The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Goring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII

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Overview

In a devastated Europe at the end of World War II, the improbable relationship between fallen tyrant Hermann Goering and rising US Army physician Douglas Kelley becomes a becomes a hazardous quest into the nature of evil

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The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII

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Overview

In a devastated Europe at the end of World War II, the improbable relationship between fallen tyrant Hermann Goering and rising US Army physician Douglas Kelley becomes a becomes a hazardous quest into the nature of evil

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 10/21/2013
Journalist El-Hai’s (The Lobotomist) haunting historical account raises questions about the human capacity to cause harm. Focusing on two charismatic but delusional men—Goring, who was in captivity, and Kelley, his interlocutor, El-Hai presents an engrossing case study on the nature of evil. Kelley, an American psychiatrist overseeing the U.S. Army’s psychiatric services during World War II, was called upon to assess war criminals’ ability to stand trial. His true ambition was to understand whether shared personality traits drove the horrors of the Nazi regime, and took the opportunity to study his subjects—most of whom were high-ranking Nazi officers. He did so with indifference to their culpability and little intention of treating them. One of his primary subjects was Goring, the designated successor to Hitler. Kelley’s fascination with the human mind was perhaps as boundless as the delusional optimism of Goring, who believed his contributions to the Nazi Party would be celebrated and memorialized. In this thoroughly engaging story of the jocular master war criminal and the driven, self-aware psychiatrist, El-Hai finds no simple binary. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
Ace reportage on the unique relationship between a prison physician and one of the Third Reich's highest ranking officials. Profoundly expanded from an original article in Scientific American, science and historical journalist El-Hai's (Creative Writing/Augsburg Coll.; The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness, 2005) dark exploration begins at the end: with the suicide of prominent U.S. Army psychiatrist Capt. Douglas Kelley. The author examines the origins of his depressive internal crisis: his professional association with one of the most powerful Nazi leaders, Hermann Göring. Unfussy and compelling, El-Hai's chronicle details the intensive intercourse between the two men. Kelley was called in to perform physical and mental evaluations on the top Nazi officials awaiting arraignment in the Nuremberg tribunals, yet zeroed in on Göring. Hitler's right-hand man presented at Nuremberg as an arrogant, plump, cutthroat "master manipulator" addicted to paracodeine. Stripped of his diamond-embossed ivory baton (a gift from Hitler), oversize gemstone rings and manifold honorifics, the prideful and charming Göring acquiesced to the general orthodoxy of Kelley's medical assessments, including inkblot testing and apperception analyses. As suicide increasingly became a destiny of choice for several other Nazi captives, the doctor became increasingly enraptured by the domineering Göring, delving intensively into his fearlessness during his conviction and further exploring the unshakable allegiance of the Nazi personality. This obsessive research would negatively manifest itself in Kelley's psyche for decades, ultimately facilitating his undoing. El-Hai's spadework involved scouring Kelley's trove of private documents, letters and clinical journals, all graciously provided by the doctor's oldest son. Recently slated for both film and stage adaptations, El-Hai's gripping account turns a chilling page in American history and provides an unsettling meditation on the machinations of evil.
From the Publisher

“Ace reportage on the unique relationship between a prison physician and one of the Third Reich’s highest ranking officials…. El-Hai’s gripping account turns a chilling page in American history and provides an unsettling meditation on the machinations of evil.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Journalist El-Hai’s haunting historical account raises questions about the human capacity to cause harm.... In this thoroughly engaging story of the jocular master war criminal and the driven, self-aware psychiatrist, El-Hai finds no simple binary."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Well researched and well written”—Library Journal

"Jack El-Hai’s biography of Army psychiatrist Douglas Kelley provides a riveting look at the top Nazis awaiting trial — and reveals the dangerous power of intimacy with evil."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"If you liked Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt, try The Nazi and the Psychiatrist by Jack El-Hai."—Psychology Today

"With full access to Kelley’s notes on Nazi psychology, El-Hai infuses his story with the messy, compelling details of people’s lives. These tug the reader inside Kelley’s head for an engrossing exploration of human nature, sanity and despair."—Science News

"This intimate and insightful portrait of two intersecting, outsized personalities—one an exemplar of public service and the other an avatar of evil—is as suspenseful as a classic Hitchcock film that hinges on an eerie psychological secret. Readers of The Nazi and the Psychiatrist will be riveted by Jack El-Hai’s moving study of how good and evil can converge in a heightened instant and across a lifetime.” — Andrew Solomon, National Book Award-winning author of Far From the Tree

