The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich by Robert K. Wittman and David Kinney.
Review by Kylie Thompson
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: history, WWII
With the 100 year anniversary of WWI this year, there’s been a dramatic upswing in military history non-fiction works. Some, unfortunately, are the same stories told ever so slightly differently, but bring little if anything new to the conversation. Some, though, take the smaller, quirkier aspects of the histories we all know, and shed light on the elements that we never learned about in school.
‘The Devil’s Diary’, by Robert K. Wittman and David Kinney certainly takes the latter approach. We all know the basics of Nazi Germany- Hitler became leader, and brought in an era of genocidal prejudice whose aftershocks still reverberate strongly so many decades later. Millions were murdered- with Romani, LGBTI, and mentally and physically disabled people tortured alongside their Jewish counterparts- the key difference being that gay POWs were often thrown into another cell once ‘liberated’. But beyond the ‘monster’ hype, Hitler’s regime was one rich with mythological focus and philosophical contemplation.
The idea of the Nazi philosopher’s personal diary being found? It’s staggering. This is a document made rumour for decades. Alfred Rosenberg was a core member of the Nazi party who helped build the foundations of the holocaust- so revered that he led the Nazi party while Hitler was interned in 1923. To have it found, let alone explored publicly is monumental.
But there’s a problem with ‘The Devil’s Diary’, one likely to lose it quite a few readers. There’s an engaging, engrossing story to be had here, but to find it means wading through possibly the most tedious discussion of petty family dramas ever to grace a historical recount.
Perhaps I should care more about the battle for ownership of a bunch of historical artefacts a lawyer stole from the Nuremberg Trials, but given they’re stolen goods and there’s not a sympathetic personality in sight? I just don’t care. To be honest, were it not a review book, I’d have stopped reading it well before anything of interest happened. It’s a shame, because in the grand scheme of the story it’s a teensy little side-note, a vaguely interesting aside or footnote. But it has no place as the starting point of a story, even a non-fiction one.
The problem with making readers wade through the boring bits first (beyond losing readers well before there’s a reason for them to like what you’ve written) is that anything interesting has to make up for the boredom the reader has suffered through. The good bits of the narrative start at a huge disadvantage. And as interesting as the story is, it’s not always able to compete with the mind numbing tedium of family dynamics.
This was a story that could have been amazing, given a better timeline focus, and it’s the sort of story that would certainly be of interest to a range of readers. The premise is one that should make for an engaging read. Honestly, how can you not be intrigued by the idea of the Nazi philosopher?
The saddest part is that, if you can make it through the post-adventure tedium to get to the actual point of the book, you’re in for a treat. ‘The Devil’s Diary’ is an interesting read about a rarely explored element of Hitler’s rise to infamy. It’s just the opening to the work that does it an injustice.
‘The Devil’s Diary’ is published by Harper Collins, and is available through leading booksellers.