Johann Chapoutot and Christian Ingrao

(Presses Universitaires de France, 212 pages, 2018)

How could a man lead a whole continent into war and, consequently, into one of the darkest periods of the twentieth century? Adolph Hitler has been the subject of exhaustive biographies. Johann Chapoutot and Christian Ingrao, two well-known specialists in Nazism, take up once more this daunting and often controversial topic. Rather than opting for a personalistic approach, they reconsider Hitler’s life through the prism of half a century of German history. In two hundred pages, the authors offer a concise and masterful overview of the complex workings of politics and history that made Hitler’s rise to power possible.

More than a portrait of one man, this book examines Hitler’s life as a vantage point to revisit the history of Nazism. What can Hitler’s personal journey tell us about the period of momentous change in which he lived? And how did he become the catalyst for the emerging historical forces that so violently reshaped Europe at the turn of the twentieth century? Like men of his generation, Hitler’s war experience marked a turning point in his otherwise unremarkable life as a provincial German-speaking Austrian with failed artistic ambition. The authors devote much space to explaining the formation of Hitler’s worldview, and the crystallization of his political convictions in the aftermath of the German defeat in World War I. In the second part of the book, they broaden their focus to provide a synoptic account of the rise and fall of the Third Reich.

Hitler is an accessible and gripping book, aimed at the general reader. Reconsidering Hitler’s role in the history of Nazism remains a deeply relevant topic. Chapoutot and Ingrao know this all too well as today Europe faces the resurgence of dangerous forms of populism.

Johann Chapoutot teaches Contemporary History at The Sorbonne. He is the author of The Law of Blood: Thinking and Acting as a Nazi (Belknap Press, 2018) and Greeks, Romans, Germans: How the Nazis Usurped Europe's Classical Past (University of California Press, 2016).

Christian Ingrao is the director of the Institut de l’histoire du temps présent, and also teaches at Sciences-Po. He is a specialist in Nazism and war studies. Three of his books have been translated into English: The Promise of the East, Nazi Hopes and Genocide, 1939–43 (Polity, 2019), Believe and Destroy: Intellectuals in the SS War Machine (Polity, 2015), and The SS Dirlewanger Brigade: The History of the Black Hunters (Skyhorse Publishing, 2013).