The Meaning of Hitler

Plunkett Lake Press
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In this succinct, fact-based, insightful analysis of Hitler and his impact on the world, Sebastian Haffner displays his skills as a first-class journalist and a student of German and modern European history. A keen psychologist, he describes the man, the politician, the ideologue, the military leader, the mass-murderer, and ultimately the traitor to his own (adopted) country.

“Mr Haffner ... has exposed better, and more briefly, than anyone else the clockwork of that infernal machine” — Gordon Brook-Shepherd, Sunday Telegraph

“Lucid, informative and provocative.” — Golo Mann, Der Spiegel

“Nothing I have read on the Third Reich has been as valuable as Sebastian Haffner’s Meaning of Hitler” — Manfred Rommel, Stuttgarter Nachrichten

“a stimulating book, brilliant and rich in ideas; in short a masterpiece of historical essay writing.” — Joachim Fest, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

“This study ... deserves the highest praise. There is nothing of this brevity and depth to inform the younger generation and give those who lived through the era food for thought.” — Peter Diehl-Thiele, Süddeutsche Zeitung

“He circumnavigates the Hitler phenomenon in order to illuminate it from seven different viewpoints, and that in under 200 lucid and precise pages without assuming any prior knowledge.” — Peter Graf Kielmansegg, Münchner Merkur

“not one more biography but an analysis - a most penetrating analysis - of what Hitler was up to in his astonishing career” — A.L. Rowse

“Sebastian Haffner’s book already has received recognition ... as perhaps the best that has dealt with the phenomenon of Hitler and his impact on the 20th century. It is better than Trevor-Roper’s best-seller, The Last Days of Hitler ... a most penetrating analysis of what Hitler was up to in his astonishing career.” — The New Republic

“Tough-minded evaluation of Hitler’s career ... That this book was a best-seller in Germany [43 weeks] indicates that Haffner’s countrymen welcomed this compact, lucid, hard-headed reexamination of contemporary history.” — Publishers Weekly

“Until [1991], as Sebastian Haffner wrote in his short, matchless book The Meaning of Hitler (1978), we had been living in the Europe which Hitler created for us: the split continent and the mutilated, divided Germany.” — Neal Ascherson, The Observer

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About the author

Sebastian Haffner was born in 1907 as Raimund Pretzel the last of four children. His father was headmaster of a Berlin school and a noted liberal school reformer. Pretzel studied law and received his doctorate in 1934. Although he was not Jewish he abandoned his planned career as a lawyer in public service when the Nazis came to power. Instead he worked as a non-political journalist.

In 1938 he and his pregnant fiancée, who was of Jewish descent and for that reason had been dismissed from her post as university librarian, managed to emigrate to the UK, where they were married. There he started to write a memoir about his youth in Weimar Germany and the rise of the Nazis. The book (Defying Hitler) was abandoned at the outbreak of war and replaced by another (Germany: Jekyll and Hyde) offering an analysis of Germany for the benefit of the allies. This book, published under the pseudonym Sebastian Haffner which he used for the rest of his life, procured his release from internment in the summer of 1940. In 1942 he became a journalist at the Observer and quickly made a reputation as a political thinker.

Haffner returned to Germany in 1954, initially as a correspondent for the Observer. There he became an important commentator on current affairs and a well-known television personality. In the 1960s he started writing historical books, mostly about 20th century German history, including The Ailing Empire: Germany from Bismarck to Hitler. His most important and successful book, The Meaning of Hitler, appeared in 1978. He retired in 1991 and died in 1999 aged 91.

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Additional Information

Plunkett Lake Press
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Published on
Aug 9, 2019
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Biography & Autobiography / Presidents & Heads of State
History / Europe / Germany
Political Science / Political Ideologies / Fascism & Totalitarianism
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Eligible for Family Library

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Defying Hitler was written in 1939 and focuses on the year 1933, when, as Hitler assumed power, its author was a 25-year-old German law student, in training to join the German courts as a junior administrator. His book tries to answer two questions people have been asking since the end of World War II: “How were the Nazis possible?” and “Why did no one stop them?” Sebastian Haffner’s vivid first-person account, written in real time and only much later discovered by his son, makes the rise of the Nazis psychologically comprehensible.

“An astonishing memoir... [a] masterpiece.” — Gabriel Schoenfeld, The New York Times Book Review

“A short, stabbing, brilliant book... It is important, first, as evidence of what one intelligent German knew in the 1930s about the unspeakable nature of Nazism, at a time when the overwhelming majority of his countrymen claim to have know nothing at all. And, second, for its rare capacity to reawaken anger about those who made the Nazis possible.” — Max Hastings, The Sunday Telegraph

“Defying Hitler communicates one of the most profound and absolute feelings of exile that any writer has gotten between covers.” — Charles Taylor, Salon

“Sebastian Haffner was Germany’s political conscience, but it is only now that we can read how he experienced the Nazi terror himself — that is a memoir of frightening relevance today.” — Heinrich Jaenicke, Stern

“The prophetic insights of a fairly young man... help us understand the plight, as Haffner refers to it, of the non-Nazi German.” — The Denver Post

“Sebastian Haffner’s Defying Hitler is a most brilliant and imaginative book — one of the most important books we have ever published.” — Lord Weidenfeld

Sebastian Haffner regarded himself as “a Prussian with a British passport.” In this overview of Prussia’s 170-year history as an independent state, he depicts Prussia’s evolution from a sensational 18th century success story – “a state based on law, one of the first in Europe” – to its absorption into the Third Reich where “the rule of law was the first thing that Hitler abolished.” In this succinct and readable book, Haffner argues that Hitler’s racial and nationality policy was the opposite of Prussia’s and Hitler’s political style, the very opposite of Prussian.

