Since I started investigating fascism I have learned a trick about reading multiple biographies of the same person. Whoever writes the second biography needs to introduce and defend new material and suggest how to interpret it.
The second biography is not going to present in rich detail episodes already conveyed. This truth flows through the ages so a fifth-generation biography may present a lot of material summarily. For the student, then, the proper path is to read the biographies in order, so that you have already read the original treatment of whatever it is in its fullest treatment. Of course newly discovered documentary material can be overwhelming enough that it promotes a re-telling.
Sometimes the earliest works are just trapped in ways of thinking that have gone thankfully away.
Hitler’s first biographer, Konrad Heiden, for instance, offers this up as a guide to Hitler’s relations with his father:
“His father had drunk and his son’s abstinence may be regarded as an unconscious protest against his father, just as his protest against work was a conscious protest….When Hitler father and son fought, the personality type lying at the base of the whole family was fighting with itself; the self-dissatisfaction, expressed in abrupt restlessness, which we suspect in Georg Heidler, clearly recognize in Alois Schicklgruber, and can literally touch in Adloph Hitler, is the real source of the quarrel […]”
I have trouble getting through stuff like that. But then along comes this sort of thing, which makes you understand why Hannah Arendt thought Heiden’s work so insightful.
The context is a speech Hitler gave after he emerged from prison following the Beer Hall Putsch, at a low point of his movement, when he could assemble no more than 4,000 in the Burgerbrau Keller from all of Bavaria. Heiden is discussing Hitler’s sure political touch as he wields the weapon of having been forbidden to speak in Bavaria for fear of violence.
“The dissolution of parties, the prohibition of public speeches–these were strangely violent measures of the state in defense of freedom. ‘The freest constitution in the world’ did not officially provide or allow for such brutal intervention of police power. But Hitler and his like had for years filled the country with violence, murder, and destruction, and the state had not found the strength to suppress them with the cold majesty of law; and now, having unjustly spared them, the state could no longer defend itself except by injustice. Where Hitler began to speak, murder could be expected as a result. Hitler forced the state to stretch the laws in a rather arbitrary way–this in itself was a success. When he attacked, a few drops of his own poisonous spirit dripped on the enemy and infected him. In all points of his career, in the most insignificant and the most important situations, this was his most dangerous power, though unfortunately least understood: that he lured or forced his opponents to imitate him, to use similar methods and even adopt the qualities which he really wanted to combat in Hitler.”