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When Adolf Hitler went to war in 1914, he was just twenty-five years old. It was a time he would later call the “most stupendous experience of my life.” That war ended with Hitler in a hospital bed, temporarily blinded by mustard gas. The world he eventually opened his newly healed eyes to was new and it was terrible: Germany had been defeated, the Kaiser had fled, and the army had been resolutely humbled. By peeling back the layers of Hitler’s childhood, his war record, and his early political career, Paul Ham seeks the man behind the myth. More broadly, Ham asks the question: Was Hitler’s rise to power an extreme example of a recurring type of demagogue—a politician who will do and say anything to seize power; who thrives on chaos; and who personifies, in his words and in his actions, the darkest prejudices of humankind?

Paul Ham is the author of several histories, including Hiroshima Nagasaki; Sandakan; and 1914: The Year the World Ended. A former journalist and publisher, he has worked for the Financial Times Group and was the Australia correspondent for the Sunday Times of London for many years. He now lives in Paris.