“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 , 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
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.