Hitler bio sparks war between historians
A biography of Hitler written by a historian and broadcaster has started a bitter public feud between him and a Third Reich expert who accused the writer of repellent arrogance in publishing the book. Richard J Evans, Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University and author of several books about Hitlers Germany, wrote abooks Updated: Apr 06, 2012 08:00 IST
A biography of Hitler written by a historian and broadcaster has started a bitter public feud between him and a Third Reich expert who accused the writer of repellent arrogance in publishing the book.
Richard J Evans, Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University and author of several books about Hitlers Germany, wrote a scathing review of A N Wilsons biography of the Fuhrer, saying that the book was littered with factual errors and was absolutely valueless.
Publication of the review prompted an increasingly bitter war of words between the two which culminated in Wilson telling Evans, The war is over. Hitler is dead. Get a life.
The spat played out in the pages of the New Statesman, where Prof Evans review of Hitler: A Short Biography appeared on March 12, the Telegraph reported.
His verdict on the 208-page book, published by HarperCollins, was withering.
Its hard to think why a publishing house that once had a respected history list agreed to produce this travesty of a biography, Evans wrote, claiming that Wilson used only English-language sources because he could not read German.
The professor said that while novelists and literary scholars have found new and provocative things to say about Hitler, there is no evidence of that here, neither in the stale, unoriginal material, nor in the banal and cliche-ridden historical judgements, nor in the lame, tired narrative style; just evidence of the repellent arrogance of a man who thinks that because hes a celebrated novelist, he can write a book about Hitler that people should read, even though hes put very little work into writing it and even less thought.
Wilson has written several novels but is also a prolific author of non-fiction, producing histories of the Victorian and Elizabethan eras in addition to biographies of CS Lewis, Leo Tolstoy and others.
He hit back with two letters to the New Statesman.
In the first, he accused Prof Evans of writing a spiteful review, claimed a knowledge of German and said the examples singled out by the critic were not, strictly speaking, errors.
A week later, Wilson conceded that the book contained a few howlers but defended his work.
I have written a short book on Hitler which is intended for the general reader, and was first published in English, though it is about to be translated widely.
He wrote a rather silly review of my book, now he writes to claim that I cant know German - else, why do I only cite English books? As a matter of fact I do cite German books in my end-notes, he said.
A generalist writer with no pretensions to expertise, but who does happen to know German, writes a book on Hitler. A don who thinks Hitler his special subject feels unaccountable ruffled. Why?
I made a few howlers which have already been corrected in the reprint. Thanks, Evans, for pointing these errors out, though they were all minor.
I am writing this from Roxburghshire, where I am staying with some delightful friends and the sun is shining and pied wagtails are dancing over the lawn.
All is joy. The war is over. Hitler is dead. Get a life, poor Evans. There is no need to be so cross, he added.
However, in the latest edition of the magazine, Professor Evans has responded to Wilsons comments.
I am cross with him not because I think only specialists should write about Hitler - I explicitly noted the contributions made by novelists and literary scholars - but because he has simply ignored 99.9 per cent of the work on the subject done by historians, and as a result has written a book that is absolutely valueless as well as full of errors, many of them not minor at all, he said.
First Published: Apr 06, 2012 08:00 IST