Adolf Hitler

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 692

Dolan indicates in his preface that he is writing about a tyrant and tyranny itself not only to provide young adults with information about the past but also to empower them so that they can recognize totalitarian leadership and the conditions that sustain it. He then defines tyranny in practical terms using Hitler as the prime example.

To achieve his purpose, Dolan chooses key events and people from the period between 1889 and 1945 to reveal Hitler’s character, never allowing the reader to forget that this individual was a product of his culture and times. The book’s chronological pattern bears a striking resemblance to that used by noted historians Alan Bullock and Joachim Fest in their Hitler biographies (1964’s Hitler: A Study in Tyranny and a 1974 translation of Hitler, respectively). In fact, Dolan’s objective tone and research become evident when his book is compared to the extensive works of Bullock and Fest.

Vignettes of Hitler’s life prior to his becoming the Führer include his family relationships, his lack of success in school after moving to Linz, and his destitute existence in Vienna. Yet the author does not neglect to inform his audience that this aspiring artist refused to take the advice of the academy faculty to study architecture and that the young vagrant did not even try to obtain a job in Vienna. Although the book portrays the demagogue as a human being whose personal failures led him to seek validation through nationalism and political power, it makes no attempt to justify the actions of the adult Hitler as Nazi leader.

Frequently, Dolan adopts the role of a narrator or teacher, intruding into the book’s narrative of the past to raise questions that he believes are pertinent to these events, such as “And how did all the work end on March 5?” and “Just what did Hitler mean by the Third Reich?” Sometimes, he relates an event in its chronological framework and then projects the event into the future, as if he were fitting pieces of a puzzle together, in order to assess its impact. At other times, Dolan appears to be the omniscient observer of fiction, able to know what Hitler was thinking and assigning motives or thoughts without offering supporting references for documentation.

Nevertheless, Dolan’s writing style makes interesting reading. His descriptions of Goebbels, Göring, and Himmler create vivid portraits of the Nazi leaders and their eccentricities. His sentences are full of qualifying details; he often makes use of dashes in order to include even more information in a sentence.

Yet Adolf Hitler has the glaring weakness of inadequate documentation. Even though the author has chosen to avoid endnotes, which are characteristic of more extensive biographies, he could have provided bibliographic references for sources used within each chapter or at least a selected bibliography as an appendix. Instead, he supplies only a recommended reading list at the end of the book. While the list contains some excellent sources, the reader cannot be sure which, if any, of these texts were resources for Dolan’s own book.

Also, the author’s selection of some questionable sources creates a potential problem in credibility. A case in point is the story taken from August Kubizek’s memoirs regarding Hitler’s watchful care of his dying mother when other sources place him in Vienna until her death. Joachim Fest includes a note in his well-documented biography Hitler warning that Kubizek’s credibility is suspect and that his memoirs were conceived with the intention of glorifying Hitler. When such subjective sources are used, authors should exercise their responsibility and state the known biases of those sources. For the most part, Dolan fulfills this responsibility, even acknowledging issues about which there might be some disagreement within the community of historians. On one occasion, he even cites John Toland’s Adolf Hitler (1976) to support one of his contentions.

Perhaps the key to appreciating Adolf Hitler is in realizing that the author had to be selective and that the book does not purport to be an extensive, well-documented textbook. It is, however, a challenging and concise chronicle of both Hitler and his time.

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Critical Context