Sir Ian Kershaw has emerged, rather surprisingly, as a towering figure amongst historians of modern Germany. Surprisingly, because he began his career as a medievalist whose focus was Bolton Priory in Yorkshire. He is the author and editor of no fewer than three books on this northern monastery.
The best part of this compendium of his essays, journal articles and chapters on Hitler, the Jews and the Third Reich is the introduction in which he gives what amounts to an intellectual autobiography. He started learning German for fun while he was studying medieval history at Manchester University. During a language course in Germany in 1969 he encountered a veteran of the Eastern Front who reminisced about the Third Reich, capping his nostalgia with the observation that ‘the Jew is a louse’. Kershaw subsequently attached himself to a major research project, led by Martin Broszat, on Bavaria under the Nazis. He wanted to understand how Germans had formed the attitudes towards Nazism and Hitler that were to prove so disastrous and durable.