This is the first of two volumes (it ends in 1939 with the dictator’s 50th birthday) and there is little here that is substantially new. However, Mr. Ullrich offers a fascinating Shakespearean parable about how the confluence of circumstance, chance, a ruthless individual and the willful blindness of others can transform a country — and, in Hitler’s case, lead to an unimaginable nightmare for the world ... provides vivid insight into some factors that helped turn a 'Munich rabble-rouser' — regarded by many as a self-obsessed 'clown' with a strangely 'scattershot, impulsive style' — into 'the lord and master of the German Reich.'”
Mr. Ullrich is a journalist rather than an academic, which partly explains one of the book’s many positive features—its remarkable fluency and readability, which has been ably captured in an excellent translation by Jefferson Chase. Avoiding the often deadening prose of his German academic colleagues, Mr. Ullrich has produced an immensely engaging book: It can be recommended without hesitation to those who seek an approach that blends the personal focus of biography with a lively, informative account of the political background. But this is no triumph of style over substance. Mr. Ullrich knows his stuff.
Ullrich gives readers a very shrewd and insightful account of the precise maneuverings by which Hitler seized power in Germany ... In the book's closing segments, the familiar crazed dictator of the World War II years is all but fully formed. The account of that formation in Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 is the richest and most convincingly three-dimensional one yet produced by a major biographer. And the fully-human Hitler who emerges from these pages is, inevitably, far more horrifying than a simple monster ever could be.
Hitler sometimes disappears from Ullrich’s narrative for pages at a time. But if Hitler: Ascent is as much a work of history as a biography, this is only appropriate. For Hitler was a man who evacuated his inner self, as much as possible, in order to become a vessel for history ... What is truly frightening, and monitory, in Ullrich’s book is not that a Hitler could exist, but that so many people seemed to be secretly waiting for him.
In truth, there is little new in this ... What Ullrich presents is a thorough and thoroughly readable work of synthesis, which succeeds in combining the personal and the political into a coherent whole ... Recognising Hitler’s humanity is therefore a significant step, not least in the acknowledgment that he, too, was one of us. And, rather than being construed in some way as an apologia, Ullrich contends quite rightly that this approach makes the subject even more horrific. Hitler the dictator, Hitler the mass murderer was not only human, he was all too human.