1924: The Year That Made Hitler by Peter Ross Range
With the Bavarian government’s chokehold on Mein Kampf set to run out this year, a book entitled 1924 (the year of its conception) seemed in serious danger of being sloppy and opportunistic. But its convenient timing and dramatic subtitle – The Year That Made Hitler – belie the book’s genuine merit.
Peter Ross Range follows Hitler through a transformative period in his life, beginning with a botched coup attempt and a trial for treason and ending with the production of what would become the holy book for the Nazi movement. It was the time when Hitler consolidated his thinking on race, geopolitics, and power, and it marked the beginning of his evolution from Beer Hall revolutionary to vote-seeking politician.
It was a turning point, both for Hitler and the Nazi party, but this fact is really only incidental to the book’s success. In contrast to more thematic works, Range’s narrow focus brings his subject matter to life, giving us a detailed biopsy of Hitler’s mind and movement. Where did his ideas come from and how did they shape his actions, and how could a man so vile come to power in a modern country? These questions have received a variety of answers over the years but rarely are we given the opportunity to watch them unfold.
Take the thesis that fascism has its origins in Romanticism, a theory first put forward by the philosopher Isaiah Berlin. Throughout 1924 we encounter Hitler’s passion for Wagner, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche and read reports of his powerful sobbing at the plight of the German nation; we discover in his writings a self-identity conceived of in largely Romantic terms and we witness in his decisions the influence of these ideas.
Similarly, Robert Paxton’s thesis that Hitler relied for his success on Germany’s conservative elite becomes entirely obvious. Over and over again 1924 introduces us to an astonishing array of figures who, though they didn’t necessarily agree with Hitler’s view of the world, were more than happy to promote it if it furthered the fight against communism. Through Hitler’s short-lived alliance with Bavaria’s ruling triumvirate, and later in the leniency of Judge Georg Neithardt during his trial, one gets a feel for the political climate of Weimar Bavaria and the leanings and anxieties that gave the far right room to manoeuvre.
But Hitler lived an eventful life, full of twists, turns, and near misses, and in the shadow of the Holocaust it’s always easy to read any of these as the moment it all could have been prevented or as the decision that made it all possible. The year 1924 probably isn’t as central as Range argues it is, but it’s certainly important, and it makes for an interesting read.
1924: The Year That Made Hitler is published by Little Brown Book Group at the hardback price of £20, for further information visit here.