Brendan Simms, "Hitler: A Global Biography" (Basic Books, 2019)

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Every generation returns to the titanic heroes and villains of the 20th century. And every generation produces a new set of biographies--often immense--in an effort to understand the role of that eras main figures.

In the past three years, three important new books have reassessed Hitler's life, beliefs and actions. Two of the authors, Volker Ulrich and Peter Longerich, are historians of Germany who are German. The third, our guest for today's interview, is British. In his new book Hitler: A Global Biography (Basic Books, 2019), Brendan Simms offers us a different Hitler, one much more focused on global capitalism and on the Anglo-American world than either Ulrich of Longerich. Simms argues that fears that Germany would lose the economic and demographic competition with Britain and especially the US sat at the heart of Hitler's world view. Anti-Semitism, fears of German particularism, scientific understandings of race, all of these appear in Simms' portrait of Hitler. But they are joined by a constant fear that the American system was simultaneously seductive and corrupting, and that Germans and Germany would not be able to resist. This, Simms argues, drove many of Hitler's decisions, especially in the 1920s and 30s.

We had some technological problems getting connected for the interview and had only 30 minutes to talk. But Simms does a marvelous job using that time to lay out the broad outlines of his argument and to sketch in some of his main lines of defense. It's a fascinating interview. Not everyone will agree with his conclusions. But at the least the book will prompt a stimulating debate about the role of the west in HItler's thinking.

Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda, 1994, published by W. W. Norton Press.

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