Mark Mazower at The Financial Times:
“I need to write this bitterness out of myself,” Joseph Goebbels confessed in 1923 as he began his diary. And how he tried, and kept on trying, long after unemployment was a distant memory and he had become one of the Führer’s most trusted associates. The diaries amount to 32 volumes. Nor was this just Goebbels’s problem: the regime’s logorrhoea began at the top. Pity Hitler’s adjutants who had to sit through those interminable after-dinner ramblings, and pity the poor historian who has to wade through not only these dutifully transcribed testimonies to the inner workings of the Nazi mind, but the commentary of several generations of scholars as well. There have been thousands of books published on the Holocaust since the millennium, and some 500 and counting in this year alone, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
Timothy Snyder believes that this torrent of material has bolstered misconceptions and myths. We are in danger of forgetting, he suggests, that large numbers of the victims died outside the camps, and that Germans were not the only perpetrators. He thinks that we also need to be reminded that the genocide was not the fault of nations, of states or of science. But his real concern is the future. Over-familiar with the story, we distance it from our own lives, forgetting that “its precedent is eternal”. This is the message of Black Earth, a philosophical history that burrows past individual events to get at underlying truths and ends up convincing neither as history nor as exhortation.