O'Reilly, Bill. Hitler's Last Days
June 9th 2015 by Henry Holt and Co.
Middle grade readers are still fascinated by World War II, and the Nazis hold their interest especially because it is hard for us today to fathom the depth of his evil. His influence is still so great that no one wears his trademark toothbrush mustache. As with any person from history, Hitler, although the embodiment of evil, was a person. This book deftly weaves in anecdotes about the last half a year of Hitler's life with detailed examination of the fighting that led to the end of the war.
O'Reilly (whom I didn't realize was a television personality; that's how much television is watched in my house!) seems to have done due diligence in researching his topic; in addition to a bibliography of books and videos, there is a nice timeline and a few appendices explaining key topics and events of WWII. The lack of chapter notes gives this a less reliable feel, even though the maps seem correct (recently read a book where the map labeled as Europe in the 1940s was actually of the political boundaries today). The photographs are particularly striking; there are several of Hitler with his dog, with a Christmas tree, at a birthday party as well as Hitler overlooking ruined buildings and in his bunker. I was a bit disappointed to find that these come mostly from the Mary Evans Picture Library, which is a site where one can purchase pictures for news stories and the like; as I read the book, it seemed like it would be some fantastic, hidden collection of private photos taken during this time period.
There were many facets of Hitler's private life that were brought up; his diet, his illnesses, his use of cocaine and methamphetamine,why he may have worn his mustache the way he did, and these were balanced nicely with the descriptions of how the war was proceeding, and how the various military commanders were planning on forwarding the advances against the Germans. There wasn't too much about why or how Hitler was able to manipulate the German people into creating, staffing, and running the concentration camps, but that was not really the focus of the book.
I was a bit surprised that this was not nominated for the Cybils' Young Adult Nonfiction award, but in our society, anything to do with Hitler is generally avoided. While I don't think should be celebrated in any way, I think it's important to examine him and his motives so that no one ever again is able to have public support for this level of personal evil.