For the record, the four studies acknowledged by him are Konrad Heiden’s two-volume “Hitler: A Biography”, written in the mid-1930s from Swiss exile; Alan Bullock’s “Hitler: A Study in Tyranny” from 1952 and described by Ullrich as canonical; Joachim Fest’s “sweeping” portrait “Hitler: A Biography” first published in 1973; and Ian Kershaw’s “Hitler 1889-1936: Hubris” and “Hitler 1936-1945: Nemesis” from 1998 and 2000, said by Ullrich to be “standard-setting”.

After Kershaw, the Frankfurter Allgemaine Zeitung opined out that “Our libraries contain 120,000 studies of Hitler – Kershaw’s is their Central Masif”, prompting Ullrich to ask if, after such a monumental biography, there really is a need for another? Yes, he decides in justification, because the wheels of historical research have continued to turn, and at an ever-faster pace.

Recent works on Hitler, for instance, have encompassed his relationship to Berlin and Munich, an analysis of his physiognomy and wild speculations about his alleged homosexuality. Plus there has been a tremendous amount on surrounding figures such as Joseph Goebbels and Eva Braun, and even Nazi sculptor Arno Breker and Hitler’s personal physician Karl Brand.

A host of monographs by scholars has covered topics from the German economy and the Foreign Ministry under Nazism to consumerism and corruption in the Third Reich. Recent years have also seen the editing and publishing of Hitler’s complete notes and speeches up to 1933, the official Reich Chancellery documents under the Führer’s reign and Goebbels’ complete diaries.

So there is plenty that is new for Ullrich, who is described by his publisher as a historian and journalist, and whose previous books include biographies of Otto von Bismarck and Napoleon Bonaparte. “Hitler. A Biography. Volume 1. Ascent 1889-1939” was published in Germany in 2013, apparently becoming a top ten seller, and is now translated into English.

It is a mammoth and meticulous undertaking, with the text alone clocking in at 758 pages, and the Notes, Bibliography and Index taking the whole thing up to just two pages shy of 1000. There are also 24 pages of black and white photos. We do not know when Volume 2 will appear, but presumably it will be of similar size and weight, despite covering only the period from the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939 to Hitler’s cowardly suicide in his Berlin bunker in April 1945.

Less than six years but Hitler, of course, set in motion incredible destruction and suffering, with tens of millions of soldiers and civilians killed and tortured, and an estimated six million Jews, Gypsies and others exterminated in the concentration camps of the Holocaust.

A problem for biographers is that after January 1933, when Hitler assumed power as Chancellor, he arranged for the confiscation of all private documents that might have revealed information about his childhood and youth. Then, in April 1945, one of Hitler’s last orders as the Allies closed in on Berlin was for all his private papers to be burned, as would be his corpse.

Still, few historical topics have been more thoroughly researched, and Ullrich can draw on this mountain of documentation plus the newer revelations for an encyclopaedic study.

Understandably, the future Führer’s nondescript early years are the least documented and, like other biographers of Hitler, Ullrich must pass over them fairly quickly. Here, he must occasionally fall back on “from all we know”, “we can safely assume”, “this, no doubt … ” and “ … presumably … “.

An interesting fact: the identity of Hitler’s paternal grandfather remains uncertain, leading to the irony that the man who would later demand that all Germans prove their “Aryan origins” was himself incapable of demonstrating his own.

The family lived in the Austrian border town of Braunau am Inn, where Hitler was born, but moved to Linz in his childhood. As Ullrich recounts, there are few reliable eyewitness accounts of these earliest years, but from all that is known, young Adolf seems to have had a fairly normal childhood. There are no obvious indications of an abnormal personality development to which his later crimes can be attributed.

There was tension between father and his lazy and intractable son but, if anything, Hitler experienced an overabundance rather than a paucity of motherly love.

Hitler spent most of his youth in the Linz area. His friend in these years, August Kubizek, has written his recollections of their friendship, and these are the only substantial account of Hitler’s two years there at the turn of the century. Unfortunately, they were written for the Nazi party archives and are full of admiration for the later Führer.

In 1907 Hitler left for Vienna. As a young man his dream was to be a painter or architect but he was rejected twice by Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts, which contributed to his inferiority complex. During his years in the Austrian capital before the First World War he survived by peddling his paintings and postcards, and was sometimes homeless.

The story of his public life doesn’t really begin until 1919, when he emerged in Munich as a far-right agitator, one of many who capitalised on the chaos in Germany created by its humiliating defeat in the war and a short-lived leftist revolution in Bavaria.

When Hitler turned 30 that year his life was more than half over, yet he had made absolutely no mark on the world. He had no close friends and was probably still a virgin. He had never held a job. When war began in 1914 he enlisted in the German Army as a private, and four years later when the fighting ended he was still a private, having “lacked leadership qualities”.

Hitler went into politics. He was a powerful and spellbinding speaker who promised the disenchanted a better life and a new and glorious Germany. The Nazis appealed especially to the unemployed, young people and the lower middle class such as small store owners, office employees, craftsmen and farmers.

Hitler’s party, the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or Nazi party for short, exploited the grim national mood in the midst of economic depression. The party’s rise to power was rapid, going from 3 percent of the vote to the Reichstag (German parliament) in elections in 1924 to 33 percent in 1932. Millions of Germans were out of work, there was a lack of confidence in the weak government, known as the Weimar Republic, and when Hitler took over, many Germans believed they had found a saviour for their nation.

Ullrich aims to better our understanding of Hitler’s personality with its astonishing contradictions and contrasts, so that there is a more complex and nuanced picture of the man, such as the linchpin chapter “Hitler as Human Being”. A separate chapter examines Hitler’s leading role in the battle against the Christian churches, a topic hardly touched by earlier biographers.

The Budapest Times has read this gripping biography pretty solidly for a couple of weeks and has barely reached half-way. Hitler has just taken charge of the country, bringing an end to German democracy and establishing a police state. Worse, much worse, is to come. It is an exhaustive but exhausting read, so we will give it a rest for a while and pick up the second half later. It will be equally readable and compelling.

And Volume 2, for sure, when it appears.

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