“In the chilling tale of Dr. Douglas Kelley, a young U.S. Army psychiatrist and his secret evaluations of Nazi leader Hermann Göring, Jack El-Hai weaves a harrowing narrative that brilliantly probes the depths of evil… [A]n utterly fascinating book.” — Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Devil in the Grove

"In this little known and completely gripping story of the American psychiatrist sent to analyze Nazi leaders following their World War II capture, Jack El-Hai tells of an encounter both scientific and deeply haunting. But more than that, he tells the story of efforts to understand evil—in its most chilling human incarnation—and to overcome it in the pursuit of our better selves.” — Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook

Library Journal
10/15/2013
An outgoing, ambitious U.S. Army psychiatrist, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley was assigned to "maintain the mental fitness" of Nazi war criminals before the Nuremberg Trials. While interviewing and testing the accused leaders, Kelley developed a close relationship with Hermann Göring, Hitler's right-hand man. Helping the charismatic Göring lose weight and overcome his addiction to painkillers, Kelley remained aware of the Reichsmarschall's evil but was still shocked when Göring committed suicide via cyanide. Through his extensive research, Kelley came to believe that the qualities that led Nazi leaders to commit acts of horror were not unique to Nazi Germany, and this deeply troubled him over the years. Journalist El-Hai (The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest To Rid the World of Mental Illness ) explores not only the mental states of the Nazi war criminals but also that of the overworked, distressed Kelley, who surprisingly committed suicide himself, also with cyanide, during a domestic dispute in 1958. Although more dramatic, this book is equally as well researched and well written as Eric Jaffe's A Curious Madness, reviewed below, which details the Tokyo war crimes and the army psychiatrist assigned to assess the sanity of one of its key defendants. VERDICT Recommended for those interested in the Nuremberg Trials, the Nazi criminal mind, or stories of human instability.—Leslie Lewis, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781610391566
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 9/10/2013
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 217,143
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


Jack El-Hai is a widely-published journalist who covers history, medicine, and science, and the author of the acclaimed book The Lobotomist. He is the winner of the June Roth Memorial Award for Medical Journalism, as well as fellowships and grants from the McKnight Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, and the Center for Arts Criticism. He lives in Minneapolis.
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Read an Excerpt


It was a plum assignment, a rendezvous with the men widely regarded as the worst criminals of the century. Kelley’s time as the supervisor of several psychiatric hospitals had taught him that aberrant behavior often had mysterious and fascinating sources, and he set his own goals for the time he would spend in this Nazi holding pen. Kelley arrived among the Nazi leaders eager to probe them for signs of a flaw common to all: the willingness to commit evil acts. Did they share a mental disorder or a psychiatric cause of their behavior? Was there a “Nazi personality” that accounted for their heinous misdeeds? Kelley intended to find out…

Kelley had formed quick impressions of Göring. From his meetings with the other Nazi prisoners, Kelley recognized that Göring “was undoubtedly the most outstanding personality in the jail because he was intelligent,” Kelley wrote in his medical notes. “He was well developed mentally—well rounded—a huge, powerful sort of body when he was covered up with his cape and you couldn’t see the fat jiggle as he walked, a good looking individual from a distance, a very powerful dynamic individual.” But having also lightly touched in their initial cell-bound conversations upon politics, the war, and the rise of Nazism, Kelley was not blind to Göring’s dark side. The ex-Reich Marshal flashed ruthlessness, narcissism, and a cold-hearted disregard for anyone beyond his close circle of family and friends. That very combination of characteristics present in Göring—the admirable and the sinister—heightened Kelley’s interest in the prisoner. Only such an attractive, capable, and smart man who had smashed and snuffed out the lives of so many people could point Kelley toward the regions of the human soul that he urgently wanted to explore.

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Table of Contents


Principal Characters
Chapter 1: The House
Chapter 2: Mondorf-les-Bains
Chapter 3: The Psychiatrist
Chapter 4: Among the Ruins
Chapter 5: Inkblots
Chapter 6: Interloper
Chapter 7: The Palace of Justice
Chapter 8: The Nazi Mind
Chapter 9: Cyanide
Chapter 10: Post Mortem
Acknowledgments
Bibliography
[Possible Appendix/art of Rorschach blots]
Index
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 25, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    The Nazi and the Psy­chi­a­trist: Her­mann Göring, Dr. Dou­glas

    The Nazi and the Psy­chi­a­trist: Her­mann Göring, Dr. Dou­glas M. Kel­ley, and a Fatal Meet­ing of Minds at the End of WWII by Jack El-Hai is a non-fiction book about the doc­tor and his inter­ac­tion with the war criminals.

