The best biographical studies of Hitler

Neil Gregor Author Of How to Read Hitler
By Neil Gregor

Who am I?

I am Professor of Modern European History at the University of Southampton, UK, and publish widely on diverse aspects of Nazi Germany. The first history book that I ever read was Alan Bullock’s Hitler. A Study in Tyranny - the first scholarly biography of Hitler to appear. I still recall the fascination of reading this as a teenager: it sparked a curiosity that formed the basis of a scholarly career that has spanned nearly three decades. The desire to make sense of the phenomenon of Nazism was never purely academic, however – my own family origins in Germany, and the stories elderly relatives told of their wartime experiences, gave the history texture, immediacy, and urgency.


I wrote...

How to Read Hitler

By Neil Gregor,

Book cover of How to Read Hitler

What is my book about?

This short book introduces the general reader to the ways in which we might read and understand the most writings of Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi Party. They are notoriously badly written, and often dismissed as incoherent ramblings with little to tell us about what Hitler intended to do when he came to power. Taking a series of key passages and subjecting them to close analysis, this book shows how the careful reader can detect a coherent worldview in Hitler’s writings. It shows how Hitler may not have had a clear plan for conquest and genocide, but he did have a clearly genocidal vision, and a mindset of extreme violence to accompany it.

The books I picked & why

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Hitler. Eine Biographie.

By Joachim C. Fest,

Book cover of Hitler. Eine Biographie.

Why this book?

This was not the first biography of Hitler, but it was the first to try to explain Hitler’s power in terms of his relationship with the German people. For Fest, Hitler’s power rested on his ability to channel ordinary Germans’ hopes, fears, aspirations, and resentments. Fest came from a solidly anti-Nazi bourgeois background and in his insistence on reading Hitler as an expression of populist resentments ‘from below’ we may detect an inability to countenance the idea that Nazism came just as much from the centre of educated German middle-class society. In that sense, the book is a fascinating insight into what was at stake in the postwar period when Germans argued over who or what had been to blame for the catastrophe of Nazism. It remains, however, a classic among earlier accounts of Hitler’s career.

Hitler. Eine Biographie.

By Joachim C. Fest,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hitler. Eine Biographie. as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Biography of Hitler by respected German historian.

Hitler's War and the Germans

By Marlis G Steinert,

Book cover of Hitler's War and the Germans

Why this book?

This is not a full biography – the biography Steinert wrote later in her career is not available in English – but many of the ideas in Steinert’s biography can also be found in this earlier work, which has faded into posterity slightly but can be read with great profit. Here, Steinert is concerned to give texture to a hitherto often two-dimensional image of German society and its attitudes to Hitler’s War. The result is an interesting, differentiated account of public opinion in Nazi Germany. In many respects, it was pioneering and opened up questions surrounding the relationship between state and society that other historians went on to explore further in the 1980s. Steinert’s Francophone background, and perhaps the fact that she was a female writer working in a profession that was then very male-dominated, probably account for the fact that her work is less well-known in the English-speaking world than it might be.

Hitler's War and the Germans

By Marlis G Steinert,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hitler's War and the Germans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Text: English, German (translation)

The Meaning of Hitler

By Sebastian Haffner, Ewald Osers (translator),

Book cover of The Meaning of Hitler

Why this book?

As in the case of Joachim Fest, it is impossible to read this book without having some sense of the author’s own autobiography. Haffner was an emigré who had left Germany for Britain in 1939, was briefly interned in the war, and became a correspondent for The Observer. The essayistic reflections offered in this short book are not so much biographical as a set of attempts to place Hitler within the wider context of German history and to understand Hitler as a historical phenomenon. Readable, astute, and thoughtful, they are an engaging introduction to his life-long attempts to make sense of the regime from which he had fled.

The Meaning of Hitler

By Sebastian Haffner, Ewald Osers (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Meaning of Hitler as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a remarkable historical and psychological examination of the enigma of Adolf Hitler-who he was, how he wielded power, and why he was destined to fail.

Beginning with Hitler's early life, Sebastian Haffner probes the historical, political, and emotional forces that molded his character. In examining the inhumanity of a man for whom politics became a substitute for life, he discusses Hitler's bizarre relationships with women, his arrested psychological development, his ideological misconceptions, his growing obsession with racial extermination, and the murderous rages of his distorted mind. Finally, Haffner confronts the most disturbing question of all: Could another Hitler…


Hitler: Ascent: 1889-1939

By Volker Ullrich,

Book cover of Hitler: Ascent: 1889-1939

Why this book?

In my view, this is the most readable and persuasive of a number of new biographical treatments that have appeared recently. In terms of interpretation, largely Ullrich confirms the line offered in an older two-volume biography, the equally magisterial account by Ian Kershaw published at the turn of the century. Like Kershaw, Ullrich is concerned to explain Hitler’s power in terms of charismatic authority, and not just dictatorial terror. But whereas Kershaw was of the view that Hitler had comparatively little personal hinterland, foregrounding instead his career as a public figure, Ullrich pulls out a remarkable range of often tiny, seemingly insignificant personal details or anecdotes to generate a compelling view of Hitler’s own interior landscape – it is all the more impressive for the fact that he uses this to explain better Hitler’s political outlook and actions.  

Hitler: Ascent: 1889-1939

By Volker Ullrich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hitler as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • This landmark biography of Hitler puts an emphasis on the man himself: his personality, his temperament, and his beliefs.

“[A] fascinating Shakespearean parable about how the confluence of circumstance, chance, a ruthless individual and the willful blindness of others can transform a country — and, in Hitler’s case, lead to an unimaginable nightmare for the world.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

Volker Ullrich's Hitler, the first in a two-volume biography, has changed the way scholars and laypeople alike understand the man who has become the personification of evil. Drawing on previously unseen papers and…

Hitler at Home

By Despina Stratigakos,

Book cover of Hitler at Home

Why this book?

This fascinating book takes the seemingly banal topic of Hitler’s domestic interiors as a way into exploring both how Hitler chose to project himself and how others – from foreign diplomats to ordinary Germans – learned to see him. From his initial humble quarters in Munich to his conservatively furnished apartments in Berlin and his mountain retreat in the Alps, the evolution of Hitler’s interior design ethos reflected his move from ordinary front soldier to European statesman. The reproduction of his furnishing choices in glossy consumer magazines, meanwhile, offered aspirational Germans a chance to remake their own homes in emulation of their idol. If this sounds familiar, well, that may be the point.

Hitler at Home

By Despina Stratigakos,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hitler at Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A revelatory look at the residences of Adolf Hitler, illuminating their powerful role in constructing and promoting the dictator's private persona both within Germany and abroad

Adolf Hitler's makeover from rabble-rouser to statesman coincided with a series of dramatic home renovations he undertook during the mid-1930s. This provocative book exposes the dictator's preoccupation with his private persona, which was shaped by the aesthetic and ideological management of his domestic architecture. Hitler's bachelor life stirred rumors, and the Nazi regime relied on the dictator's three dwellings-the Old Chancellery in Berlin, his apartment in Munich, and the Berghof, his mountain home on…

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