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Dietrich Riefenstahl: Hollywood, Berlin, and a Century in Two Lives

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  215 ratings  ·  54 reviews
Born at the dawn of the twentieth century, Leni Riefenstahl and Marlene Dietrich both came of age in Weimar Berlin, a time of great political ferment. Glamour and decadence thrived beside abject poverty, and the German capital’s outpouring of literature, fashion, and film marked it as the most vital European metropolis. As young women of this era, Dietrich and Riefenstahl ...more
Paperback, 624 pages
Published October 11th 2016 by Liveright (first published January 1st 2013)
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Average rating 3.56  · 
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Oct 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
Terrific, if somewhat dry biography of two women, one a warm and genuinely decent human being, the other, a certifiable sociopath. People like to make excuses for Riefenstahl and pull gender into the mix, and yes, she was a pioneer in film, but as Wieland makes clear, so were Leontine Sagan and Dorothy Arzner. Neither of those women finagled Romani and Sinti gypsies out of their camps to clap for her as extras, and then blithely allowed them to be sent back for extermination. You could argue tha ...more
Heartbreaking read. German Marlene Dietrich was a symbol of Hollywood glamour. Leni Riefenstahl was an award winning film maker with deep ties to the Nazis. Both women were damaged and broken forever by the two world wars. The author uncovers their past and makes the reader understand that they were both survivors of terrible times. Both had long lives with unhappy endings. Very interesting and sad biographies of two fascinating women who lived to see it all. Highly recommend.
Bob Schnell
Advanced reading copy review. Due to be published in USA October 2015.

Translated from German, Karen Wieland's dual biography "Dietrich & Riefenstahl" is an interesting concept that maybe tries to be too many things at once. It looks at the personal and professional lives of two women born within a year of each other in the same country and who went on to very different careers in the same profession. Along the way, it also looks at the relationship of America and Europe in the 20th century, the
Stacey D.
Sep 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A terrific, if a tad too long, bio of the lives of these two amazing German women, born at the turn of the 20th c.

The author provides an in-depth look at both the captivating, fashionable and restless Hollywood star who supported the Allies and performed at USO shows during WWII and the controversial, filmmaker, whose beguiling career, ego and all-consuming dedication to her art was synonymous with Germany's National Socialist politics of the 1930's. Riefenstahl was part of Hitler's inner circl
Jun 21, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Oh well. This is a book for emotionals who like to believe Leni was the cause of WW2. She was never a member of the Nazi Party, was cleared after the war ... but, then, watch out for the Commies, like Budd Schulberg, who had his agenda. Leni was...very naive politically. In '36, after making "Olympia," she visited Hollywood. LOL. She was shunned. Why the fuck would she go to... of all places, Hollywood? unless she was naive... Post war, US scooped up Nazi scientists and used same as spies ag R ...more
I purposely followed up "Underground in Berlin," the story of a Jewish woman forced to endure squalor and starvation while hiding from the Nazis, with this one. The lives of these two famous women could not present a more stark contrast in the "How I Spent the War" genre. The most interesting parts deal with the Weimar years followed by the National Socialists' ascension to power and World War II. Dietrich of course became an exile in Hollywood and later worked tirelessly to support War Bond dri ...more
Dec 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was slow to start, but definitely picked up around the middle. Historical nonfiction can be quite dry, and while this book felt that way in the beginning, by the middle third it found its stride. It's a fascinating look at two lives that are, strangely, as similar as they are different.

Because their lives ARE similar in many regards, and because of the dual-biography set-up, Dietrich's and Riefenstahl's actions often seem comparable. As a reader, it's your job to remember that they're NOT r
Oct 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just an excellent book !

Riefenstahl and Dietrich were both totally self-absorbed, maybe even narcissists. They were focused and ambitious. Dietrich was more practical, in her way, less concerned about "art." Riefenstahl said she was all about her art, but just like Dietrich, she was all about herself.

I think they both invented themselves as they went. Neither seemed to have deep relationships and neither was very self-reflective. The book shows them, self-absorption and all. Each did something
Nov 11, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
What is the point of this binary biography? Karin Wieland seems to believe she's saying something about 20th-century German society by treating Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl in concert, but if so, I missed out on the big revelation. The book is shapeless and plodding, and not at all helped by a terrible translation boasting more cliches per page than anything I've ever read. It's clear that the author despises Riefenstahl, and she's got plenty of company there; but then why choose to wri ...more
"Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl have found an ideal biographer in Karin Wieland. She brings a lively style, a wealth of detail, and a perfect balance between skeptical objectivity and measured sympathy to her account of the parallel and then diverging lives of these two ambitious women. They need to be understood in the context of twentieth-century tumult - and that's exactly what Wieland has done." -- Celia Applegate, Vanderbilt University

Ah, if only this blurb from the dust jacket was t
Mar 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies, wwii
Even though I didn't really like either character (but certainly Dietrich more than Riefenstahl), I did enjoy the book. I liked the concept of telling the stories of these two women who started at the same time and place and followed completely different paths while both putting 100% of their energy into their art. I found the book interesting all the way through and enjoyed learning about both these women. ...more
Rob Christopher
The concept of a twin biography is brilliant, and the the two women's lives are fascinating. But this book is a major letdown. Wieland is prone to hyperbole and repetition. Her frequent editorializing (she calls Yul Brynner, for instance, a mediocre musical theater actor) is another big distraction. ...more
Wise Cat
This was not nearly as good as I thought it would be. I'd give it 2 1/2 stars, but I decided to round down to 2 instead of up to 3.

I've enjoyed Marlene Dietrich in those old movies, but I never even heard of Leni Riefenstahl. Still, I was intrigued to see these two women were born just a year apart, had similar backgrounds, yet went it opposite directions in their lives...

