Mein Kampf aside, books don’t come immediately to mind when Hitler is mentioned. But as Timothy W. Ryback wrote in a 2003 Atlantic article — and reminds us now in his new book, Hitler’s Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life — Hitler read widely, prodigiously, and passionately.
Ryback — who had access to hundreds of Hitler’s volumes at the Library of Congress — uses Hitler’s own marginal notes to argue that the dictator was a highly motivated autodidact who was constantly in search of texts that supported his theories about power and destiny. He was fond of histories, anti-Semitic tracts, Shakespeare plays, and works of the occult. But don’t mistake Hitler for a common reader: His was a mercenary approach, which took major works and repurposed them in the service of what Ryback calls a “thin, calculating, bullying mendacity.” Yes, the connection between a man and his library can be tenuous, but, as in this case, it can also be so intimate as to be creepy: At one point, Ryback discovers an inch-long black mustache hair tucked away inside a Berlin guidebook.
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