Review: Lucky Hitler’s Big Mistakes (Paul Ballard-Whyte)

First thought: terrible title. Each time I returned to the book, I disliked it more.

Second thought: history is not just something that happens *to* people. Everyone exerts a force, no matter how small, on history, which in turn reacts in some fashion. Taken over a long enough span of time, we could construe any number of events in our own lives we could deem as “lucky” – and thus beyond our control, as the author seems to think some of Hitler’s “luck” was. Certainly there are some elements he could not control: the end of WWI, for instance. Other things, though, like the Reichstag fire, which the author seems to lie down at the feet of “luck”, Hitler having nothing whatsoever to do with it, ignore that it’s quite possible Hitler had a hand in it, as well as other things. It’s easy enough to point at events well after the fact and deem them luck.

I would accept instead of “luck” that Hitler (and Stalin, and Mao, and [insert other dictatorial names through history here]) benefited from a confluence of events that served to propel him to the top of the Germanic mountain. However, we must never forget that he willingly took advantage of these things. A lax prison sentence, which came with his own personal secretary, for instance, Hitler used to polish off his horrific screed Mein Kampf. Hindenburg’s ill health? Vaulting into the Chancellor’s office and from there to dictator. Terrible penalties assessed on Germany following WWI? Stoked ultra-nationalism and decrying anyone “foreign”. And so forth.

It’s also terribly simple to look back in hindsight and see the big blunders Hitler made. Simpler still to use those as stepping stones to decide how Germany could have won WWII, even though, as I said, history is not made in a vacuum. There are times when the author sounds quite bullish about Nazi chances to dominate and conquer all of Europe and much of Asia, if only Hitler had done XYZ instead of ABC. If Hitler had ordered the destruction of the soldiers at Dunkirk, he could have invaded Britain. If Hitler had listened to his generals, he could have taken Moscow. Could he? Really? While I agree that wiping up the beaches at Dunkirk would have gone a great deal of the way in securing the western front, equating that with an automatic W on invading Britain is not a step I would take as a given. Ditto taking Moscow as a death knell for Russia. Make no mistake, Hitler made a great number of blunders, some incredibly large – but again,we’re looking at it in hindsight. We could say the same about any time, any place, any conflict.

Third thought: the author spends a lot of time on the same points, over and over. In one instance (the exact memory of which escapes me, as I just did tick marks on the repetition) I saw the same point repeated five different times. We get it. ABC was a mistake, undoing the “luck” Hitler had back in year YYYY. The point was made, move on.

The result is a book that at times reads a bit like a student giving a presentation. Fair play to the author for writing the thing, but it could have done with some editing.

And a much better title.

Two out of five stars. Sorry, author, not for me.

Thanks to Pen & Sword Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

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