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The Kindly Ones

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  8,263 ratings  ·  1,099 reviews

Named one of the "100 Best Books of the Decade" by The Times of London

"Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened."

A former Nazi officer, Dr. Maximilien Aue has reinvented himself, many years after the war, as a middle-class family man and factory owner in France. An intellectual steeped in philosophy, literature, and classical music, he is also a cold-

Hardcover, 984 pages
Published March 3rd 2009 by Harper (first published August 21st 2006)
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Michael No - Thomas is who Aue could be if he was unhindered by his own thoughts and intellect. Thomas is a social butterfly navigating the world that way whi…moreNo - Thomas is who Aue could be if he was unhindered by his own thoughts and intellect. Thomas is a social butterfly navigating the world that way while Aue fails at understanding bureaucracy and is limited thusly. It's more of a point/counterpoint than an alter ego. (less)
Héctor In my case I didn't know what to expect when I started the book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd say it's a must read for anyone that enjoys historica…moreIn my case I didn't know what to expect when I started the book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'd say it's a must read for anyone that enjoys historical fiction set during WWII, however you must enjoy dark humor and a touch of surrealism.(less)

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Average rating 4.08  · 
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 ·  8,263 ratings  ·  1,099 reviews

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Glenn Russell
Dec 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing

“Please, mein Herr, shoot the children cleanly.”
― Jonathan Littell, The Kindly Ones

Such a fiercely compelling novel, one of the most evil stories ever told. I had to listen to the audio book while taking my walks and let all the evil from the novel run down my legs and out the bottom of my feet; so much evil, thus my initial reluctance to write a review and highly recommend. However, the writing is excellent and the insights on human nature, history and culture numerous.

The first-person narrator
Mar 12, 2009 rated it it was ok
Lugging this gigantic book around, from Omaha to Minneapolis to Dubai to Chicago back to Omaha, I began to question why I was reading it. It's nearly a thousand pages long; it's poorly translated; it was apparently edited by a monkey dying of Ebola; it has paragraphs that run on for pages, and pages, and pages; for some reason, there is no indentation for dialogue, so you're left guessing which indistinguishable character is saying which facile/stilted/cliched/boring thing; the translation is im ...more
Violet wells
I felt like abandoning this just about every day. At times it irritated me, at others it bored me. My stubborn nature finally won out though and I ploughed through all its 975 pages.

It's always going to be an act of hubris to believe you can explain the Nazis. The Kindly Ones purports to offer an insight into the transformation of an ordinary young man into a Nazi monster. Early on, Max Aue, the narrator, an SS Obersturmbannfürher, makes a case that all of us might have done what the Germans di

So what's the most atrocious thing you've seen?... Man, of course!

The Kindly Ones polarized both readers and critics all over the world. They argued on its literary values and scandalous content, pornocaust or holokitsch were amongst epithets, felt poised between admiration for the gigantic work Littell done and themes he researched and final product and message it delivered. The genre itself confounded almost everyone, was it a history novel or quasi document, a literary fiction or fictionalize
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
It Begins and Ends in Bad Politics

It is possible for human beings to justify all behaviour, no matter how irrational and cruel. Because this is so, some philosophers justify their view that moral norms must lie outside of human control, that there must be a God who knows what good behaviour is. This justification is also irrational and frequently just as cruel.

As for example when the philosophers and theologians of Nazism preached radical anti-Semitism based on universal genetic imperatives of
Apr 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
"I live, I do what can be done, it's the same for everyone, I am a man like other men, I am a man like you. I tell you I am just like you!"
-- Jonathan Littell, The Kindly Ones


This is a hard book to review. It is like walking out of a David Lynch movie and feeling brain raped by the artist. How exactly to you attempt to explore the depths of Nazi Germany without feeling dark, abused, and sick afterwards? From conversations I've had with those who've hated this novel (and British critics I've rea
Vit Babenco
Oct 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Kindly Ones is an unsentimental journey to the darkest side of the human history.
Fascism turned the Germany into a factory of death… And every factory must have an effective technology… So any technology must be perfected and the technology of murder as well.
Killing was a terrible thing; the reaction of the officers was a good proof of that, even if they didn’t all draw the consequences of their own reactions; and the man for whom killing was not a terrible thing, killing an armed man as we
Richard Derus
Dec 18, 2011 rated it liked it
Rating: 3* of five

The Publisher Says: "Oh my human brothers, let me tell you how it happened." So begins the chilling fictional memoir of Dr. Maximilien Aue, a former Nazi officer who has reinvented himself, many years after the war, as a middle-class family man and factory owner in France.