“In his short book The Rise and Fall of Prussia Haffner combines a critical examination with a declaration of love for a state which always lived beyond its means ... but which managed to combine material poverty with intellectual grandeur.” — Michael Stürmer,Welt am Sonntag

“Haffner sees Prussia’s history as the 'tragedy of a purely rational state'. An agglomeration of arbitrary territories, it made a virtue of its artificiality, adapting to the enlightenment and then to romanticism, but finally also to nationalism, betraying the basis of its statehood and leading to its ultimate destruction.” — Chrisian Roth,Akademische Blätter

“Haffner long regarded himself as a 'Prussian with a British passport'. He identified with Prussia and its achievements: general compulsory schooling (1717), the abolition of torture (1740), the establishment of religious toleration (1740), Bismarck’s welfare state (1883), the medical giants Virchow, Koch, von Behring, the intellectual giants Kant, von Humboldt and von Schlegel, and much more. At the end of his book he recounted the (often-ignored) expulsion of millions of Prussians from their homeland in 1945. 'It was an atrocity, the final atrocity of a war which had more than its share in atrocities, admittedly begun by Germany under Hitler.' His message is very relevant today, when he praises those expelled for rejecting revenge and having the courage to say, 'This is enough.'” — David Childs, The Independent

An eye-opening account of life inside North Korea—a closed world of increasing global importance—hailed as a “tour de force of meticulous reporting” (The New York Review of Books)
In this landmark addition to the literature of totalitarianism, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick follows the lives of six North Korean citizens over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il (the father of Kim Jong-un), and a devastating famine that killed one-fifth of the population.
Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive regime today—an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, where displays of affection are punished, informants are rewarded, and an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life. She takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors, and through meticulous and sensitive reporting we see her subjects fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we witness their profound, life-altering disillusionment with the government and their realization that, rather than providing them with lives of abundance, their country has betrayed them.

Praise for Nothing to Envy

“Provocative . . . offers extensive evidence of the author’s deep knowledge of this country while keeping its sights firmly on individual stories and human details.”—The New York Times

“Deeply moving . . . The personal stories are related with novelistic detail.”—The Wall Street Journal

“A tour de force of meticulous reporting.”—The New York Review of Books

“Excellent . . . humanizes a downtrodden, long-suffering people whose individual lives, hopes and dreams are so little known abroad.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“The narrow boundaries of our knowledge have expanded radically with the publication of Nothing to Envy. . . . Elegantly structured and written, [it] is a groundbreaking work of literary nonfiction.”—John Delury, Slate

“At times a page-turner, at others an intimate study in totalitarian psychology.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
In this book written in early 1940 in England, Sebastian Haffner, a recent refugee from Nazi Germany, analyzed Hitler, the Nazis, the German population, and German émigrés. His purpose was to help the Allies wage “psychological warfare” against Nazi Germany, to correct misconceptions about the Nazi regime, and to outline “the foundation of future peace” in Europe.

“Sebastian Haffner's book is unmatched as a contemporary analysis of the Third Reich. It is quite remarkable that, writing in 1940, he could produce such acute insights into Hitler’s character and political hold over Germany” — Ian Kershaw

“ ... excellent analysis of Germany's ills ... Deutschland, Deutschland, über Alles, according to [Haffner], is no mere musical fantasy but a national mania, a fixation, which is driving the nation, not as some imagine, to a great and noble destiny, but to damnation ... This is a particularly penetrating study of a phenomenon whose like history has, perhaps, not ever been seen before.” — The New York Times (August 1941)

“Haffner's clear-sighted analysis, applied mainly to the dissection of his fellow Germans, also annihilates any claim by his contemporaries not to have known about Nazi crimes. The nature of Hitler's regime, he says, was well understood; all that is open to debate is the eagerness with which it was supported ... Apocryphally, Churchill told his cabinet to read this book so that they would understand the Nazi threat. We should do likewise to understand how close we came to ignoring it.”

— The Observer

“clear-sighted and perspicacious ... This brilliant journalist shows that it was possible to see and to hear and to draw one’s conclusions if one only had the will.” —Süddeutsche Zeitung

“An alarm call trying to awaken the British to the unique nature of Hitler and the Nazi regime ... Remarkably prescient” — J. G. Ballard

“A powerful and sustained text ... it explodes with rhetorical fireworks. Haffner produces a convincing picture of the Nazis, their numbers, their power and the destructive nihilism that united them” — Giles MacDonogh, BBC History

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