What Did Hitler Read? (and what did he burn?)

The Weekly Standard finally gets around to reviewing Timothy Ryback’s book “Hitler’s Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life,” (Vintage, 2008). All in all, the review’s just fine. It gives the basic overview of what Ryback reports: basically, that Hitler was a voracious reader, if an uncritical and self-serving one.

A good portion of the 16,000 books Hitler owned–a collection currently housed in Russia and the Library of Congress–reads like a Who’s Who of early 20th century racial theorists, bunk eugenicists, and crackpot political theorists. Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Paul Lagarde, and America’s own Henry Ford were, therefore, lining his stacks.

To be fair, Hitler dabbled in literature, architecture, and what was then considered respectable history. But our reviewer, Michael McDonald, goes along with Ryback’s main point: that nearly all of the things Hitler read simply confirmed his opinions. Nary a word seemed to challenge them.

But here’s something I noticed, both in Ryback’s and other reviews, like the New York Times’ (in January, 2009). Critics keep pointing out the facile irony, that Hitler “may be better known to posterity for burning rather than cherishing books.” It’s a small point they make, admittedly. But it is seems an entirely false irony in any event. If one takes Ryback’s point seriously–that Hitler kept a horrendously dogmatic, selective, and self-serving collection of book, no matter how many–then it stands to reason that once he had the chance, he’d be just as selective with what went in his countries’ libraries too. He wasn’t against books, just certain kinds.

And on the last point: the books Hitler banned. I came across what seems like a reliable survey of the book-banning campaign under the Nazi regime at the University of Arizona’s library Web site. Apparently the library organized an exhibit in 2001 based on the the scholar Leonidas Hill’s book “The Nazi Attack on Un-German Literature, 1933-1945.” There’s a link to several scanned lists (and translated too!) that Nazi-approved groups made, too.

And worth noting, a list published by in 1935 by Die Bucherei, the official Nazi journal for lending libraries:

No “literature of Marxism, Communism and Bolshevism,”
No “Pacifist literature,”
No “Literature with liberal, democratic tendencies and attitudes, and writing supporting the Weimar Republic.”
No “historical writings whose purpose is to denigrate the origin, the spirit and the culture of the German Volk, or to dissolve the racial and structural order of the Volk, or that denies the force and importance of leading historical figures in favor of egalitarianism and the masses, and which seeks to drag them through the mud (Emil Ludwig).”
No “Books that advocate ‘art’ which is decadent, bloodless, or purely constructivist.”
And No “Literature by Jewish authors, regardless of the field”


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