In an age when the merely mildly curious believe they can get all they really need to know from Wikipedia for free, A. N. Wilson’s fellow literary professionals must take heart from his expectation that there is still possibl to charge for a work of such succinctness that it is essentially an extended Wikipedia entry enlivened by some opinions.

Wilson’s Hitler: A Short Biography (Harper Press, £14.99)certainly trumps Wiki for stylistic brio and brims with the author’s customary zip and zing. Inevitably few of the insights are especially original, but they are punchily delivered, particularly regarding Hitler’s early bone idleness and his modish, rather than outlandish, belief that science had replaced religious morality and that the microphone trumped the book.  

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Nevertheless, short biographies are for busy people who don’t have the time or inclination to read scholarly ones, and if only Wilson had diligently taken that time then he would have saved himself from a disappointing number of inaccuracies. It is a misleading simplification to describe Hitlerite economic policy as Keynesian. The second sentence of the book asserts that ‘over 50 million Europeans were killed’ in the war, when the figure was nearer  40 million. Even the date of the invasion of Poland is two days out.

Wilson is a man to be admired for the breadth of his interests, but if these pursuits distracted him from delving deeper into the vast Third Reich historiography, he might at least have cut down on some errors by checking Wikipedia.

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated

Tags: Book review, Bookends, History, Hitler, Nazi, Non-fiction, War history