I was glad to see it was just 526 pages, not 612 like it said in the library database. That includes the VERY long bibliograp
Rick Burin
Nov 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
I think that before the last hundred pages I was quite enjoying this. That section, though, is just absolutely abysmal: a sort of dispassionate narrative transparently summarising the subjects’ private papers, and full of unanalysed contradiction, irrelevant detail and endless repetition. The rest of the book’s not great but it’s not bad: a dual biography of Hollywood star Marlene Dietrich and notorious Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, who were born less than a year apart in Berlin, but dealt wi ...more
Oct 25, 2019 rated it liked it
A hard book to review. Initially it felt like a great idea to pair these 2 women who were probably the 2 most famous German women of their generation, if not of the twentieth century. In this version, I found that each section devoted to the one and then the other was so long that I had time to forget what I'd leant about Marlene when the author went on to Leni and vice versa. I know that the German edition is much longer than this one, so maybe it's unfair to criticize the author, but I have a ...more
Rob Kitchin
May 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Marlene Dietrich and Leni Riefenstahl were born within less than a year of each other (late 1901, mid-1902) and both grew up in Berlin, their teenage years blighted by the First World War. Both women were head-strong, egocentric, manipulative, determined to succeed in show business, and had a fondness for relationships with younger men as well as with women. Both started off as actresses. After initial successes, Dietrich headed to Hollywood, Riefenstahl turned her hand to directing. While Dietr ...more
Rick Rapp
Dec 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Karin Wieland offers a fascinating view into the lives of these two complex German-born women. Both were attractive and had a need to be adored. Both were relentless in their quest to get what they wanted. But Wieland makes little attempt to hide her disdain for Riefenstahl who comes off as amoral and self-serving in her connection with Hitler and the Nazi Party. Dietrich, on the other hand, while difficult, comes off as being a principled woman who could not stand by quietly as the Nazis destro ...more
John Albers
Jun 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good double biography of two women born and raised in Germany in the first quarter of the 20th century who both went into show business and followed completely different paths: Dietrich who became a well known actress who moved to Hollywood and was anti-Nazi, and Riefenstahl who cozied up to Hitler and Goebbels and made Triumph of the Will, the classic documentary of the 1934 Nuremburg Rally and Olympiad, which covered the 1936 Olympics. During the second World War, Riefenstahl was getting money ...more
Oct 23, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: w
This was a little tough to get through. Not only is it a little more dense than I normally like my non-fiction to be (I think it could have been trimmed down), but it's also just rough to read about two women who are very self-centered and need affirmation almost constantly. The book goes back and forth between the Dietrich and Riefenstahl sections in a really organic way that I liked, but each section did stretch on a little bit too long. I'd get tired of reading about [insert name here] before ...more
Philip Hunt
My interest in Lena Riefenstahl drew me to read this. What I knew of was limited to having been impressed by the few excerpts I had seen of her Third Reich movies. So I was completely satisfied for this fleshing out of her person, adding egomania and narcissism to balance her artistic vision.

The translation from German is occasionally clumsy and while reading it in the original would be beyond me, one gets the sense that some of the literal translations might have found a more English language
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
I am a fast reader unless it is a subject I want to learn about. So both of these women fascinate me so I took my time. I have read at least 3 biographies of Dietrich and knew nothing about Riefenstahl except her Nazi propaganda documentaries. So I really enjoyed this read. The only negative about it is that I really did not have to read about the whole synopsis of every single Dietrich movie.
Both of these women lived exciting and fulfilling lives.
I think this book was Ok. Dietrich and Riefenstahl started out the same time and at roughly the same place, but their lives and careers went in different directions. I think Wieland could have done more to tie them together or just made separate biographies. I enjoyed Riefenstahl's parts more, but that doesn't mean I liked Riefenstahl. ...more
Mar 27, 2020 rated it it was ok
Interesting story of two famous women from Germany , I found it very detailed which at times got in the way of the story. If you like biographies and War Time Germany might be of interest but not a book I would prioritize
Jan 01, 2019 rated it did not like it
Sadly not finished, 200 pages in and I could not finish. The author was so biased against Riefenstahl and not using the same judgement towards Dietrich that it was very difficult to read.
Karen Hock
Jan 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
May 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fascinating read and such an interesting idea for a book. By the end I was both impressed and saddened by Dietrich and repulsed by Riefenstahl.
Ken Wahe
Aug 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
good to have read about dietrich...had never heard of Riefenstahl...need to read more on early german film industry...both made it on their enjoyable read
Kathy Jorgensen
Nov 17, 2021 rated it did not like it
This book can be described in one word. Boring.
Oct 09, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The tale of two women born barely a year apart, living in Germany during its most significant eras and their very different experiences during these historical events.

Dietrich and Riefenstahl were more similar than either cared to admit. They came from comparable backgrounds and entered the world of theatre in reaction to their upbringing: Riefenstahl in rebellion to her traditional and controlling father, Dietrich to break free from her strict and humourless mother. Riefenstahl trained as a da
Howard Cincotta
Nov 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Both were born in Berlin and came of age in the raffish culture of Weimar Germany. Neither has great range as actresses, but they both excelled in single-minded determination to achieve success and the ability to bend other others to their will, especially men. They were too self-involved to be particularly political, couldn’t manage money, obsessed over their appearance, and acquired and shed lovers almost as rapidly as they changed clothes. (Author Erich Maria Remarque, one of Dietrich’s disca ...more
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Around the Year i...: Dietrich & Riefenstahl, by Karin Wieland 1 15 Sep 19, 2016 10:04AM  

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