This book is part of a series that examines whether any one photo from a crucial moment in history can transform people’s understanding of the world. Taking center stage in this title is the iconic photograph of Adolf Hitler and two associates posing in front of the Eiffel Tower in newly defeated France. The author places the photo in context by explaining briefly Hitler’s dominance in Europe and the trajectory of World War II. He then goes back in time to trace Hitler’s childhood and rise to power and, in a parallel arc, the childhood and rising career of Hitler’s favorite, longtime photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann. It is a riveting narrative, the book’s layout is clean and well organized, and the photos throughout are powerful. The author has found an interesting lens (no pun intended!) through which to view familiar events and images.
Ironically, the author’s objectivity does not always work in his favor. Hitler may be one of the few people in history who should not get an evenhanded character description. While not glossing over his brutal qualities, the author adds: “Yet he also had qualities that had plainly helped him achieve his success as a national leader. Hoffman, who knew him for more than twenty years, called him ‘a charming and witty conversationalist.’” As far as Hoffman is concerned, his association with Hitler overshadows, for many, his significance as a photographer — but the author points out that Hoffmann claims not to have known about all of the Nazi abuses, and not to have approved of those he did know about. Haven’t we heard this before? The statement goes unchallenged. One British photographer who is quoted seems to give Hoffmann a pass, saying the relationship between the two men was personal, not political. But Hoffmann profited greatly from his work with Hitler and though he lived more than a decade after the war ended, never apologized in any way. To this reviewer, it’s a mistake not even to raise the issue of the ethics of having an ongoing relationship with a brutal dictator and a front-row seat to events, enjoying its fruits and building a career on it, then eschewing all responsibility. Actually, the book is the perfect departure point for a guided class discussion for middle grade readers, and that is probably a much better way to use this book than having readers digest it on their own.
Recommended for guided reading with a teacher or group leader for ages 10 – 14.