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The Meaning of Hitler

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  1,207 ratings  ·  69 reviews
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 l
Paperback, 165 pages
Published March 15th 1983 by Harvard University Press (first published January 1st 1978)
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4.23  · 
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 ·  1,207 ratings  ·  69 reviews

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Greg Brozeit
Apr 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since it seems obvious that a substantial portion of the current American population, whether knowingly or not, supports neo-fascist ideas or, at a minimum, craves the simplicity of being subjected to authoritarian rule under the guise of some false idea of democracy, I’ve put together a reading list for myself to periodically consider what it means to be an fascist and how the ideas have played out during various episodes of world history. Sebastian Haffner’s musings on Hitler, a late 1970s sen ...more
Daniel Villines
Dec 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Meaning of Hitler provided a lesson of sorts that illuminated the truths and falsehoods behind all those WWII propaganda films. The ones that show Europe being devoured by a spreading blot of black ink seeping into a map. Make no mistake, Hitler was deranged but The Meaning of Hitler defined that derangement. The book presents his various thought processes, defines the mistakes in his conclusions, separates out his accomplishments and success, and details his crimes. By the end of the book, ...more
Jul 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Joachim Fest

A short, fascinating, highly readable, remarkably insightful book about Hitler. It's not an academic history or scholarly biography; there are no footnotes. I'd recommend this to anyone who doesn't know much about Hitler, or knows a decent amount but still has questions. It will answer a lot of those questions. Haffner finds the sources of Hitler's motivations without getting into psychology or B.S. I would categorize this as mandatory reading for both the casual and serious Hitler scholar, alth
May 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Sebastian Haffner was a German born journalist who left Germany in the late 1930's with his Jewish fiancee.

Haffner is a believer in Realpolitik alongside with Kissinger, Bismark and some would say Machiavelli. I would disagree with this way of running the world as it "realistically" ignores the suffering caused by great power politics in the pursuit of further power or the maintenance of power. I am a soft Social Democrat.

Haffner however is no right wing apologist. He quite perceptively assign
Mar 06, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book is an ideological trainwreck.

I started reading it because it is short and has a very good average score, although now, after finishing it, I can't possibly fathom why. As a German, I already have a pretty healthy pool of knowledge about this topic, but I wanted to go into details about Hitler as a person, his rise to power and the question if another Hitler is possible in my country, and to learn why or why not. This is what the book promised to answer, and in regards to historcal fac
Kristi Thielen
Aug 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Haffner's book, written in 1979, can't benefit from the scholarship of the last 30 years and so offers some opinions that are no longer accepted. Principally among them is his belief that Hitler's anti-Semitism came from eastern Europe, whereas scholars now attribute it to a long-simmering stew of beliefs that came from Germany itself.

Much of what Haffner writes is still potent and insightful,however.

I was especially intrigued by Haffner's case for why Hitler was obsessed with the destruction
Joey Dhaumya
Apr 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
One of the best books on Hitler out there. What struck me the most was the argument that Hitler's government was not only based, but also sustained on a cult of personality - more than what people generally assume. This conclusion is distilled from a ton of data and arguments and is by no means a simplistic assertion. There were obvious gaps in government infrastructure and the entire machine was bound to be replaced after Hitler's death.
The book is divided into 7 chapters:
Andrew Rosner
A bit of background: Haffner (1907-1999) witnessed the growth of Nazism first hand as a young man and fled Germany in 1939, eventually establishing himself as a journalist of considerable repute in England before returning to Germany in 1954. His posthumously released memoir of his early years, Defying Hitler, reveals Haffner to be a man gifted with extraordinary insight into German society.

