Dr Joseph Goebbels has always featured in the top flight of political leaders in Hitler’s Germany. Cartoons from the time show Hitler, Göring and Goebbels as an unholy trio, sometimes as a quartet with the wicked Himmler. The popular view has Goebbels as the malign Pied Piper of the regime, luring the German people to their doom through the magic of his propaganda. This was his own self-image too, constructed painstakingly for years in his private diary. The power of propaganda was the source of his own power, or so it seemed to him.
It is this diary that forms the centrepiece of Peter Longerich’s exhaustive study of Goebbels’s life, from his time as a disillusioned student in the early years of the Weimar Republic to the murder of his children and his suicide in Hitler’s bunker in May 1945. The decision to use the multivolume diary, so far published only in German, as the basis of the book brings its own problems. It means that the shape and pace of the book are dictated by the diary rather than by the history to which it is linked. As a consequence, the text follows Goebbels almost day by day through his own narrative, rather than balancing what is historically significant [1pass]against what is not. Longerich is at pains to add critical commentary as the diary unfolds, alerting the more gullible reader to the mythmaking that Goebbels indulges in, but the end result is to give Goebbels a much greater prominence in shaping this biography than he deserves.
It also means that