Goebbels: A Biography

Overview

From renowned German Holocaust historian Peter Longerich comes the definitive one-volume biography of Adolf Hitler’s malevolent minister of propaganda.
 
In life, and in the grisly manner of his death, Joseph Goebbels was one of Adolf Hitler’s most loyal acolytes. By the end, no one in the Berlin bunker was closer to the Führer than his devoted Reich minister for public enlightenment and propaganda. But how did this clubfooted son of a ...

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Goebbels: A Biography

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Overview

From renowned German Holocaust historian Peter Longerich comes the definitive one-volume biography of Adolf Hitler’s malevolent minister of propaganda.
 
In life, and in the grisly manner of his death, Joseph Goebbels was one of Adolf Hitler’s most loyal acolytes. By the end, no one in the Berlin bunker was closer to the Führer than his devoted Reich minister for public enlightenment and propaganda. But how did this clubfooted son of a factory worker rise from obscurity to become Hitler’s most trusted lieutenant and personally anointed successor?
 
In this ground-breaking biography, Peter Longerich sifts through the historical record—and thirty thousand pages of Goebbels’s own diary entries—to provide the answer to that question. Longerich, the first historian to make use of the Goebbels diaries in a biographical work, engages and challenges the self-serving portrait the propaganda chief left behind. Spanning thirty years, the diaries paint a chilling picture of a man driven by a narcissistic desire for recognition who found the personal affirmation he craved within the virulently racist National Socialist movement. Delving into the mind of his subject, Longerich reveals how Goebbels’s lifelong search for a charismatic father figure inexorably led him to Hitler, to whom he ascribed almost godlike powers.
 
This comprehensive biography documents Goebbels’s ascent through the ranks of the Nazi Party, where he became a member of the Führer’s inner circle and launched a brutal campaign of anti-Semitic propaganda. Though endowed with near-dictatorial control of the media—film, radio, press, and the fine arts—Longerich’s Goebbels is a man dogged by insecurities and beset by bureaucratic infighting. He feuds with his bitter rivals Hermann Göring and Alfred Rosenberg, unsuccessfully advocates for a more radical line of “total war,” and is thwarted in his attempt to pursue a separate peace with the Allies during the waning days of World War II. This book also reveals, as never before, Goebbels’s twisted personal life—his mawkish sentimentality, manipulative nature, and voracious sexual appetite.
 
A harrowing look at the life of one of history’s greatest monsters, Goebbels delivers fresh insight into how the Nazi message of hate was conceived, nurtured, and disseminated. This complete portrait of the man behind that message is sure to become a standard for historians and students of the Holocaust for decades to come.

Praise for Goebbels
 
“Peter Longerich . . . has delved into rarely accessed material from his subject’s diaries, which span thirty years, to paint a remarkable portrait of the man who became one of Hitler’s most trusted lieutenants.”The Daily Telegraph
 
Praise for Heinrich Himmler
 
“There have been several studies of this enigmatic man, but Peter Longerich’s massive biography, grounded in exhaustive study of the primary sources, is now the standard work and must stand alongside Ian Kershaw’s Hitler, Ulrich Herbert’s Best and Robert Gerwarth’s Hitler’s Hangman: The Life of Heydrich as one of the landmark Nazi biographies. As the author of a celebrated study of the Holocaust, Longerich is better able than his predecessors to situate Himmler within the vast machinery of genocide. And he brings to his task a gift for capturing those mannerisms that are the intimate markers of personality.”London Review of Books
 
“[An] excellent and comprehensive biography.”The New York Review of Books

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
03/02/2015
Longerich (The Unwritten Order), a historian of modern Germany at Royal Holloway University of London, explores in depth three aspects of the career and life of the Third Reich’s infamous minister of propaganda: “his development from a failed writer and intellectual to a Nazi agitator”; his “efforts... to introduce uniformity into the media, cultural life, and the public sphere”; and his “role as a wartime propagandist and advocate of ‘total war.’” He labels Goebbels a narcissist, an “ice-cold evil genius” who uncritically idolized Hitler for embodying the “German soul.” The book’s greatest strength—and greatest weakness—lies in Longerich’s deep explorations of the most intimate and specific aspects of Goebbels’s personal life. Readers get a clear window on his perspective, but a broader context is often lacking. Some sections are packed with excessive description, though when Longerich writes of Goebbels’s attempts in 1945 to maintain popular morale—even as a German defeat in WWII grew imminent—he lacks solid details on the state of the population’s collective consciousness. Longerich is a master of portraying the Nazi leadership and its infighting, if not a particularly colorful writer. This biography is now the definitive work on Goebbels in English, and will be of major interest to scholars and serious students of the Third Reich. (May)
From the Publisher
Praise for Goebbels
 