Max is an intellectual steeped in philosophy, literature, and classical music. He is also a cold-blooded assassin and the consummate bureaucrat. Through the eyes of this cultivated yet monstrous man, we experi
MJ Nicholls
So . . . the war. The Second one. Or is that the Second One? Do we capitalise all Things Pertaining to the War? I think it’s appropriate to capitalise when referring to the Greatest Atrocity in All of Mankind . . . or if not appropriate, respectful. And people, well, people keep writing books about It. That War. That Pesky War! This near-1000-page novel is the rambling testament of SS officer Dr. Max Aue, devoted Hauptsturmführer (Captain), later Standartenführer (Major), semi-repentant monster ...more
Mar 12, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Michel by: JP Delvaux
Shelves: lit, cultures, hist-fic, doulce, war
The English translation of les Bienveillantes is a travesti. All the sardonic irony and the disgust of the author for his protagonist is lost; imagine taking seriously the Blagojevich defence (I am being punished for doing the right thing for the people who voted for me)!
It starts with the double-entendres (the word 'bienveillant' means 'kind' of course, but it can also denote watchfulness, or paternalism or 'meaning well', depending on the context) when ambiguity is the book's medium; then it m
Reading “The Kindly Ones” is like roaming around a dilapidated mansion – it begs you to explore; it is both fascinating and repulsive. The book is very ambitious, and it’s a pleasure to read literature that takes on a serious if uncomfortable subject, and literature that takes itself seriously. I would have given this five stars, and I do find it largely successful, but there are some snags in the subplot that don’t quite work.

The overarching historical plot works well. The protagonist, Maximili
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Max Aue made it to the big time in the higher echelons of the Nazi regime and years later he’s decided to write his biography in an attempt to cleanse his soul and set the record straight.

I’m going to review and score each chapter:

1. Toccata – Max lays down his intentions to tell his story. A good opening chapter that immediately lures you in and makes you pay attention. 4/5

2. Allemande 1 & 2 – Max is in Ukraine as an officer in the extermination squads who are systematically executing Jews, Com
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
You're given a free trip to Europe, time-travelling back to world war two. Your vehicle is one of the two characters you are free to choose from: one, a Jew who hid for many months, was caught by the Germans, placed in a concentration camp, then died before the war was over; the other a Nazi officer who had been everywhere, practically met everyone of consequence in the German military, and survived the war. You will be like the character's shadow. You will be with him wherever he goes, 24/7. Yo ...more
L.S. Popovich
I could try to compose a lengthy review, but the essential points are in the product description. You don't need to know more than that to determine if this book is for you. Combined with the page count, it shouldn't be a difficult decision.

I will just say that it could have been better. Disc 29 was simply bad. I'm not sure if he was going for a William S. Burroughs homage. The historical details are startling, as expected. Length is a positive virtue in historical novels in some instances. The
Madness. Despicably disgustingly amazingly crafted madness. The ability of authors to write out these scenarios, diving into and drowning in the minds of the most horrific human beings imaginable, without completely losing their minds astounds me sometimes.

Maximilian Aue is just a byproduct of this whole history, if you can believe it. He starts out with horrific tendencies, to be sure (view spoiler). And
Mar 09, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Most of what has been said in criticism of this book has deeply misrepresented it: yes, there is horrible brutality well beyond simple war narration (which you will find in almost every post-WWI novel or non-fiction book). This brutality will disturb every reader (or should). Yes, some of the main character's sexual obsessions will make most readers squirm a bit even if they aren't exactly squeamish. But to read these elements as the basic character and most memorable aspects of the book is cher ...more
Jun 03, 2012 marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-french, war
Assigning a star rating to this book is impossible. I can see why it was necessary for it to be written - to remind us of what we are capable - but that doesn't make this book readable. Personally, I couldn't get beyond page 120 or thereabouts. My difficulty lay in reconciling the chilling, dispassionate voice of the narrator with the brutal and horrifying scenes he was witnessing. I became paralysed by the awful, stomach churning fear of what he would recount next. I have never experienced such ...more
Mar 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
I read this book in its French original version - which is important, because many American reviews are harsh with the author's writing style, and that may be due to the translation: Littell's French is actually quite beautiful - he writes in a direct, precise, elegantly classic way, and it does perfectly serve his story as well as it fits the narrator's voice. This story is, of course, at the center of the huge controversy the novel is creating - a controversy that has exploded in every country ...more
Adam Nevill
Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Finally finished Jonathan Littell's THE KINDLY ONES last night, and at 1 a.m (but needed to be in bed by 11 - often happens). Only taken me 8 years to get to this novel. It received a controversial reception at the time of publication, but I agree with the critics that hailed the novel a masterpiece, though one filled with such belief-defying horror, I often found that reading 50 pages in one sitting was enough. 1000 pages of tiny font on royal hardback pages too: took me a month to read it with ...more
Sep 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction

