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Two reviews

I seem to be getting into the habit of reading several books at once. This is very unlike me! I usually read one book religiously until it's finished and then move on to the next. I'm not sure why it's changed suddenly, other than I decided I needed a different bedtime read to the one I was reading during the day, a book about the rise of the Nazis. I prefer something a bit more cheerful to go to sleep on! So I've been reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes at bedtime and that's still ongoing and very enjoyable. In the meantime I've finished the Nazi book and also read Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Anyway, something about both of these.

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I found Defying Hitler by Sebastian Haffner in the library. (Why I need library books when I've hundreds of books of my own is one of those little mysteries which we won't go into here.) I immediately spotted it as *my* kind of book and so it proved to be.

The author was born somewhere around 1907 into a rather literary, 'thinking' German family. Age-wise this places him in the thick of some the most momentous years of German history and he charts the progress of WW1 carefully; how as a child was obsessed with battles and casualties and so on. Things begin to go wrong after the war. War reparations took their toll on the economy and population, a revolution followed and a man called Hitler gradually began to emerge as a force in German politics. The insidious manner in which Hitler's party took over the country is depicted in all its horror, especially in regard to the Jews as the author, although not Jewish himself, had a Jewish girlfriend and many Jewish friends. Many opinions are expressed about the personality of the average German, his susceptibility to brain washing and the fact that Germany was at a low ebb and Hitler took his chance. You sense the author's outrage and disgust at the goings on, how suddenly he was unable to speak freely to anyone because you never knew what their stance was on the political situation. You also sense his feelings of inadequacy that he is unable to do anything to halt the onslaught of barbarity, realising that his death in a concentration camp would be a futile gesture. His gradual realisation that he will have to leave Germany is heart breaking because it's clear he loves his country, his hatred is for what has happened to it.

The narrative finishes in 1934 just after his return from a Nazi camp that he has had to attend in order to be eligible to take his law exams. His son finishes the author's history, not because he dies - he lives to a ripe old age in fact - but really because Haffner stopped writing the book and shoved it away in a drawer. The son finds it after his death and thinks it worth publishing. Which it most certainly is. The slow decline of an entire country into fascism is a fascinating, if tragic, thing to read about. You wonder how it can happen and then realise from reading this book, just how easily it *can* happen. The author's opinion is that it couldn't happen in a lot of countries but I'm not so sure. Many Germans just sat back and hoped someone else would stop Hitler, they 'did nothing' in other words and we're all inclined to do that more than we like to admit. An excellent, informative read.


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I spent yesterday recovering from a stomach bug so a gentle read was called for. I've been intending to read Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Little House' books for a while. I never read them as a child but my daughters were huge fans, so much so the books they have are falling to pieces so I bought a new edition of Little House in the Big Woods.

I'm sure many people have read these and already know that this first book is all about Ma and Pa, Laura and Mary, and little baby Carrie who live in the forests of Wisconsin in the late (I think) 1800s. It charts a year of living, from winter right around to autumn, trials and tribulations - but also many good times.

I found this utterly charming and actually quite informative as to the way families lived and survived. Family was clearly hugely important, you relied entirely on your immediate relatives for your survival and more distant ones for things such as bringing in crops and entertainment. Human nature is here too. Laura is jealous of Mary because Mary is fair haired and pretty and people praise her and ignore Laura who has brown hair and feels herself not so pretty. Cousin Charley is spoilt in Pa's opinion because he's not made to help on the farm enough. The day they force him the boy makes a complete nuisance of himself on purpose. A delightful read which I'll be passing on to my grand-daughter as I know she'll love it. And I'll be reading the next one, Little House on the Prairie, soon.

Comments

Oh, I hope you're feeling better now.

Defying Hitler sounds like "my" sort of book, too. Although popular culture (movies and television) love to make it look as though German culture was an exception to normal human nature, with some kind of character flaw at the heart of the populace that allowed Big Evil to take immediate hold, I don't buy it, either. I think complacency makes people get used to thinking that It Can't Happen Here, and ignore all the signs that build up gradually until one day they wake up in an exact clone of Nazi Germany, and can't understand how they got there.

Also, I'm happy that you've begun reading the Little House series. I loved them as a child, myself. They are gentle, wholesome and fun to read.
The author certainly seemed to indicate that he thought there was a Fatal Flaw at the heart of the German people. I honestly don't agree. I'm not a great one for national characteristics, finding that everywhere you go people vary just as they vary here in England. I think they honestly thought the other political parties would see to Hitler. But when he got 40% in the elections (not a majority, you notice) the leaders of said parties all left Germany, apparently thinking the writing was on the wall. They ignored the fact that many German people were willing to make a fight of it, even to the point of civil war. (That's something you never hear about...) They just needed leaders. It really is a fascinating book, well worth searching out.

I think I'm really going to enjoy the Little House series, as you say, gentle reading. And for adult reading on the same theme (American pioneers) someone has recommended These Is My Words by Nancy Turner, if you're interested.
I read Haffner's The Meaning of Hitler last month. Also a worthwhile read (although a little of Hitler goes an awfully long way). I'm not sure that I agreed with some of his conclusions but the book was well-balanced.

I don't believe there was something 'special' about the German nation which allowed Hitler to happen there rather than elsewhere. Hitler found his way to power because of circumstances peculiar to Germany between the wars and I can't see that happening again in any developed nation. Having said that, it remains the case that people are generally content not knowing what it's uncomfortable for them to know and mini-Hitlers rise to power all the time.
Ah, I wondered about his other books. That's one to make a note of for next year because, as you said, a little Hitler goes a long way. And I've probably had enough now until after the holiday season.

And I agree with the rest of what you say too. I don't think we'll ever stop mini-Hitlers coming to power - Robert Mugabe is a typical example - but let's hope none of them ever decide to rule the world again.