On April 20, Adolf Hitler turns 131. Ten days later comes the 75th anniversary of his earthly demise in the ruins of Berlin, but he is still our contemporary par excellence. He continues to haunt and fascinate. Hitler’s countenance, his very name, seem to get indelibly etched in the collective consciousness of each new generation. On current form, Lincoln, Lenin, or Lennon may be forgotten in a few decades, but the Führer will be alive and well a century hence.
At the low end of the cultural scale, politicians and their media abettors routinely Hitlerize the monstre du jour, from Saddam to Putin to Trump. Slightly higher up, Hitler consistently tops the biography rankings on Amazon.com. Napoleon is an increasingly distant second, while the great and the good of more recent decades—Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa—do not even come close.
Among professional historians the work started with Alan Bullock in 1952, and it is not abating. There are some three dozen quality biographies thus far, as well as tons of trashy Hitlerana of the Escape to Argentina sort. One noteworthy title has appeared every 18 months on average since Joachim Fest’s 1973 magnum opus.
The good news is that serious authors are close to the “historicization” of Hitler, finally treating him like any other phenomenon from the past....