As a young man, Joseph Goebbels was a budding narcissist with a constant need of approval. Through political involvement he found personal affirmation within the German National Socialist Party. In this comprehensive volume, Peter Longerich documents Goebbels' descent into anti-Semitism and ideology and ascent through the ranks of the Nazi party, where he became an integral member of Hitler's inner circle and where he shaped a brutal campaign of Nazi propaganda. In life and in his grisly family suicide, Goebbels was one of Hitler's most loyal acolytes. Though powerful in the party and in wartime Germany, Longerich's Goebbels is a man dogged by insecurities and consumed by his fierce adherence to the Nazi cause. Longerich engages and challenges the careful self-portrait that Goebbels left behind in his diaries, and, as he delves deep into the mind of Hitler's master propagandist, Longerich discovers firsthand how the Nazi message was conceived. This complete portrait of the man behind the message is sure to become a standard for historians and students of the Holocaust for years to come.
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In buying this book the question I wanted to have answered is: what explains the success of the undoubtedly wicked man who became the Nazi propaganda minister? If you're curious about this, keep looking.
Most readers know that Goebbels was a bad man and want to know how he succeeded. But what Longerich is primarily interested in is telling us that Goebbels was horrible. Longerich is on a mission to convince the reader that Joseph Goebbels was stupid, crass, a womanizer, a cuckold, crazy, a clueless academic, a clever wicked schemer and a naive politician. These characteristics don't easily add up to a single person, but Longerich doesn't really try to make them fit together. One has the sense that he combed through Goebbels' records with a checklist of bad character traits in hand. Listening to this book is like learning about Goebbels from your Sunday school teacher.
Authors like Longerich put the reader in an odd position. Since according to Longerich virtually everything that Goebbels did was stupid, clumsy, etc., it's left to the reader to critically analyze the facts. Here is an example. At one time, Hitler weakened a group where Goebbels worked, but increased Goebbels' personal power. Goebbels was happy. Longerich's conclusion: Goebbels had been naively politically outmaneuvered, and was foolish not to see it. Maybe, but isn't it also possible that Goebbels calculated that his colleagues' and even their groups' loss could be his personal gain? He would not be the first politician to do so. This case shows what is true throughout the book: we never see the world through Goebbel's own perverse eyes, as a world in which he was some sort of hero. All we get is condemnation of Goebbels, and you can have that without reading this book.
Longerich is not the man to tell the story of Joseph Goebbels, but Simon Prebble is definitely the man to read Longerich's attempt. I was surprised at this, becasue Prebble is usually reliably good. But just as Longerich refuses to try to see the world through Goebbels' eyes, Prebble has apparently never bothered to consider the language of Goebbels. Place names and personal names are a disaster, and I found myself pausing the recording to try to figure out what Prebble could possibly have meant. Or consider 'volkish', a word that this unhappy listener estimates appears one billion times in just the first few pages, and which Prebble consistently pronounces with the English rather than the German 'v' (the German 'v' is pronounced like the English 'f'). The German 'Volk' and English 'folk' have a common ancestor, and it would be both correct and more helpful to pronounce 'volkish', "folk-ish". But instead the word is mispronounced again, and again, and again. The book, in other words, has gotten the narration it deserves.
This is an excellent book, but I highly recommend that anyone not familiar with the subject matter get some background or they risk feeling that this book is incomplete. William Shirer's, "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" or "Berlin Diary" would be helpful. The serious student may be interested in reading Ian Kershaw's fabulous 2 volume biography of Hitler, "Hubris" and "Nemesis".