“Peter Longerich . . . has delved into rarely accessed material from his subject’s diaries, which span thirty years, to paint a remarkable portrait of the man who became one of Hitler’s most trusted lieutenants.”The Daily Telegraph
 
Praise for Heinrich Himmler
 
“There have been several studies of this enigmatic man, but Peter Longerich’s massive biography, grounded in exhaustive study of the primary sources, is now the standard work and must stand alongside Ian Kershaw’s Hitler, Ulrich Herbert’s Best and Robert Gerwarth’s Hitler’s Hangman: The Life of Heydrich as one of the landmark Nazi biographies. As the author of a celebrated study of the Holocaust, Longerich is better able than his predecessors to situate Himmler within the vast machinery of genocide. And he brings to his task a gift for capturing those mannerisms that are the intimate markers of personality.”London Review of Books
 
“[An] excellent and comprehensive biography.”The New York Review of Books
 
“Supremely enlightening.”The New York Times
 
“Admirably thorough and packed with facts . . . Students of World War II will likely find this the last word on its immediate subject.”Kirkus Reviews
 
“Splendid . . . Longerich gives [Himmler’s biography] a depth and breadth it has previously lacked.”The Daily Telegraph
 
“[An] epically gripping portrait.”The Independent
Library Journal
★ 03/15/2015
Historian Longerich (history, Univ. of London; Holocaust) takes advantage of rarely utilized diaries and other sources to painstakingly document the life of Adolf Hitler's propaganda master and perhaps most loyal subordinate. The book balances its examination of Joseph Goebbels's professional and private life and proposes that his narcissism and obsession with recognition did not stem from his disability or relatively poor upbringing. The author instead argues that it was his inability to develop a sense of independence that led to a life of rabid loyalty to his dictator. Longerich expertly demonstrates how a petty mentality combined with brilliant powers of manipulation resulted in the development of a propaganda master capable of enthralling Germany into joining the Nazi movement, dehumanizing targets of the Holocaust, and sacrificing their very lives (he also gave his own) to the führer he worshiped. This work is, by far, the most complete treatment of its subject to date and is likely to remain so for a long time. Goebbels (1897–1945) was a contemptible man in both personality and deed, and while his life never inspires true pity, Longerich does an excellent job of describing a man always doggedly pursuing the approval of someone; whether his mother, a girlfriend, the German populace, or Hitler. VERDICT Highly recommended for German, Holocaust, and World War II historians and readers, biography lovers, and those interested in marketing and propaganda history. [See Prepub Alert, 4/7/14.]—Benjamin Brudner, Curry Coll. Lib., Milton, MA
Kirkus Reviews
2015-02-16
Thoroughly researched, massive biography of one of the chief powers behind Hitler's throne.It is perhaps literature's loss, but certainly humankind's, that Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) abandoned his attempts to make a living as a writer and instead attached himself to the firebrand-cum-spectacle Hitler. As Goebbels, in an early, mawkish piece, wrote, "All modern artists…are to a greater or lesser degree insane—like all of us who have active minds." As is his custom, Longerich (Modern German History/Royal Holloway Univ. of London; Heinrich Himmler: A Life, 2012) draws on psychology to characterize Goebbels as a classic narcissist, though one of real ability and accomplishment. He may not have been a first-rate writer, but he had a sharp mind and a strong sense of resolve, all of which he put to use as the Nazi state's chief propagandist. In the first third of the book, the author charts the development of that ideology and the growing connection between Hitler and Goebbels, a friendship that suffered from tensions that haunted the lieutenant. As he wrote in 1934, "Führer does not call at supper time. We have the feeling that somebody is influencing him against us. We are both very pained by it. Go to bed with a heavy heart." Hitler must have had other things on his mind, and though often slighted, Goebbels proved a loyal assistant. Of particular interest is Longerich's account, late in the book, of efforts among Hitler's chief aides to forge separate peace treaties with the soon-to-be-victorious Allies, with Goebbels angling for a concord with the Soviets. Close though Goebbels was to Hitler, he was never able to present the proposal, and the Nazis continued to wage a ruinous two-front war. A schemer and masterful manipulator, in short, Goebbels was seldom able to sway the chief object of his attention. Longerich's book is overly long and even plodding, but it is essential: it paints a definitive portrait of a man whose name has become a byword for complicit evil, and deservedly so.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400067510
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/5/2015
  • Pages: 992
  • Sales rank: 283,004

Meet the Author

Peter Longerich is professor of modern German history at Royal Holloway, University of London and founder of Royal Holloway’s Holocaust Research Centre. He has published extensively on Nazi Germany, including the acclaimed Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews, The Unwritten Order: Hitler’s Role in the Final Solution, and Heinrich Himmler.

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