He never made jokes or told stories or described his

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genius. He never made jokes, or told stories, or described his emotions about anything he’d done or seen. Hour after hour, night after night, all he did was lay down the law on whatever came into his head — Italian history, astronomy, military planning, women’s fashions, the laws of nature, the drainage of swamps — in terms so shallow and unimaginative you wonder how his dinner companions could possibly have endured it. One of the prerogatives of power is the luxury of boring the people around you, but Hitler pushed it to the outer boundaries of sanity. Surely dishonor or death would have been preferable to another couple of hours of Hitler on dance (“The most beautiful dance in the world is the waltz”) or automotive design (“The water-cooled engine will have to disappear completely”).
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But the transcripts are revealing in one sense: a certain recognizable style of thought comes through unmistakably. Hitler was, to the last degree, a self-taught explainer. He was one of those guys you hear droning on and on while you’re standing in line at the post office or stuck on a train between stations — the monologuist who can’t stop explicating, to anybody who looks like he might be listening, everything that’s wrong with the world and exactly who’s to blame. He’s the walking embodiment of all the free-floating anger behind the mask of civilized behavior, so well described by Auden in a despairing vision at the end of the 30s: Behind each sociable fun-loving eye The private massacres are taking place — The rich, all women, Jews, the human race. In his table talk Hitler blamed everything on the Jews of course — even the podium style of orchestra conductors he didn’t like was put down to Zionist influence. But he also blamed everything on the British, and on the rich, and on the German general staff, and on the invincible stupidity of the German bourgeoisie. In fact, throughout the “secret conversations” there was only one subject, other than music, Hitler ever talked about that seemed to bring out something in him other than unappeasable resentment and omnidirectional contempt: architecture. Hitler loved architecture. He’d been an architecture student when he was young; his few surviving paintings from those years are studies of the classic buildings of Vienna. He sometimes seemed to get more pleasure out of architectural tours of his conquered territories than he did from all their looted wealth. When he went to France after it fell to his armies in 1940 he didn’t give a damn about lording it over his abased enemies. All he wanted was a private visit to the Paris opera house, with a knowledgeable guide to show him the fine points of its design. That’s why to this day the only book that conveys any sense of the personality behind his tirades is Albert Speer’s Inside the Third Reich — the memoirs of Hitler’s architect.
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