In some ways this was like a German American Psycho, although that work was a pure satire, a comic novel, not historical fiction, and this (at least, I think) isn’t intended to be satire. But if you posit that both novels take a stereotypical “worst example” of each country’s upper middle class young male – a slick Wall Street misogynist on one hand and a cultivated, intelligent, ruthless SS officer on the other - and push them to the limits of sociopathy and beyond, it’s an interesting comparis
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Middle-aged French intellectual Jonathan Littell caused a sensation in 2006 with his infamous The Kindly Ones (finally published in the US for the first time in 2008), a thousand-page historical novel which attempts to take the most complicated look ever at what turned a bunch of otherwise boring, middle-
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-read
It will take me a while before I can say anything sensible about this book. It is the book that ends all books on this subject for me.
John Farebrother
This book is phenomenal. I worked with the author in Africa in the 1990s, and so when I first heard of this book, I was reluctant to buy it, for fear that familiarity might spoil the reading experience. When I finally did buy it, it sat on my bookshelf for several months for the same reason. But when I finally sat down and started to read it, I was hooked after a few pages.
It is a journey into the soul of the SS. The author once recommended to me Heart of Darkness, and I can't help thinking that
Kevin McAllister
Mar 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
When the The Kindly Ones came out a few years ago in France it sold millions and won some of Europe's most prestigious literary awards . I was surprised therefore, to read so many negative reviews when it was recently released here in the U.S.
It seems people either loved it or hated it. Well add me to the list of those who loved it ! Yes, its dark, depressing, and in places, deranged to the point of perversion. But that's what makes it so fascinating. And I have no doubt, that in the future, t
There is so much I could say about this book. First of all, it is simply impressive how much information Littell has collected on World War II and especially on the internal kitchen of Hitler Germany; I recognized a lot of what I had read in Ian Kershaw’s books (especially his Hitler biography): the ongoing internal competition between the various power centers of the Reich, the increasing anarchy, and especially the mechanism of "Dem Führer entgegen arbeiten". Of course, I cannot judge whether ...more
Kara Babcock
This may not be evident, but I tend to avoid historical fiction set during World War II. I'm not sure why: it's an obvious (perhaps too obvious) source of material for exploring the human condition. I'm not squeamish about the details of the Holocaust. Maybe it's just that a lot of World War II fiction focuses on the battles, the military strategy and tactics, and it's military fiction that I'm avoiding. In the last month, however, I read Time's Arrow and The Kindly Ones, both of which are m ...more
Mar 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
This memoir of a fictional, high-ranking bureaucrat in the Nazi SS was recommended to me years ago by, of all people, a young Israeli Jew who insisted it was the finest thing she had ever read about The Third Reich and the Holocaust.

I'm both pleased and horrified to say that her opinion, in my view, is correct.

This is an engulfing, occasionally uneven, brutal masterpiece of a first novel. Our narrator, Max Aue, is unapologetic, matricidal, deeply closeted, murderous, and wants more than anything
Jan 25, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Pages and pages of gore, entrails, decapitations, burnings, burials, shootings, burnings.... as if we didn't know that certain "people" had done these things. I do not and will never understand why this was a Prix Goncourt. It should have been Prix du Mauvais Gout.
Dec 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this in 2011 and wrote a lengthy review at the time, so may as well post it here.

* * *

Reading this book was a very intense experience, which I'm now going to ramble about. 'The Kindly Ones' is an account of the second world war told in the first person by an SS officer, so be warned that it is not what you would call pleasant. I suppose there may also be spoilers, although I will avoid any details that would in my view affect the experience of reading it yourself.

I hardly know where to st
Bill Kupersmith
Jan 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
One day Les Bienveillantes will be “canonized” as a major literary classic & form the subject of numerous graduate theses - had it been published 50 years ago I’d now be working hard on my French. I expect its failure to gain popularity in its American version as The Kindly Ones was due to reviewers’ fears that it would appeal to the sorts who collect phony SS memorabilia. They needn’t have worried: SS-Strumbahnführer Max Aue would scarcely inspire the kind of teenager who’s likely to show up @ ...more
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Should I continu reading this book? 1 1 Oct 17, 2020 12:37PM  
Reading 1001: Reviews 9 15 Oct 01, 2018 03:32AM  
Reading 1001: Questions Part 3 10 13 Oct 01, 2018 12:10AM  
Reading 1001: Questions Part 2 10 18 Sep 30, 2018 09:15PM  
Reading 1001: Questions Part 1 13 31 Sep 29, 2018 07:57PM  
Reading 1001: This and That 20 21 Sep 15, 2018 04:11AM  
Reading 1001: The Kindly Ones - Littell - Kristel 2 11 Sep 12, 2018 08:10PM  

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A bi-lingual (English / French) writer living in Barcelona. He is a dual citizen of the United States and France and is of Jewish background. His first novel written in French, Les Bienveillantes , won two major French awards.

His father is the writer Robert Littell, also resident in France and who authored numerous spy novels.

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