In the 1970's Haffner brought his formidable analytic abilities to bear on Hitler himself with the publish
Jan 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I picked this up on the very strong recommendation of John Roderick, as mentioned on his Roderick On The Line podcast. As someone who hasn't spent much time at all reading about WWII history, I was hoping (based on Roderick's description) for an explanation of Hitler the man, and his place in 20th century Europe. The book delivered on this, and I found the author's doggedness in explaining Hitler as a person (an obsessive, destructive, megalomaniacal person) to be a useful counterpoint to the ca ...more
Amicus (David Barnett)
Nov 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Unlike many people, I do not share the fascination with all things pertaining to the Third Reich and its evil presiding genius, but it is an important period and this book (Folio Society Edition) gives many interesting insights into the character and continuing influence of this ghastly man.

The main conclusion is that everything Hitler most feared was brought to pass as a result of his reign and all he sought to achieve was destroyed. One victim of his time in power, of course, was the near deat
Dec 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Quite the most fascinating book I have ever read on Hitler. It was genuinely unputdownable. I feel that I understand the man more than I thought I could.

An astonishing analysis of the 20th century's greatest monster.

I was moved to write this post, elsewhere, a single insight among many that I gleaned from this extraordinary book:

'As we all know, by July 1940 Hitler was master of continental Europe. Had he wished it, he could have concluded a peace with France any time that summer, and had it be
Mar 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Thought-provoking short (< 200 pages) "biography" of HIitler, though less of a traditional biography than a long, ruminative essay on the implications of his life for Germany and the West more generally. Haffner establishes an important point of departure: if Hitler had died in 1938, he likely would have been regarded as the greatest German of all, and then moves on from there, brilliantly summarizing Hitler's early life, his experiences in the Great War, and the critical time period when his ...more
Erik Graff
Jan 16, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: Astrid Stimac
Shelves: biography
This book was recommended by a German-speaking friend and was interesting because it is the only Hitler biography I'd read written by a German who was in the country during the dictator's rise to power. Originally, I read her copy over by the lake in SW Michigan, then, later, found my own at a used bookstore. Be warned: this book is more psychological portrait than historical biography.
Aug 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-world
There is much to discover in this short and powerful book. This insightful volume cuts through popular myth to deliver some eye opening analysis.

For example, Hitler was not merely an egomaniac, and not only a mass murderer. He was both stronger and weaker than is typically reported.

For example, Chamberlain's appeasement--turns out Hitler didn't want Britain and France to give him what he wanted, he was looking for a reason to go to war immediately. The extra time Chamberlain bought was to the
Feb 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, biography
I've never read anything like it. A relatively brief brilliant analysis - no footnotes, no references. The author lived in Germany during the war. Discusses Hitler's achievements, successes, mistakes and crimes. He uses achievement to mean an individual accomplishment, and success to mean an accomplishment in competition (Leistung and Erfolg?). Interesting commentary on the Nuremburg trials. My only complaints are that he holds that Hitler's brand of anti-semitism was alien to Germany and came f ...more
Dec 14, 2013 rated it liked it
A surprisingly interesting book written in the mid 1970s that digs into why Hitler succeeded when he did (hint: a lot of it was due to political and economic circumstances of the time rather than his own abilities) and how and why he ultimately failed do spectacularly. I usually find books that wax on about the minutiae of economic policy and political infighting to be pretty boring, but this book does a pretty good job keeping it interesting.

Since it was written in the 1970s, you also get some
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Great, slim volume on the implications of Hitler in history. Haffner begins with the proposition that Hitler is atypical among almost all historical figures, in that his thought processes arrive almost fully-formed - the Jews are a threat to Germany and must be eliminated. He also elaborates on the nature of Hitler's state - that was not meant to last beyond him, no matter how many times he stated it's 1,000 year lifespan. All power, all thought, all focus was settled on him. This is a good comp ...more
R. Rasmussen
Jun 28, 2009 is currently reading it
I picked up a cheap copy of this book off the local library's used-book shelves and am finding it fascinating reading. Over the years, I've read quite about about Hitler and have had trouble understanding how he attained such great power in Germany, despite his serious limitations and repellant traits. Haffner's short book does a wonderful job of making sense out of Hitler and explaining his successes and failures in clear language. Hitler is not the most pleasant subject to read about, but ever ...more
Jul 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Of all short historical accounts on Hitler and the Third Reich that I have read so far, this is the one that I could recommend the most. It offers valuable new insights and exposes several urban myths about the way Hitler ruled in Nazi Germany. Most interesting to read is the last chapter entitled 'traitor', where Haffner shows convincingly that Hitler's last efforts aimed at the total destruction of Germany...
The English version is published under the title: "The Meaning of Hitler" and should n
Nov 27, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very accessible and digestible read examining the role Hitler played in German history as well as looking at his successes, failures and crimes.

