The Life of Heydrich
Yale University Press 2012
New Books in BiographyNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in Genocide StudiesNew Books in German StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Military HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network July 24, 2013 Kelly McFall
Few history books sell better than biographies of Nazi leaders. They attract anyone even tangentially interested in World War Two or Nazi Germany. It’s not surprising, then, that there are dozens of biographies of Himmler, Goering, and Hitler himself.
Oddly, though, Reinhard Heydrich is relatively understudied. Robert Gerwarth’s wonderful new biography of Heydrich, titled Hitler’s Hangman: The Life of Heydrich (Yale UP, 2012), fills this gap admirably. Gerwarth’s book is part of a new wave of serious biographies that have appeared in the last years. All are characterized by a thoughtful engagement with recent research on the Holocaust. All devote considerable attention to their subjects’ lives in the period before the Nazi takeover. All emphasize the choices made by their subjects and the way these choices were not predetermined. Hitler’s Hangman is an outstanding example of this new scholarship.
Gerwarth’s work, in particular, is distinguished by its particularly effective writing. He synthesizes a great deal of information gracefully, a demanding task in a biography this concise. At the same time, he preserves space for anecdotes and details that illuminate his topic and add color to his narrative.
Hitler’s Hangman has been widely praised by reviewers across the spectrum. It is praise that is richly deserved.