The day after the election, I drove over to my local indie bookstore. I felt the need to support the bookstore today; books are always the first thing they come after as a means to suppress information, learning, and intellectualism. I wanted to find something that would help me understand the current situation. I believe it’s important to know history so that we might understand how things have gone wrong before and what we might do in the face of similar circumstances. But I didn’t want a book just for me. My students, middle school age and older, need a way of understanding and engaging too.
Just for its Source Notes and Bibliography section alone, where a reader gets a glimpse at the research involved in truly learning about a subject way beyond a wikipedia entry, James Cross Giblin’s book on Adolf Hitler, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, is a worthwhile read for teenagers and adults. The other 234 pages are not too shabby either.
On the second to last page, Giblin himself poses the question that every reader must thinking: “Could another Adolf Hitler rise to power and prominence from the neo-Nazi movement?” His answer, published in 2002, was jolting. “If a country experienced a sudden economic and spiritual collapse…then a call might go out for a savior–a leader who could restore the country’s pride and fiscal health and inspire new hope for the future in its despairing citizens.” This book can clearly help us to understand both the past and the present.
Personally, as someone who has read a lot about F.D.R. and Churchill, it was interesting to read about W.W. II more from the perspective of Adolf Hitler and the German people. We learn about Hitler’s strength as a speaker, war strategist, and unrelenting believer in the power of his own opinions. We also read of his many weaknesses and, just as importantly, those who just went along without thinking much about what else to do.
There is no doubt that this book would probably be a hard sell to a teenager to read on their own. Perhaps that is just as well, since this is clearly a book that need to be read slowly, perhaps chapter by chapter and discussed in an environment of people ready to suss through what it all means.
It’s an excellent chance for readers to be introduced to vocabulary and political ideas regarding democracy, dictatorship, and the like that are now in the media regularly but still remain largely unfamiliar to them. The concept of a demagogue can now be understood, as well as the idea of propaganda being a purposeful part of a system of government. This all ties into how we make clear and convincing arguments and, most of all, how we think about things and how, throughout history, have sometimes been easily and dangerously convinced to let others do the thinking for us.