Haffner takes the opposite position to Goldhagen's analysis stating that Germany became as much of a victim as the nations he invaded and was not a typical German leader or end result of German antisemitism but something politically otherworldly to the average German on the street.

Quite short but no less insightful for it. Should be on any serious stud
Feb 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book describes successes, failures, mistakes, crimes,... of Hitler. There are some aspects that were new to me and I didn't think much about them before reading this book. On the other hand, it is felt that the book was written when Germany was still in two countries. It would be interesting to see the author's view from current perspective - with Germany and the whole Europe united. A very interesting book. It is the translation to Slovene language.
Peregrine 12
Jun 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
Much has been written about this seminal text, so I won't recap the book here. My opinion:

I'm glad I read this book. I have read much about this aspect of history (1930's - 40's Germany; European politics) and this is one of my favorite texts. Haffner's POV is that of one who lived in the society, observed it from abroad, and wrote his thoughts from a reporter's view. Today's writers must use secondary sources, so Haffner's first-person perspectives were refreshing.

Mar 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book offers a lucid analysis of the main aspects of hitler's performance. It boils it down to a list of political, territorial, social and economic gains, which were ultimately no-doubt messed up by hitler's inept incapacity of prioritizing his own pragmatic goals on top of his perverse 'leisure obsessions'.
May 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, history
I have read many books, many thick books about German history from WWI through the end of WWII and this slim read is the best explanation of why an otherwise sane and cultured society was willing to blindly follow a megalomaniac into the abyss.
Yu Chin Mei
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
NEED a hand.


I need ch 6 few lines in English.
because I am reading Chinese version.

the part is about how Hitler tried to clean Poland's education

it's note 13 in ch 6.
7 lines in Mandarin.

if you can type it, and message me.
it would be really helpful.

thank you
Feb 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: general-history

So, it all makes sense. A masterful book. Each chapter provides a fascinating and compelling insight into some aspect of Hitler's extraordinary character. Impressively short and beautifully written. A must-read for anyone even remotely interested in the subject. Highly recommended.
Michael Greening
Jul 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: re-read
Concise and pleasantly readable (usually a struggle when dealing with AH), Haffner's book is the finest of its kind. For those who ask the unanswerable ("how?"), this is the volume for you
Helen Epstein
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Now newly published on Kindle, this is a book by a German journalist who left Germany in 1939 for England where he became a prominent newspaper editor. It's a short, intelligent, informative history.
Jan 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A must read, was never boring, not the usual Hitler book.
Sep 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
An insightful axe-grinding view of who Hitler was and how his rise to power was arguably a product of the society around him.
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Sebastian Haffner (the pseudonym for Raimund Pretzel) was a German journalist and author whose focus was the history of the German Reich (1871-1945). His books dealt with the origins and course of the First World War, the failure of the Weimar Republic and the subsequent rise and fall of Nazi Germany under Hitler.

In 1938 he emigrated from Nazi Germany with his Jewish fiancée to London, hardly able
“There is no development, no maturing in Hitler’s character and personality.” 1 likes
“it would probably be more correct, and certainly more important, to see not capitalism but individualism as the opposite of socialism.” 1 likes
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