Yes, we’re talking about Mein Kampf, apparently one of the bestselling political books of the year. B-School grads in India are expected to have devoured its lessons in business management. (Curious, considering how Hitler’s strange management style and irrational decision making made Germany a ruined international pariah in only twelve years.) And in the US its popularity seems to have surged again, though no one is quite sure why.
“While the academic study of Mein Kampf is certainly legitimate, the spike in ebook sales likely comes from neo-Nazis and skinheads idolizing the greatest monster in history,” World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer told ABC News.
But Michael Ford, the president of Elite Minds, an electronic publisher with a popular $0.99 version of Mein Kampf, disagrees.
“The popularity of the digital Ford translation of Mein Kampf has surged due to academic interest in the subject.” Ford told ABC News in an email.
What’s curious to me is that Mein Kampf is easily found for free online*, and honestly, free just about hits my price where Hitler’s bigoted doorstop is concerned. I was required to read it in college as part of a history course, and leaving its crudity and racism aside for just a moment, the book is also a crashing, thundering, epoch shattering bore. Repetitive and frequently muddleheaded, Mein Kampf wasn’t so much written as dictated to Rudolf Hess while he and Hitler shared a jail cell at Landsberg Prison, and despite the heroic efforts of Hitler’s editors to make a book out of his collection of aimless, rambling monologues, it reads like…well…a collection of aimless, rambling monologues.
A sample paragraph:
The People's State ought to allow much more time for physical training in the school. It is nonsense to burden young brains with a load of material of which, as experience shows, they retain only a small part, and mostly not the essentials, but only the secondary and useless portion; because the young mind is incapable of sifting the right kind of learning out of all the stuff that is pumped into it. Today, even in the curriculum of the high schools, only two short hours in the week are reserved for gymnastics; and worse still, it is left to the pupils to decide whether or not they want to take part. This shows a grave disproportion between this branch of education and purely intellectual instruction. Not a single day should be allowed to pass in which the young pupil does not have one hour of physical training in the morning and one in the evening; and every kind of sport and gymnastics should be included. There is one kind of sport which should be specially encouraged, although many people who call themselves VÖLKISCH consider it brutal and vulgar, and that is boxing. It is incredible how many false notions prevail among the 'cultivated' classes. The fact that the young man learns how to fence and then spends his time in duels is considered quite natural and respectable. But boxing--that is brutal. Why? There is no other sport which equals this in developing the militant spirit, none that demands such a power of rapid decision or which gives the body the flexibility of good steel. It is no more vulgar when two young people settle their differences with their fists than with sharp-pointed pieces of steel. One who is attacked and defends himself with his fists surely does not act less manly than one who runs off and yells for the assistance of a policeman. But, above all, a healthy youth has to learn to endure hard knocks. This principle may appear savage to our contemporary champions who fight only with the weapons of the intellect. But it is not the purpose of the People's State to educate a colony of aesthetic pacifists and physical degenerates. This State does not consider that the human ideal is to be found in the honourable philistine or the maidenly spinster, but in a dareful personification of manly force and in women capable of bringing men into the world.
And it goes on like that, for hundreds of pages in each direction–a trackless Sahara Desert of verbiage. Stick with it long enough and you’ll find a kind of thumbnail sketch of Hitler’s thoughts on how Germany should be run. Even here it’s hard to miss Hitler’s disdain for education, his misogyny, and his love of blood sports. But I doubt anyone will ever find evidence of detailed planning of the German State, the war, or the Holocaust in its pages. Hitler was never much of a detail man, or a planner. (The putsch that landed him and Hess in prison, and got his Nazi party banned, was a case in point.) And while antisemitism and love of war permeate Mein Kampf, Kristallnacht and war against France and England were barely gleams in Hitler’s eye in 1924.
The most useful feature of Mein Kampf is that it accurately simulates what it would be like to be stuck in a small room with Adolf Hitler for a few months.** The Triumph of the Will gives us a glorified image of the public Hitler. Mein Kampf shows us the private Hitler, a garrulous racist fanatic.
Not that you need to plow through Mein Kampf to figure that out, much less pay for the privilege.
*Though at least one of those sources is a Neo-Nazi website, the others–Project Gutenberg of Australia and Archive.org–are perfectly respectable. Archive.org also has Alfred Rosenberg’s Myth of the 20th Century and Philipp Bouhler’s collection of Hitler’s speeches, and other propaganda films and books, should you feel compelled to explore them. (Warning: Rosenberg’s book is actually more painful reading than Mein Kampf.)
**Behind the scenes note: the lecture on prostitution that Hitler gives Albert Speer in Summer of Long Knives is adapted from a diatribe in Mein Kampf. Hitler was known to keep sleep deprived aides and servants up into the late hours, and sometimes into the next morning, with his rants.