Heinrich Himmler: A Life by Peter Longerich | Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Heinrich Himmler: A Life

Heinrich Himmler: A Life

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by Peter Longerich

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Heinrich Himmler was an unremarkable looking man. Yet he was Hitler's top enforcer, in charge of the Gestapo, the SS, and the so-called Final Solution. We can only wonder, as biographer Peter Longerich asks, how could such a banal personality attain such a historically unique position of power? How could the son of a prosperous Bavarian Catholic public servant


Heinrich Himmler was an unremarkable looking man. Yet he was Hitler's top enforcer, in charge of the Gestapo, the SS, and the so-called Final Solution. We can only wonder, as biographer Peter Longerich asks, how could such a banal personality attain such a historically unique position of power? How could the son of a prosperous Bavarian Catholic public servant become the organizer of a system of mass murder spanning the whole of Europe?

In the first comprehensive biography of this murderous enigma, Longerich answers those questions with a superb account of Himmler's inner self and outward acts. Masterfully interweaving the story of Himmler's personal life and political career with the wider history of the Nazi dictatorship, Longerich shows how skillfully he exploited and manipulated his disparate roles in the pursuit of his far-reaching and grandiose objectives. Himmler's actual strength, he writes, consisted in redrawing every two or three years the master plans for his sphere of power. Himmler expanded that sphere with ruthless efficiency. In 1929, he took the SS-a small bodyguard unit-and swelled it into a paramilitary organization with elite pretensions. By the end of 1934 he had become Reich Chief of the Political Police, and began to consolidate all police power in his own hands. As Germany grabbed neighboring territory, he expanded the Waffen SS and organized the "Germanization" of conquered lands, which culminated in systematic mass murder. When the regime went on the defensive in 1942, Himmler changed his emphasis again, repressing any opposition or unrest. The author emphasizes the centrality of Himmler's personality to the Nazi murder machine-his surveillance of the private lives of his men, his deep resentments, his fierce prejudices-showing that man and position were inseparable.

Carefully researchedand lucidly written, Heinrich Himmler is the essential account of the man who embodied Hitler's apparatus of evil.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With access to new material, Longerich (Holocaust), professor of history at the University of London, delivers an exhaustive biography of the notorious Nazi. Himmler (1900–1945) grew up in a stable, middle-class family, entering adulthood deeply resentful of Germany’s defeat in WWI. Needy and self-critical, he was a good student and voracious reader whose belief in Aryan superiority was not rare in his generation. Joining the Nazis, he played a minor role in Hitler’s 1923 beer hall putsch. In 1929 Hitler appointed him head of the SS, a small organization of bodyguards which Himmler expanded to an elite force. The SS’s fierce loyalty to Hitler won Himmler command of all Nazi security (police, concentration camps, extermination camps, and mobile killing squads) when Hitler liquidated the rowdier, independent paramilitary SA in 1934. Longerich does not reveal why this modestly neurotic man committed so many unspeakable acts; his diligence may render earlier works obsolete, but he includes so many administrative details and political maneuvers that general readers may prefer the shorter (if not short) 2001 Peter Padfield biography. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

"[S]upremely enlightening." --Jacob Heilbrunn, The New York Times Book Review

"Splendid" - The Sunday Telegraph

"Longerich's study of Himmler's banal evil promises to bear the standard." --The Village Voice

"A masterpiece." --Richard J. Evans, author of The Coming of the Third Reich

"Peter Longerich, already the author of a distinguihed history of the Holocaust, has written a biography that tells us everything that the world could ever need to know about this most terrible, yet dreery, of Hitler's creatures....an authoritative record."--Max Hastings, NYORB

"A remarkable and wholly fascinating new book by Peter Longerich, a German historian who is among the world's leading scholars of the Holocaust and the Third Reich." --Jewish Journal

Library Journal
Noted Holocaust scholar Longerich (history, Royal Holloway, Univ. of London; Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews) presents a thorough, well-researched, and clearly written account of Himmler's life and the history of the SS. Rather than providing groundbreaking new sources or research, this work reframes the existing materials by "integrating biography and structural history" to paint a fuller picture of the infamous Nazi leader and his organization. Longerich successfully weaves primary sources and reputable scholarship into a logical, comprehensive, and unified work. However, with a matter-of-fact tone, a structure more concerned with chronology and clarity than a dramatic arc, and nearly 1000 pages of text and endnotes, it will not appeal to readers of popular biography. VERDICT For popular readers, Katrin Himmler's The Himmler Brothers: A German Family History is a better choice. Scholars of Himmler and the SS at all levels will find this solid, inclusive book an excellent resource.—Audrey Barbakoff, Milwaukee P.L.
Kirkus Reviews
Exhaustive--and sometimes exhausting--life of the Nazi functionary who rivaled Adolf Hitler in power and influence. In disfavor for the last couple of decades, psychohistory finds a champion in Longerich (Modern German History/Royal Holloway University of London; Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews, 2010, etc.), who puts Heinrich Himmler on the couch and finds in him a bundle of neuroses, including attachment disorder: "People who suffer from this kind of dysfunction acquired in early childhood frequently tend, while growing up and as adults, to attach very high expectations to personal relationships, though they cannot define these expectations precisely, and as a result they cannot be fulfilled." Be that as it may, and cold fish though Himmler was, he was methodical in building and maintaining his personal power. Weak and sickly, he nonetheless became commandant of Hitler's personal bodyguard, the "protection squad," building it from a small and elite guard into an organization to rival the size and power of the regular Wehrmacht, or army. Indeed, writes the author, one of the leaders of the attempted assassination of Hitler in 1944 reckoned "that a coup was unavoidable if the army were not to be at the mercy of the SS in the short or long term." Longerich credits Himmler with helping develop the misty Teutonic mythology that provided the mythic basis of the regime and the white-knight image of the SS. He also demonstrates, ably but in sometimes narrative-crushing detail, that Himmler was skilled in reading the signs of the growing radicalization of the regime and getting there first, adapting the SS every couple of years to changing conditions. Himmler was also adept at keeping his skin even while incurring Hitler's disfavor at times--especially at the end of the war, when he attempted to bargain his way, using Jews as pawns, into a separate accommodation with the advancing Allies. Admirably thorough and packed with facts, though often arid and mired in specifics. Readers may wish for a shorter, more pointed treatment, but, psychologizing aside, students of World War II will likely find this the last word on its immediate subject.
Jacob Heilbrunn
…supremely enlightening…
—The New York Times Book Review
Jonathan Yardley
This biography of one of the most evil creatures ever to walk the earth is thoughtful and perceptive…
—The Washington Post

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.50(h) x 2.30(d)

Meet the Author

Peter Longerich is Professor of Modern German History at Royal Holloway University of London and founder of the College's Holocaust Research Centre. He has published widely on the history of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, including Holocaust: The Nazi Murder and Persecution of the Jews, also published by Oxford University Press, which is widely recognized as the standard account of the Nazi machinery of mass murder and the steps by which it unfolded.

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