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Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil
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Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of His Evil

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  885 Ratings  ·  66 Reviews
When Hitler's war ended in 1945, the war over Hitler--who he really was, what gave birth to his unique evil--had just begun. Hitler did not escape the bunker in Berlin but, half a century later, he has managed to escape explanation in ways both frightening and profound. Explaining Hitler is an extraordinary quest, an expedition into the war zone of Hitler theories. This is ...more
Paperback, Reprint, 496 pages
Published June 9th 1999 by Harper Perennial (first published 1998)
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Paul Bryant
Everybody steals this phrase now so I'll steal it too - the subtitle of this facemelting book should have been what we talk about when we talk about Hitler. Because that's what it's about. This is a great journalisting whistle-stop world tour of Hitler scholars and Hitler theories. And oh my my, what cans, and what worms crawl out of them.
Where can we start? Well how about this - most people would see in him the absolute embodiment of as pure an evil as we have experienced in history so far, bu
Nandakishore Varma
Foreword to the Review

This review was posted over a period of 19 days, more like "notes for a review". My perception of the book has changed as I read on, and the afterword to the current eition, appended at the last, regrettably brought it down a few notches. IMO, victimisation in the past does not condone aggression and violence in the future.

But then, that's just me. I agree and accept that there are different viewpoints.


A few months ago, I got into a
May 06, 2010 Matt rated it liked it
There is a formulation, called Sayre's Law, that states: "In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue." This dictum has been used to describe the vicious infighting among professors; the territorial aggression of two brothers in the backseat of a car during a long roadtrip; and my battle with my wife over what to watch on television: Buried Alive: Hoarding on TLC (her choice) or Hillbilly: The Real Story on the History Channel (my choice) ...more
Feb 13, 2013 Lobstergirl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone

