books describing and detailing Adolf Hitler's extensive collection of books. In Hitler's Private Library Timothy W. Ryback does not try to take it all in; widely dispersed, it's hard to determine the full extent of it anyway, and many of the books were gifts Hitler's fawning subjects gave him (and likely never opened by him). Ryback is more concerned with, as his subtitle has it, 'The Books That Shaped His Life', focussing in on the books that Hitler actually engaged with and that might have played significant roles in shaping his thinking (or affirming his nutty ideas).
       Proceeding chronologically, Ryback begins with a guidebook to Berlin Hitler bought when he was on the western front in 1915, and makes his way through -- among other books -- Hitler's own Mein Kampf, a copy of Peer Gynt, the collected edition of Fichte Leni Riefenstahl gave him, to an abridged translation of Thomas Carlyle's biography of Frederick the Great which Goebbels gave him in the last days of the war. By considering the background to the times when these books played a role in Hitler's life -- describing life on the front in in 1915, the battle for supremacy within the Nazi party, his relationships with people such as Leni Riefenstahl and Sven Hedin (a well as some of the thinkers ideologues who shaped his thinking), Ryback offers some insight into what shaped the man and monster.
       Regrettably, the poorly educated Hitler had great ambitions to better himself, and was a particularly bookish man:

"Books, always more books ! I can never remember Adolf without books," Kubiczek recalled. "Books were his world."
       Alas, not his only and entire world ..... Perhaps surprisingly, Hitler's interests were also not limited to the historical, political, and (pseudo-)philosophical -- and while Ryback does make some mention of Hitler's more casual reading, more attention to his fiction-interests would have been interesting. The Peer Gynt chapter is fascinating, and certainly more could have been said about Hitler's Karl May-enthusiasm (as well as his interest in the works of Edgar Wallace (whose entire output he apparently had) and the like). Amusing, too, however, is how open he was to spiritual mumbo-jumbo, and the kinds of books he was willing to consider.
       Ryback matches books and events quite well, elaborating on both well even where the connexions are a bit tenuous, and his asides about the research itself -- the descriptions of the books and where he finds them, his correspondence with a number of (at least then) still-living figures -- are also of considerable interest. Walter Benjamin, and his essay on collecting books, are also a (perhaps somewhat too) frequently recurring reference point, making for an interesting contrast as well.
       Hitler's Private Library does not go nearly far enough to be either a true intellectual biography, or a comprehensive look at all the books in Hitler's life, but it works well enough as a slices-of-life overview -- very well, actually.

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Hitler's Private Library: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Timothy W. Ryback lives in Paris.

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