Hitler's Private Library (Hardcover)

The Books That Shaped His Life

By Timothy W. Ryback

Knopf, 9781400042043, 304pp.

Publication Date: October 21, 2008

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (1/12/2010)
Paperback (1/1/2010)

List Price: 25.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


A brilliantly original exploration of some of the formative influences in Hitler’s life—the books he most revered, and how they shaped the man and his thinking.

Hitler’s education and worldview were formed largely from the books in his private library. Recently, hundreds of those books were discovered in the Library of Congress by Timothy Ryback, complete with Hitler’s marginalia on their pages—underlines, question marks, exclamation points, scrawled comments. Ryback traces the path of the key phrases and ideas that Hitler incorporated into his writing, speeches, conversations, self-definition, and actions.

We watch him embrace Don Quixote, Robinson Crusoe, and the works of Shakespeare. We see how an obscure treatise inspired his political career and a particular interpretation of Ibsen’s epic poem Peer Gynt helped mold his ruthless ambition. He admires Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic tract, The International Jew, and declares it required reading for fellow party members. We learn how his extensive readings on religion and the occult provide the blueprint for his notion of divine providence, how the words of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer are reborn as infamous Nazi catchphrases, and, finally, how a biography of Frederick the Great fired the destructive fanaticism that compelled Hitler to continue fighting World War II when all hope of victory was lost.

Hitler’s Private Library, a landmark in the study of the Third Reich, offers a remarkable view into Hitler’s intellectual world and personal evolution. It demonstrates the ability of books to preserve in vivid ways the lives of their collectors, underscoring the importance of the tactile in the era of the digital.

About the Author

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.

Praise For Hitler's Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life

-Washington Post Book World Best Nonfiction of 2008

“In Hitler's Private Library Timothy 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. Timothy W. 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

“Remarkably absorbing . . . A tantalizing glimpse into Hitler’s . . . self-improvement program.”
-Jacob Heilbrunn, The New York Times Book Review

“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.”
-R. V. Scheide, Sacramento News & Review Best Books of 2008

“Sensitively handled . . . and intelligently presented . . . Ryback’s portrait is both original and rewarding.”
-John Gross, New York Review of Books

“Fascinating . . . Timothy Ryback writes gracefully, and the story he weaves around the books from Hitler’s private libraries . . . 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.”
-Charles A. Radin, The Boston Globe

“Elegantly written, meticulously researched, fascinating . . . 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

“Dramatic . . . Ryback derives fascinating and suggestive material from the books that he examines . . . Ryback’s useful book brings us a little closer to the mind of the monster.”
-Anthony Grafton, The New Republic

“Intriguing . . . Ryback is not the first to study Hitler’s marginalia, but he does make the perfect guide, intelligent, well-informed, and careful.”
-Douglas Smith, The Seattle Times

“Crisply written . . . Thoroughly engrossing . . . Fascinating.”
-Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

“Rewarding . . . Carefully researched.”
-Ritchie Robertson, Times Literary Supplement

“Approaching Hitler from an unexpected angle, Timothy 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 . . . irresistible.”
-John Wilson, Christianity Today