    This is a good book, but it is not the book I thought it would be. In my head I was imag­in­ing Göring on the prover­bial couch, or sit­ting across from Dr. Kel­ley engag­ing in war of the minds. What I got was a study by Dr. Kel­ley of what is con­sid­ered evil using the Nurem­berg tri­als as a laboratory.

    Dr. Kel­ley jumped on the oppor­tu­nity to diag­nose the Nazi mind­set, to find out what made these peo­ple tick, how could they mur­der mil­lions (includ­ing their own peo­ple), what was their defense mech­a­nisms and jus­ti­fi­ca­tions that allowed them to live with­out guilt or remorse.
    Inter­est­ing ques­tions indeed!

    Göring, the high­est rank­ing Nazi being tried, was con­vinced that he will be set free, arriv­ing to his incar­na­tion with16 suit­cases, one filled with valu­ables. As a for­mer head of state he fig­ured that the trial was just vic­tors’ pro­pa­ganda. When con­fronted with evi­dence of con­cen­tra­tion camps and Nazi mur­ders he claimed that he didn’t know what was happening.

    Dr. Kel­ley admits that Göring is a charis­matic per­son­al­ity and the two got along very well. Along with Göring, the book also talks a lot about Hess who is pre­sented as an unsta­ble per­son who might, or might not, be able to stand trial.

    The book also talks a great deal about the Rorschach tests and Dr. Kelley’s inter­pre­ta­tion of the pris­on­ers’ answers and extrap­o­lated their mean­ings. Since Dr. Kel­ley worked through an inter­preter, the results of the tests were still being eval­u­ated half a cen­tury later.

    Upon his return to the US Dr. Kel­ley set­tled into a fam­ily life and became a noted psy­chi­a­trist spe­cial­iz­ing in foren­sics. Dr. Kel­ley taught at top schools, researched and worked with police all over the coun­try. In an ironic twist, Dr. Kel­ley was caught in his own night­mar­ish exis­tence (by his own mak­ing) and com­mit­ted sui­cide the same way Göring did before him.

    The con­clu­sions Dr. Kelly made are fright­en­ing and still rel­e­vant to this day. In his writ­ings, Dr. Kel­ley stated that there was noth­ing “spe­cial” about these top Nazis and their per­son­al­i­ties, what hap­pened dur­ing Germany’s Third Reich could hap­pen in any coun­try.

    While I found the premise of the book to be fas­ci­nat­ing, I didn’t feel the nar­ra­tive came together once the Nurem­berg tri­als were over. This book could is actu­ally more of a biog­ra­phy of Dr. Kel­ley than his inter­ac­tion with his infa­mous clients.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2013

    Brilliant and fast, fast read. El-Hai brings to life one of the

    Brilliant and fast, fast read. El-Hai brings to life one of the most important men from World War 2 that most of us have never even heard of, Dr. Douglas Kelly. His story is devastating, complex and completely gripping. It's perfect for history buffs, as well as fans of medical thrillers.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2014

    A fascinating and telling story of Dr. Douglas Kelly's interview

    A fascinating and telling story of Dr. Douglas Kelly's interviews and studies of the most infamous collection of war criminals ever. The lessons learned and the story told are as important today as they were after WWII. An outstanding read. I couldn't put it down.

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  • Posted August 9, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    A Great Read!

    I found this book difficult to put down. It is well written and flows easily in addition to being highly intriguing subject matter. Central to the book is the vying interpretations of the psychology of the minds of Nazi leaders yet this does not overwhelm the excellent story-telling from El-Hai.

    At times it is unclear whether this is a biography of Goring or Kelley or an academic contribution to the aforementioned debate. However, as one gets engrossed in the story, it hardly seems to matter that it doesn't necessarily have a defined goal beyond the storytelling itself.

    I would certainly recommend this to anyone interested in the history of WW2 or psychiatry in the 20th century. Overall, it is an enjoyable and fascinating read.

    *Disclosure - I received a free ARC copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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