Hitler: Ascent by Volker Ullrich
  • Title: Hitler: Ascent
  • Subtitle: 1889-1939
  • Author(s): Volker Ullrich
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • Year: 2016-09-06
  • ISBN-10: 0385354398
  • ISBN-13: 9780385354394


Hitler: Ascent: 1889-1939” by Volker Ullrich is a meticulously researched and compelling biography that traces the life of Adolf Hitler from his birth in 1889 to the eve of World War II in 1939. Ullrich provides a detailed examination of Hitler’s formative years, personal life, and political ascent. This biography is not only a historical account of Hitler’s life but also a deep exploration of the socio-political conditions that allowed his rise to power.

The book begins by painting a vivid portrait of Hitler’s early life, shedding light on his family background, his time as a struggling artist in Vienna, and his experiences as a soldier in World War I. Ullrich delves into Hitler’s psyche, revealing his aspirations, prejudices, and the factors that shaped his radical ideology. The narrative then follows Hitler’s entry into politics, his role in the formation of the Nazi Party, and his ascent to the position of Chancellor of Germany in 1933.

Ullrich’s biography offers a nuanced perspective on Hitler, dispelling the notion that he was an inevitable leader. It underscores the complex interplay of factors such as political maneuvering, economic hardship, and societal discontent that contributed to Hitler’s rise. “Hitler: Ascent” is a thought-provoking and comprehensive exploration of the life of one of history’s most notorious figures, making it an essential read for those seeking a deeper understanding of the origins of the Third Reich and the events that led to World War II.


Book Review

"Hitler: Ascent: 1889-1939" - A Nuanced Portrait of a Ruthless Despot's Rise

Volker Ullrich’s “Hitler: Ascent: 1889-1939” is a comprehensive and meticulously researched biography that delves into the life of Adolf Hitler, tracing his journey from a struggling artist to the Chancellor of Germany on the eve of World War II. Ullrich’s work stands out as a nuanced exploration of the man behind one of the darkest chapters in history, challenging conventional wisdom about the inevitability of Hitler’s rise to power. It is a book that not only chronicles Hitler’s personal and political evolution but also offers valuable insights into the socio-political conditions that enabled his ascent.

The strength of Ullrich’s biography lies in his ability to humanize Hitler, portraying him as more than just a monstrous figure. The book begins with a vivid portrayal of Hitler’s early life, describing his modest upbringing in Austria, his strained relationship with his father, and his artistic aspirations in Vienna. These formative years provide a crucial backdrop for understanding the complex character who would later become a dictator responsible for the suffering of millions. Ullrich’s careful examination of Hitler’s youth is a testament to the thoroughness of his research.

One of the book’s most notable attributes is its exploration of Hitler’s personal life and psyche. Ullrich delves into Hitler’s relationships, including his tumultuous ones with women such as Geli Raubal and Eva Braun. These insights reveal the human side of Hitler, his vulnerabilities, and the factors that influenced his political decisions. Ullrich does not excuse Hitler’s actions but rather seeks to provide a deeper understanding of the man behind the dictator.

The narrative follows Hitler’s trajectory into the political arena, beginning with his involvement in the German Workers’ Party and the formation of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazi Party). Ullrich examines the complex web of political machinations and alliances that propelled Hitler to power, dispelling the notion that his ascent was inevitable. The author underscores the role of historical contingencies, political maneuvering, economic upheaval, and societal discontent as key factors in Hitler’s rise. This perspective challenges the simplistic view that Hitler was solely a charismatic demagogue who swept into power on the wings of his oratory skills.

One of the strengths of “Hitler: Ascent” is its attention to the broader context of the Weimar Republic and its tumultuous politics. Ullrich skillfully describes the fragile state of post-World War I Germany, where political instability, economic woes, and social unrest created a fertile ground for extremist ideologies. The author highlights the role of various power-brokers and influential figures who believed they could control Hitler to advance their own agendas. Ullrich’s account provides a rich tapestry of the political climate that allowed Hitler to manipulate and maneuver his way into a position of authority.

In addition to its examination of Hitler, this biography sheds light on the reactions and responses of various groups in German society to the rise of the Nazis. Ullrich discusses the failures of political opponents, including the divided left, to effectively counter the Nazi threat. He also underscores the complicity of powerful conservative elites who believed they could co-opt Hitler for their own purposes, ultimately underestimating the danger he posed to the republic. These insights are crucial for understanding how the Nazi regime came to power in Germany.

Ullrich’s writing is both engaging and accessible, making this substantial biography a compelling read. His approach to Hitler is balanced, refusing to sensationalize or glorify the subject. The author’s attention to detail and meticulous research are evident throughout the book. He draws on a wide range of primary and secondary sources, including Hitler’s writings, diaries, and correspondence, to provide a comprehensive and well-documented account.

