Hitler's Private Library
The Books That Shaped His Life
By Timothy W. Ryback
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780307455260, 320pp.)
Publication Date: January 12, 2010
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A Washington Post Notable Book
With a new chapter on eugenicist Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race
In this brilliant and original exploration of some of the formative influences in Adolf Hitler’s life, Timothy Ryback examines the books that shaped the man and his thinking.
Hitler was better known for burning books than collecting them but, as Ryback vividly shows us, books were Hitler’s constant companions throughout his life. They accompanied him from his years as a frontline corporal during the First World War to his final days before his suicide in Berlin. With remarkable attention to detail, Ryback examines the surviving volumes from Hitler’s private book collection, revealing the ideas and obsessions that occupied Hitler in his most private hours and the consequences they had for our world.
A feat of scholarly detective work, and a captivating biographical portrait, Hitler’s Private Library is one of the most intimate and chilling works on Hitler yet written.
Timothy W. Ryback is the author of The Last Survivor: Legacies of Dachau, a New York Times Notable Book for 1999. He has written for The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. He is cofounder and codirector of the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation and lives in Paris with his wife and three children.
“Elegantly written, meticulously researched. . . . Thought-provoking. . . . Ryback has produced a valuable short addition to attempts to understand this strange man whose impact on the world was so baleful.”
—Ian Kershaw, The New York Sun
“Fascinating. . . . Thanks to Ryback’s imaginative research . . . 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.”
—The New Republic
“Ryback’s portrait is both original and rewarding. . . . Certain to arouse widespread curiosity.”
—New York Review of Books
“Intriguing. . . . [Ryback is] the perfect guide, intelligent, well-informed, and careful.”
—The Seattle Times
“Finely written. . . . Unique in its focus. . . . A fresh perspective on a figure who has spawned countless biographies yet remains one of the 20th century’s indecipherable enigmas.”
“Remarkably absorbing. . . . A tantalizing glimpse into Hitler’s creepy little self-improvement program. While being a bookworm may not be a precondition for becoming a mass murderer, it’s certainly no impediment.”
—Jacob Heilbrunn, The New York Times Book Review
“Ryback writes gracefully, and the story he weaves around the books from Hitler’s private library . . . offers fresh perspectives. . . . Deftly, and with an economy of words, he sketches the future dictator’s transition from young volunteer to bitter and hardened soldier.”
“Crisply written. . . . Thoroughly engrossing. . . . Fascinating—and unnerving.”
—The Washington Post Book World
“Irresistible. . . . Approaching Hitler from an unexpected angle, Ryback isn’t adding a gimmicky volume to the vast bibliography: he’s shedding more light on the man than I have found in many full-dress studies.”
—John Wilson, Christianity Today
“Hitler’s Private Library provides a warning against the dangers of blind adherence to ideology and the damage that a deal of selective reading can do.”
—The Sunday Times (London)
“Ryback neatly weaves together Hitler’s political career with his book-collecting habits. . . . He has done a good job maintaining a balance between dispassionate inquiry and moral revulsion.”
“Ryback has penetrated the brutality of the Holocaust and found that its origins are inescapably literary. Hitler’s Private Library is not merely a deft intellectual history of Nazism . . . it charts the way reading can undo all that we expect from it.”
“An absorbing account of a reader who professed to love books but burned them anyway.”
“[A] landmark study in the evolution of the Third Reich.”
—Sacramento Book Review
“In Hitler’s Private Library, Ryback turns Hitler’s reading into a way of reading Hitler—his mind, his obsessions, his evolution. It’s an original and provocative work that adds valuable context to the skeletal and mystifying historical record.”
—Ron Rosenbaum, author of Explaining Hitler
“Hitler’s Private Library is a meticulously researched and highly original focus on one of history’s most enigmatic figures. Ryback shines his laser-like perceptions into the library and mind of Adolf Hitler in a way no previous book has done. Anyone even vaguely interested in the uses and misuses of ‘a little bit of knowledge’ and ideology will marvel—and shudder—at Ryback’s riveting insights.”
—Steven Bach, author of LENI: The Life and Work of Leni Riefenstahl
“Fascinating. . . . Hitler’s Private Library will appeal to anyone interested in what books mean to us, and is ‘must’ reading for anyone who doubts the power of written words to sway the human imagination toward good or evil.”
—Sacramento News & Review (A Best Book of 2008)