Monday, August 9, 2010

Hitler's Private Library

Just how much does a book reflect on its reader?

Timothy W. Ryback addresses this question in Hitler's Private Library: The Books that Shaped his Life. Ryback explores Hitler's private library composed of works on military history, the occult, religion, and artistic endeavors such as architecture, theatre, and painting in an attempt to understand his personal character. Hitler signed and dated the inside covers of the (literally) thousands of books he collected and read. Events in Hitler's personal life and the lead-up, commencement, and close of World War II have become associated to these dated works.

Ryback proposes that "we collect books in the belief that we are preserving them when in fact it is the books that preserve their collector" (xv). What people read may reflect their character traits. For example, Ryback argues that Hitler's strong anti-Semitic beliefs are reflected in his library's copious collection of material on racial hierarchy. If books reflect our interests, Hitler was a man highly concerned with German nationalism, war, racism, supernatural events, and the formation of cities... it sounds oddly correct.

While this does make sense, I find it close minded. People read for many reasons: enjoyment, knowledge, in order to understand a different perspective from one's own, or to better understand the opposition, just to name a few. I personally would hate to think the books I have collected throughout the years reflect my thought processes and personality... if that was the case I'd be a living oxymoron.

And it leads me to think... if we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover... how can we judge a person by a book?

Hitler's Private Library was interesting... but dense and dry. I would recommend it for readers who are deeply interested in history, thought processes, and are accustomed to academic style writing.

Interesting tidbits:
- Hitler adored Henry Ford and not because he was a car enthusiast... Apparently Ford was a major anti-Semite who helped inspire Hitler's own tendencies.
- Hitler had a passionate desire to be a writer. However, his writing style, spelling, and grammar were so atrocious that many contemporaries could not read through all of Mein Kampf. If they had read the book many more people would have been aware of Hitler's intentions.
- Hitler's books are currently scattered throughout the world. They can be located in Germany's archives, American libraries, personal collections, and on the black market.

And, oddly enough...

- Ryback found an inch long, thick, and slightly curly hair between the pages of one of Hitler's books... he claims this is one of the few remaining hairs from Hitler's mustache... nice stretch, Ryback.


  1. I've wondered what my book collection says about me, and like you I think it would paint a paradoxical picture. I don't necessarily think having a book in your library means that you're thoughts are the same as book or that any one single book could describe you but taken as a whole I do think your library can give an idea of who a person is.

    I'd be curious to know Ryback really looked at Hitler's full library or just the books that fit in with what we know about Hitler.

  2. Hi Red,

    Thanks for your comment! I agree with you... the sum of one's books says a lot more than just one single book. I don't think a library can really show thought processes or beliefs, but it does illustrate where one's interests lie.

    I'm not sure how many of Hitler's books Ryback actually read through. The sheer volume and the fact that the books are scattered throughout the world (including many that are unaccounted for) would have brought difficulty to this task. Ryback only provides a detailed analysis of the books that support the already existing image of Hitler. I'm not too aware of who Ryback is as an individual, and as with any work, there is potential that this book is laden with biases.

  3. Hi Ms. C,
    This is an interesting post. Hmmm, Ryback might be wrong. If he's right, then I'm schizophrenic because my collection of books ranges from languages, to art history, to classics, to contemporary novels. But I do like what you say though, "How can we judge a person by a book?" Nowadays, I think we read to get informed or be entertained. So it would be unfair to label people based solely on what they read. Don't you agree?

  4. Thanks for stopping by on Friday. I'm actually really glad that I'm late to replying to comments this week because this post is awesome! It's a book that has been on my to-read list for quite a while - and it looks like it might be staying there for a while longer. PS - I totally agree that hopefully no one will judge me as a person based on some of the books I own!

  5. Claudia - I think it makes sense that a book collection would include a lot of different things and show a lot of different sides to a person. If you only had a collection of art history books and absolutely nothing else would be far more odd than having a large and varied collection of books. Certainly you wouldn't want to only judge someone based on their library but you do get an idea of who they are, even if you're only learning about their interests.

  6. Hi Chelsea,
    What Red Read picked you out as a great blogger and she is right! I wanted to check you out because of the are my hot caffeinated beverage non-identical twin :) Really enjoyed your site, and look forward to reading more. Your cookies are awesome!

  7. Hi everyone,

    Thank you for all of your comments! It's interesting to see how readers feel about their libraries and their potential to reflect personal character. I agree with you Claudia - it would be unfair to label someone just based on what they read... or for that matter, I think it's unfair to label someone based on any singular feature. Ryback's work is a reflection that this is all too common in our society.

    Libraries do say something about the collector... but the extent and what exactly they say I'm not to sure about...

  8. Hi Ms. C,
    I popped over to check out your blog and immediately started following. Who can resist the combination of books and cookies?

    I'm not sure if my library reveals who I am or who I'd like to be. Thanks for giving me something to ponder.

  9. Checking in on the Hop. If a person's library really did tell what kind of person they are, then the police better be watching me. The largest portion of my collection is murder mysteries....So, I'm either setting myself up to commit one or maybe I'm gonna be the next Nancy Drew.


I love comments...
Almost as much as I love coffee.

All puns put aside, I really do adore the comments you ever-so-kindly post. Thank you for taking the time to stop by and leave a few words. I love hearing your view on the topic!

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