If this were "merely" a work of scholarly investigation - examining the writings of those who have tried to explain the evil of Hitler and the Holocaust - it would still be interesting, but not nearly as interesting as the book Ron Rosenbaum wrote. He adds a layer of journalism on top of a work of biography, history, and historiography, interviewing each of the Hitler "explainers" in person and helping us see their motives. The passive-aggressive Claude Lanzmann, for example. Lanzmann, the direc
Sandy Jones
Aug 06, 2007 Sandy Jones rated it liked it
This book is interesting. It presents many different explanations for how Hitler became Hitler. Most of this book was interesting to me, but there were some parts which made me angry. I had to really process what was going on to make me respond so emotionally to certain scholars. This is the first book that I have ever read on this subject matter and felt that it did a great job summarizing the different perspectives which are out there. I admit that it took me many months to finish this book. A ...more
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South Montana
May 31, 2011 South Montana is currently reading it
I'm halfway through this book; of course, from the title you'd expect this to be a riotous laugh-fest, but alas, it's arduous tramping through these dark and tortuous stretches of text. I am a long-time admirer of Ron Rosenbaum's writing, having enjoyed his columns in the New York Observer. Here, he explores a rather uncommon question: Take away the mishegas with the mass murdering, genocide and war-mongering, thuggery and wholesale slaughter, and ask yourself: Hey! Who exactly was this Hitler f ...more
Nov 04, 2011 Chris rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 13, 2013 Jennifer rated it really liked it
I have to give this 4 stars because I learned a great deal from this book, and was reminded of a bit more that I once knew and had forgotten. And at times I had a lot of respect for our author, Rosenbaum, as he critically appraises the conversations and theses of the explainers he studies, bringing insights as he synthesises together what they argued. It is true that, more than simply enlightening us on Hitler, this book helps to probe the minds and motives of those who share our fascination wit ...more
Apr 30, 2012 Mary rated it it was ok
"Hmmm, let's see how I can make $ without the effort, I know, I'll write about people who do real research!" This author comes off like that for me. Just rubs me the wrong way. Rosenbaum seems to see Hitler as something other than a human & assumes we all agree. Who exactly is guilty of the label "Untermenschen" then? OK, his book he can give his opinion, but must we hear about it over & over ad nauseum?
His pig-headed opinions are literally on every page & are distracting. Ex: he c
Sep 28, 2008 Three rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in history writing
Years ago, at a flat-warming party, I was taken to task for having a biography of the religious fundamentalist Ian Paisley - the false assumption being that having a biography of someone means sharing/validating their beliefs or actions. No fan of Paisley, I was interested to know more about him to understand how so many people on the small island of Ireland could support his bizarre ideology (he is on record declaring that the Pope is the Anti-Christ - a popular belief in the 17th Century, but ...more
May 04, 2008 Jim rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in modern history and philosphy.
The key word in the title is "Explaining." This is not "Understanding Hitler," but rather a historical survey and comparative discussion of how historians, scholars, philosophers, filmmakers, and others have attempted to explain the monstrous unfathomable evil perpetrated by this man. The discussion is lively and clear. The book is well-written. Rosenbaum explores his subject through the sometimes violently contradictory opinions of others.
Jul 08, 2014 Audra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
BotNS 2015 Summer Bingo - A Book That I Started but Never Finished
Not sure why I put down this book, but I am so glad that I picked it back up. This book did not explain Hitler because there really is no explaining of such an individual but it gave so much information and insight not only into Hitler but also into Europe and how something so unspeakable could occur.
Dec 11, 2010 Foetus-e rated it did not like it
That's the worst history book i have ever read. It's like giving a pen to Stalin and let him write the history of U.S.A. You never read a history book from someone who is completely opposite, and i made that mistake, buying this book. It's a big book of nonesense and theories without mentioning any sources, something that is unexceptable for a work of history.
Feb 26, 2010 Hilary rated it it was ok
The intro was fascinating, and the info he analyzed was very interesting and personally done... but overall the author, Ron Rosenbaum, just repeated himself too much, like a bad mystery movie. Skim this book for the info, but don't plan on reading every word after the middle of chapter one.
May 19, 2010 Iniville rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ww2
A friend sent me this one. Every argument you can think of - and then some. It will turn you upside down.
Sep 30, 2016 Kelly rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating read. Although Rosenbaum's prose can be very repetitive, the subject and his provocative and insightful presentation of it held my attention. There is a lot of biographical information about Hitler and a little bit of general history for those interested. The focus is on the opinions of people who have studied the Holocaust. Did Hitler sincerely believe everything he and his Nazis did was right? Was he so bad he didn't care he was bad? Was Hitler evil in a way that was some ...more
Mar 20, 2012 Mary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
OK, I'm kind of done with this one. I slogged through the first 150 pages or so, and while the subject matter was compelling, his writing was off-putting -- needlessly drawing things out, writing in circles, having a hard time focusing. After the absurdly long section on Hitler's possible sexual "perversions" (and, BTW, you can call Hitler whatever you want, but it's not really useful to characterize his supposedly liking to be peed and shat upon as perverted -- it's a fairly common sexual fanta ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
The book sold itself to me due to the title and the cover. The title because this question has fascinated me since I was a little girl and read The Diary of Anne Frank and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Hitler and his regime seem so the embodiment of evil, surely to examine the question of Hitler is to examine the question of evil itself. So this was a topic that definitely called to me.

Then there's that cover. And it's not condemning the book (much) to say I found it the most powerful an
Richard Terrelonge
While I learned a great deal about Hitler. I had hoped to understand why. Before I read the book I believed Hitler to be a profoundly evil man and that there would not have been a holocaust without him. The book did not change my mind. There were numerous explanations tried out in the book but the book and I discount them as giving excuse to the horrendous actions he lead.

It was clear from as far back as 1918 that Hitler had strong antisemitic feelings. In the 1920's he talked about hanging Jews
Mike Clinton
Jan 07, 2016 Mike Clinton rated it really liked it
This is the kind of writing about history that's particularly appealed to me over the past few years: considerations of how people in the present think about the past and how they engage and contend with each other over it. Rosenbaum recognizes that people discuss Hitler as a way to discuss a wide range of issues meaningful to them today--the nature of evil, human nature, agency and responsibility, etc. He judiciously resists, to the extent that it's possible, posing an explanation of his own--t ...more
Jun 06, 2010 Russ rated it really liked it
A fascinating book, more about the process of explaining (and what it says about the explainers) than exposition about Hitler's life. Rosenbaum's insightful questions left me thinking about key issues: What made Hitler "evil"? Is he an exception, in a category by himself, when it comes to human capability for evil?

