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Voracious readers from the lower orders spent their pennies not only on primers and surveys but on series designed for them, such as Dent's Everyman's Library or Grant Richards' World's Classics, that offered the original texts themselves in cheap editions. Nor, of course, was this thirst for knowledge and self-improvement an exclusively British phenomenon.
As is readily apparent from Timothy Ryback's thoughtful and oddly intimate book, it existed in central Europe, too. Anyone familiar with the obsessive drone of his wartime Table Talk or Mein Kampf will have already suspected what is amply demonstrated here: Adolf Hitler was the ultimate autodidact. Hitler's Private Library begins with the striking image of the year-old Hitler, serving at the front in northern France, walking into the nearest town during a lull in the fighting — to buy a book.
Hitler’s Private Library
How did the young serviceman plan to pass the time, when not dodging enemy fire delivering messages to the front? By settling down with Max Osborn's popular architectural history of Berlin. Three decades later, he and his court architect, Albert Speer, would relax during the second world war by poring over scale models of the Berlin of the future; but in he was already a keen devotee of the subject.
The volume that the young soldier bought in Fournes survived both wars: and it is just one of the items intelligently discussed by Ryback both as object and as guide to its owner's interests and obsessions.
Books surrounded Hitler his entire adult life — though whether they opened his mind and formed his worldview or simply bolstered opinions that had already germinated is open to doubt. What is not in question is their importance to him, evident long before the party hacks sent in their endless complimentary volumes to clutter the shelves in his private residence.
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- Hitler's Private Library, The Books That Shaped His Life Timothy W Ryback.
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Hitler’s Private Library: The Books That Shaped His Life (Vintage) - Harvard Book Store
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