The Rise and Fall of Mein Kampf

Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf was an unexpected bestseller, whose success rose and fell with its author.

Foyles employees use copies of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf to protect their room from possible German bombs, London, 5 September 1939. Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images.

Books hold a special power. We read, we buy or borrow, we support public libraries and campaign to keep them open. We lament when libraries are closed and especially when they are damaged in times of conflict. Underpinning these concerns is an assumption, seldom tested, that books are invariably a force for good: a civilising influence to be cherished and preserved.

But what about when they are not? Books are not just victims of war, they are also protagonists and provide, through their contribution to scientific discovery, intelligence and propaganda, the munitions. They incubate the ideologies that set nations against each other; they perpetuate the stereotypes that lead to atrocities and genocide. Books are never above the fray; they reflect the human frailties and evil intent of those who go to war, even as reading provides a haven of peace in troubled times.

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