Goebbels A Biography (Review)

Goebbels-01“Are you reading another book about Nazis? What is it about you and radical right-wingers these days?” Jorge rapid-fired these two questions at me after he glanced at the cover of the latest biography I checked out from the Norfolk (Nebraska) Public Library.  Jorge, quickly flipped through a few pages then noted that the book “at least has some pictures. Let me know when you finish it.”  I promised that I’d let him know when I’d review it on my blog.

After Jorge left the house, I settled into my easy chair with Peter Longerich’s Goebbels A Biography. It’s the American version of Longrich’s original volume, in German, published in 2010.  For many of us who are fascinated by Modern European History, the book was worth the wait.  As professor of modern German history at Royal Halloway University of London, Longerich’s research into rarely accessed writings of Dr. Joseph Goebbels’s diaries makes for engrossing reading.

Because of my past career as a public affairs director at the local radio station, I wanted to get a behind the scenes view of the Nazi propaganda machine.  If you observe carefully, you can see how partisan, national, and even commercial propaganda owes much success to Dr. Goebbels’s methodology. I won’t go into that here, because that’s not the focus of the biography.



In nearly 1,000 pages of text and sources, Longerich sorts through some 30,000 pages of the propaganda minister’s official and personal diary entries.  He cross-checks the information against the historical record to tell the story of the rise and fall of this unlikely lieutenant and close friend of Adolf Hitler.

When I first looked over the text of Goebbels A Biography, I felt intimidated by the font style and amount of text on each page.  That trepidation soon turned into rapt interest while reading the Prologue of this volume. Longerich’s cogent material and the translators’ excellent work draw the reader into the meat of the story, quickly.

We swiftly find out that Joseph Goebbels is a malleable, insecure, egotistical, narcissist.  He was willing to put his personal political leanings on hold as he sold out to the ultra-right politicos of the budding National Socialist Party.

The book is a telling portrait of a person propelled by narcissistic desire for recognition and fame.  Using Goebbels’s personal diaries, Longerich reveals how Goebbels’s search for a messianic father figure brought him into the inner sanctum of Adolf Hitler. Indeed, Goebbels worshipped the dictator and remained loyal to the bitter end.

For the first time, ever, readers are given intimate details of Goebbels’s conflicted personal lifestyle, his womanizing ways, his manipulative, narcissistic personality, and his overly maudlin sentimentality. We find out the depth of his near-total control of the media and how that control was always threatened by his fellow Nazi rivals.

The reader soon figures out that Hitler is only stringing Goebbels along.  The Führer quickly understood Goebbels’s underlying insecurities, weaknesses, and need for recognition.  He used this knowledge to manipulate Goebbels to do the Führer’s dealings.


As if Adolf Hitler, Dr. Goebbels, and the menagerie of Nazi fanatics aren’t creepy enough. The personal and familial intertwining of the Goebbels family with Hitler pushed more than a few of my buttons.  At first, Goebbels and Hitler were rivals for the affection of Magda Ritschel. When Hitler found out that Goebbels wished to marry Magda, Hitler actively encouraged the wedding.

Henceforth, Hitler was considered to be part of the Goebbels’s family. Whenever disagreements between Joseph and Magda erupted, Hitler acted as the intermediary. The couple even went so far as to give their children names that began with “H”. The close relationship, at first, proved advantageous, politically, to Goebbels, but later  became burdensome.  Eventually, Goebbels wanted to divorce his wife, however, Hitler, as the “third party”, stepped in and even dictated the terms to which the marriage would continue.

Can you imagine having Adolf Hitler as not only your boss, but as your best buddy and confidant, to boot? Can you imagine Goebbels and Hitler watching teevee together? They did. I feel no sympathy towards Joseph Goebbels in knowing that his best friend, manipulated and strung him along like a toy. There is no need for a “spoiler alert” for this book. We know how Goebbels’s story ended. The delusional fanatics self-destructed along with their pernicious regime.  The exciting tale in this telling of Nazism, is found in the behind-the-scenes narrative.

I give Peter Longerich’s book an unreserved top rating.

{ Goebbels A Biography by Peter Longerich: Translated by Alan Bance, Jeremy Noakes, and Lesley Sharpe; Published 2015 by Random House; 992 pages, hardback ISBN: 978-1-4000-6751-0 }

1984aThe Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this statement by Joseph Goebbels: “If the day should ever come when we [the Nazis] must go, if some day we are compelled to leave the scene of history, we will slam the door so hard that the universe will shake and mankind will stand back in stupefaction.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
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