When Adolf Hitler went to war in 1914, aged 25, he lived through what he would later call the 'most stupendous experience of my life'.
Twice decorated for bravery, the future dictator thrilled to battle, relished violence and was willing to give everything for his beloved Fatherland. He heard of Germany's defeat as he lay immobilised in a hospital bed, temporarily blinded from mustard gas. He opened his eyes on a terrible new world, of Germany’s loss and humiliation, the flight of the Kaiser, a Marxist uprising in Bavaria and the destruction of his beloved army.
Hitler would never accept Germany's defeat or the terms of the peace settlement. Out of his fury arose an unquenchable thirst for revenge, against the 'November criminals' who had signed the armistice; against the socialists whom he blamed for stabbing the army in the back; and, most violently, against the Jews, on whom he would load the blame for all Germany's woes and whom he considered a direct threat to the German master race of his imagination.
The seeds of that hatred lay in Hitler’s youthful experiences, growing up in Linz, Vienna and Munich, and as a young soldier in the Great War.
By peeling back the layers of Hitler's childhood, war record and early political career, Paul Ham's Young Hitler: The Making of the Führer conjures the ordinary man beneath the myth and seeks to solve the riddle behind the enigma of the Nazi leader.
What turned 'a Viennese bum', as Göring later damned him, into one of the most brutal dictators in human history? How had Hitler's first war, the defining years of his life, affect his rise to power?
In a broader sense, was Hitler a freak of history? Or rather an extreme example of a recurring 'type' of demagogue, who thrives in chaos, revolution and economic collapse? Who will do and say anything to seize power? And who personifies in his words and actions the darkest prejudices of humankind?
Paul Ham is the author of Hiroshima Nagasaki (2011), Vietnam: The Australian War (2007) and Kokoda (2004). Vietnam won the New South Wales Premier's Prize for Australian History and was shortlisted for the Prime Minister's Prize for Non-Fiction (2008).
Kokoda was shortlisted for the Walkley Award for Non-Fiction and the New South Wales Premier's Prize for Non-Fiction. Sandakan: The Untold Story of the Sandakan Death Marches, was published in 2012 and was shortlisted for the 2013 Prime Minister's Literary Award for History.
His last book was 1914: The Year The World Ended. A former Sunday Times correspondent, with a Master's degree in Economic History from the London School of Economics, Paul now devotes most of his time to writing history. He lives in Paris and Sydney with his family.
First World War
Random House Australia
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