There is certainly a book to be written about Hitler’s views on America, not least because the idea of America played such a prominent and conflicted role in Weimar economic and cultural discourse. The standard judgement that Hitler’s ambition of world domination was merely a fantasy is also worth subjecting to a historical stress test. But Brendan Simms is betrayed by his immodest determination to offer not an “additive” but a “substitutive” interpretation of Hitler’s ideology and objectives – one intended to overturn all relevant scholarship in the field. Perhaps this is why he cast this essentially static study into the form of a biography commanding the entire life of his protagonist. Had he restrained his ambitions he might have produced a less polemical but more subtle and persuasive book. As it is, he deserves recognition for placing the subject on the agenda, but we will have to wait for the work that will do it justice.
Hitler has been the subject of a string of major biographies, from those by Alan Bullock and Joachim Fest to, most recently, Ian Kershaw and Volker Ullrich. But they have all, Simms writes, got him wrong: “The extent to which he was fighting a war against ‘international high finance’ and ‘plutocracy’ from start to finish has not been understood at all.” Now he has come along to set us all right... Time and again, Simms uses rhetorical sleight of hand to underscore his claim that the US was the main focus of Hitler’s foreign policy by referring to “Anglo-America” when he is in fact just talking about Britain... In the end, Simms hasn’t written a biography in any meaningful sense of the word, he’s written a tract that instrumentalises the past for present-day political purposes. As such, his book can be safely ignored by serious students of the Nazi era.
While his focus is on Anglo-America, Simms also does an excellent job in integrating some of the more recent specialised literature on the other international forces that shaped Hitler’s ideology. Clearly, it is impossible to understand Hitler by simply looking at the events that unfolded in Germany after the first world war, such as the impact of the Treaty of Versailles, the rise of rightwing paramilitary organisations, and the proliferation of anti-communist and anti-Semitic propaganda. Simms also reminds us that Hitler closely observed what was happening beyond Germany’s borders, from Mustafa Kemal’s success in building a Turkish nation-state from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire to Mussolini’s 1922 March on Rome, which inspired Hitler’s ill-fated Munich beer hall putsch the following year