In conclusion, “Hitler: Ascent: 1889-1939” by Volker Ullrich is a profound and insightful exploration of the man behind one of the darkest chapters in human history. It offers a nuanced portrait of Adolf Hitler, challenging prevailing narratives and underscoring the importance of historical context in understanding his rise to power. Ullrich’s thorough research, engaging narrative, and thoughtful analysis make this biography an essential read for anyone interested in the complexities of Hitler’s life, the socio-political conditions that facilitated his ascent, and the broader lessons of history that it imparts.

Word Count: 727

The road to dictatorship is by no means the same in all countries, yet there is one route that is common to all: the use of democracy's own institutions to destroy it.

Key Ideas

Hitler: Ascent: 1889-1939” by Volker Ullrich explores several key ideas that are central to understanding the rise of Adolf Hitler and the complex factors that enabled his ascent to power:

  1. The Complexity of Hitler's Personality Ullrich delves into the multifaceted character of Adolf Hitler, offering a nuanced portrayal that goes beyond the simplistic image of a tyrant. He examines Hitler’s personal life, relationships, insecurities, and vulnerabilities, providing a more humanizing perspective while not absolving him of his crimes.

  2. The Role of Historical Contingency The book challenges the notion that Hitler’s rise was preordained by his charisma and demagoguery. Ullrich underscores the significance of historical contingencies, emphasizing that the political, economic, and social conditions of Weimar Germany created an environment where extremist ideologies could gain traction.

  3. Socio-Political Climate in Weimar Germany Ullrich provides a comprehensive analysis of the Weimar Republic, emphasizing its fragile state marked by political instability, economic turmoil, and societal unrest. The book underscores how these conditions allowed radical ideologies like Nazism to gain prominence.

  4. The Failures of Political Opposition Ullrich highlights the shortcomings of political opponents, particularly the divided left, in effectively countering the Nazi threat. He explores the fragmentation of opposition forces and their inability to unite against the common fascist enemy.

  5. The Role of Powerful Elites The biography underscores the complicity of conservative elites who believed they could control Hitler for their own purposes. Ullrich examines the misguided belief among some powerful figures that they could use Hitler as a means to advance their own interests, ultimately underestimating the danger he posed.

  6. The Influence of Hitler's Rhetoric The book provides insight into Hitler’s powerful oratory skills and the role of propaganda in shaping public opinion. It emphasizes how Hitler’s speeches and the Nazi propaganda machine played a significant role in advancing the party’s agenda.

  7. The Political Maneuvering and Alliances Ullrich meticulously chronicles the political maneuvering and alliances that propelled Hitler to power. He highlights the collaboration with conservative politicians and influential figures who believed they could harness Nazi support.

These key ideas collectively form a comprehensive exploration of the factors that contributed to Hitler’s rise to power, offering a more intricate and contextualized understanding of the historical events that led to the devastating consequences of World War II and the Holocaust.


Target Audience

Hitler: Ascent: 1889-1939” by Volker Ullrich is a book that is recommended reading for a diverse audience interested in history, politics, and the complexities of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. The book is targeted at the following audiences:

  • History Enthusiasts History enthusiasts, both casual and serious, will find “Hitler: Ascent” to be a compelling and illuminating read. It provides a detailed and well-researched account of a pivotal period in world history, offering a nuanced perspective on Hitler’s life and the socio-political conditions that allowed his ascent. It challenges preconceived notions about Hitler’s rise, making it an essential addition to the library of history buffs.

  • Students and Educators The book serves as an invaluable resource for students and educators studying the interwar period, the rise of fascism, and the lead-up to World War II. Ullrich’s comprehensive exploration of Hitler’s life and the Weimar Republic provides rich material for classroom discussions and research.

  • Political and Societal Analysts For those interested in political science, the biography offers a case study in the dynamics of political maneuvering, extremist ideologies, and the fragility of democratic institutions. It provides insights into how societal unrest and economic turmoil can create fertile ground for radical movements.

  • Readers Seeking a Deeper Understanding of History “Hitler: Ascent” is not only about the life of Adolf Hitler but also about the lessons of history. It encourages readers to contemplate the complexities of human nature, the consequences of political decisions, and the importance of vigilance in defending democratic values.

In conclusion, “Hitler: Ascent: 1889-1939” is recommended reading for a wide range of audiences due to its comprehensive exploration of a pivotal historical period and its deep insights into the complexities of Hitler’s life and the conditions that enabled his rise to power. Volker Ullrich’s well-researched and thought-provoking biography challenges conventional narratives, making it an essential addition to the library of anyone interested in understanding the intricacies of history and politics.

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