(c) Jerry Fielden 2000
Hitler: A study in tyranny, revised edition, 1961, by Alan Bullock, book review
In this book, the historian Alan Bullock sets out to describe the life of Adolf Hitler from his humble beginnings on the Austrian border with Germany, through his youth in Vienna and Munich, his army years, the founding of the NSDAP, his years as an agitator and party leader, his chancellorship and his years as a “war-lord” during World War II. Bullock purports to give an in-depth evaluation of the role Hitler played in the history of the Third Reich, and of the talents that enabled him to secure and hold on to power. He also tries to accomplish this in an impartial manner, and seems to succeed quite well.
Bullock uses many first-hand sources, like Hitler’s Mein Kampf and other Nazi leaders’ memoirs, speeches, articles and depositions in trials such as Nuremberg, for instance, Goebbels’, Otto Dietrich’s, Roehm’s, Gisevius’s, Rosenberg’s, etc., and other important actors’s of the period, such as Mussolini, Ciano, Schuschnigg, Ludendorff, Churchill, and Weizacker. His bibliography seems quite exhaustive and as complete as could likely be for the period, and is divided into time periods and subjects. In the latest edition, he has added sources such as Trevor-Roper, Schacht, and Guderian. It is regrettable Bullock did not use Papen’s memoirs to supplement the periods that concerned him, and of course Speer’s memoirs for the interesting evaluation of the psychological environment of Hitler and his immediate entourage during the War and especially toward the end of it, which were not yet published at the time.
One of the first items noticed here is indeed the almost overwhelming amount of material pertaining to the psychological makeup of the dictator and the many repetitions of certain mindsets such as Hitler’s being a victim of his own propaganda. This material also tries to explain everything from Hitler’s hatred of the Jews to his unchangeable mindset, and his willingness to lie and run roughshod over anything in his path. Some examples can be found all through the book, but Bullock also attempts a more or less complete physical and mental overview of the Fuehrer in chapter 7, “The Dictator”. The portrait of Hitler given here may also seem a bit simple and tied down to only a few aforementioned characteristics.
Several statements in the book seem self-obvious or superfluous: Hitler is referred to as having an “almost inexhaustible fund of resentment”: actually, a completely inexhaustible fund of resentment would be closer to the point, as he is still full of that particular emotion in his political testament, especially towards the Jews. Also, phrases like “the fat, bald party treasurer” have no particular value in this biography, and could have easily been left out.
Bullock’s biography is especially masterful when describing Hitler’s formidable political instincts, especially as pertains to the first and second parts of the book, “Party Leader” and “Chancellor”. The anti-war speech by Hitler is a particularly good example: in there, he cynically says, “whoever lights the torch of War in Europe can wish for nothing but chaos.” Another extremely chilling phrase of Hitler’s is: “I know perfectly well that in the scientific sense there is no such thing as race.” It is phrases like these that make this book an important insight into the cynical and nihilistic views of Hitler, as well as the phrases that indicate the self-appointed savior that he thought he was and the supposed invaluability of his life to the German people. In chapter 13,Bullock also gives us an interesting, albeit all too concise, description of some of Hitler’s henchmen and their own flawed relationships with their Fuehrer.
As for the German people themselves, we do not really hear of them in this book, only as a vague background noise; indeed, we find out that Hitler does not really care about them. Also ignored are the institutions devoted to the Nazification of the German people, such as the Hitler Youth and the Aryan “breeding” programs. As for the Holocaust, there are unfortunately only a few pages on the subject, and the Final Solution and Hitler’s ties to it are not very well covered in here.
The “Party Leader” section gives a fair but patchy account of the youth of Hitler as well as his Army and Party leader day. It is too bad indeed that Bullock did not venture out into the field and interview more of Hitler’s acquaintances of his younger days and Army years.
The “Chancellor” section gives us the impression of a Hitler killing time, just waiting for war to erupt. It is a well-told tale of the “bloodless” reoccupation of the Ruhr, the Anschluss with Austria, the humiliation of Munich and the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. In this section, Bullock draws a lot from the materials of participants like Ciano and of diplomatic papers and minutes of the period.
In the “War-Lord” section, Bullock also gives us a penetrating portrait of the two sides of Hitler, the military leader. The first side is his audacious, simplifying, chance-taking and impetuous side, similar to the one that earned him successes in the political arena, the one that enabled him to second-guess his generals at the beginning of the War and win victories in Poland and France by the rapid movement of troops. The second is his bumbling, interfering side that caused defeat in the end, especially his orders to hold at all costs during several battles in the Soviet Union and in Germany towards the end of the War, although such an order did originally help the Wermacht maintain the line on the Eastern Front and avoid a collapse in the winter of 1941-42.
All in all, the book reads quite well as a biography and historical récit, except during the final “War-Lord” section, where it seems to get bogged down in military details. It might also be considered a tough read because of the atrocities described and the general feeling of malaise that the subject evokes in the reader. We can only wonder, from the self-evident descriptions, words and speeches evoked by Bullock, how come the German people, as well as the other concerned countries’s people and leaders of that era, didn’t see the coming disasters as clearly as the author lays them out for us to see.
Bullock, Alan, Hitler: A study in tyranny, revised edition (New York 1961)
Lukacs, John, The Hitler of History (New York 1997)
Neumann, Franz L., Review of Bullock, Journal of Central European Affairs, vol. 13, 1953-54
Prescott, Orville, Review of Bullock, New York Times, Feb. 18, 1953
Speer Albert, Inside the Third Reich (New York 1971)
Trevor-Roper, H.R., “First Power, then Revolution”, review of Bullock, New York Times, Feb. 23, 1953
Wiskemann, Elisabeth, Review of Bullock, History Today, vol. 2 1952, 855
 Bullock, Alan, Hitler: A study in tyranny, revised edition (New York 1961), vii
 Speer Albert, Inside The Third Reich (New York 1971), 595-612
 Bullock, 602, 603, 609, 651, 670, 675, 696
 Bullock, 323-351
 Lukacs, John, The Hitler of History (New York 1997), 9
 Bullock, 127
 Bullock, 716
 Bullock, 138
 Bullock, 291
 Bullock, 348
 Bullock, 468, 507
 Bullock, 665-660
 Neumann, Franz L., Review of Bullock, Journal of Central European Affairs, v. 13 1953-54, 198; Wiskemann, Elisabeth, Review of Bullock, History Today, v. 2 1952, 855
 Bullock, 651, 654, 709
 Wiskemann, 857
 Trevor-Roper, H.R., “First Power, then Revolution”, review of Bullock, (New York Times, Feb. 23, 1953); Prescott, Orville, Review of Bullock, New York Times, Feb. 18, 1953
 Bullock, 597
Return to Essays Index