cover image SPEER: The Final Verdict

SPEER: The Final Verdict

Joachim C. Fest, , trans. from the German by Ewald Osers and Alexandra Dring. . Harcourt, $30 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-15-100556-7

The German architect who later became armaments minister, Albert Speer has long been considered an "artist" among Nazi wartime officials—as he apparently considered himself, holding himself apart from what he saw as the more vulgar politicians currying Hitler's favor, a favor he already held. A leading German historian who worked closely with Speer in editing his memoirs, Fest (Hitler) brings a profound knowledge of his subject as he focuses on the contradictions in Speer's personality and life. "It remains a mystery," Fest writes, "how such a rational character could develop the naïve faith that was a prerequisite for belonging to Hitler's inner circle." Speer was a talented man with few of the personality quirks found among others in the Nazi hierarchy—for instance, he had an unremarkable childhood as the son of a liberal German family. But as Fest shows, Speer embodied many traits of the German people. Like thousands of others, Speer was seduced by Hitler's charisma—in fact, the two had a close friendship that, according to Fest, was erotic but probably not carnal—and by the Nazi project to create order out of chaos. Fest leaves unanswered whether Speer was just reading the tea leaves and preparing his postwar defense when he opposed Nazi policies in Hitler's final months, but he successfully walks the tightrope between delving inside Speer's mind and keeping a distance from him. As a result, he sheds much light on one of the more intriguing Nazi officials. 87 b&w photos. (Sept.)

Forecast:This has the imprimatur of the History and Military Book Clubs, and of the Economist, which named it a best book of the year. Major review coverage should spur sales.