Most of the book focused on explaining Hitler with regard to the Holocaust rather than his politics and war strategy, but this is certainly an important enough question to devote an en
John Kennedy
Jul 19, 2014 John Kennedy rated it it was ok
The highly emotional tone of it makes it almost unreadable - the author immediately dismisses all arguments attempting to explain Hitler as somehow being a form of mild holocaust denial or apologetic - and it is generally lacking in author-driven insight.

Second star for breadth: he does cover an impressive array of other people's perspectives on the subject. This would itself make for a respectable book, were it not for the fact that all other perspectives are subsequently vulgarly oversimplifi
Feb 25, 2009 Holly rated it liked it
I liked the wide array of Hitler angles, stuff I never ever thought of. This book begs to be pondered if you can get past the first few "Hitler, the sex pervert" chapters. I don't know how that really plays into his being a homicidal monster except perhaps to support some ideas that he was a twisted SOB. The interviews Rosenbaum does with some of the leading thinkers of Hitler/holocaust issues today is phenomenal. I always thought, "how can anyone DENY the holocaust?" Well, this book explains so ...more
Angela Wade
Jan 10, 2010 Angela Wade rated it liked it
Shelves: history
From my Amazon review: A wonderfully insightful and complex historical book. It constantly bombards the reader with questions, theories, and "what-ifs." Rosenbaum has obviously done his homework, but even more obviously has a true passion for what he has uncovered.

My only "complaint" -- where are the pictures of the players? For instance, there are a few paragraphs devoted to the description of Geli Raubal. The author questions how she could have seduced Hitler because, when the author saw photo
I'm only half-way through the book at the moment, but so far it's the least rewarding work on the subject I've ever read. Flights of fancy into irrelevant asides, banal juxtapositions (bloody spectacles of a Hitler detractor equated with fake stigmata of a nun, come on now), and dense corrugated writing style makes this book into an over eager sophomoric effort. What a pity. I will push on, but so far, time not well spent.

Final verdict: When Rosenbaum stays on the rational path and doesn't stray
Kathleen McRae
Jan 09, 2014 Kathleen McRae rated it liked it
The entire premise of this book seems to be directed at explaining why Hitler became the evil monster that he was and in this book a very involuted route was taken towards that goal.we can try to contain what happened during the Holocaust by placing blame on the shoulders of 1 very evil person but that is not real life. An event on the scale of the holocaust is not a one person event and we know that a great many people did horrible things.An egotistic monster becomes that through what we allow ...more
HHS Staff
Sep 10, 2009 HHS Staff rated it it was amazing
The title is deceptive: Rosenbaum's book explores the world of "Hitler Explainers," distinguished scholars across the globe who have tried to "unpack" one of history's most ominous mysteries. If one thinks about it long enough, one realizes that the questions these men spent (and are still spending) time answering are often essential ones about the human race. I have seldom been as absorbed in a book or as enthusiastic about making someone listen to me talk about it for 30 interrupted minutes.

Lisbeth Solberg
May 29, 2010 Lisbeth Solberg rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
My students always have questions about Hitler when we read the play, The Diary of Anne Frank, and I know so little. Having read a positive review of this book, and discovering it in my daughter's bookcase, I finally tackled it. Probably I would have done better to read something more factual (if possible) and less theoretical. Now I know a few more facts/myths/theories about the subject. But chiefly I have come away with an awareness of how complicated, volatile, and contentious is the scholars ...more
Kathi Jackson
Jun 10, 2014 Kathi Jackson rated it it was ok
Perhaps I'm not literary enough, but I couldn't get through this book. I tried reading different chapters but even that couldn't get me interested. The title says what I've always wanted to know but the author doesn't answer the question. Perhaps there isn't an answer.

Just as I thought it was me, I began reading another book about the time period and immediately got wrapped up and began learning from it.
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