Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Book Review: 'When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain' by Giles Milton

Giles Milton entertains and, at times, amazes us in “When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain.” The author recounts miraculous tales of survival; heinous crimes; heroism during wartime; and other mind-boggling episodes. There are incidents recounted here, however, that are too familiar to be included in a book subtitled “history’s unknown chapters.” Most people are already familiar with the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, the 1972 Andes plane crash, Eichmann’s abduction, and Agatha Christie’s eleven-day disappearance.

Milton says, “Much of my working life is spent in the archives.” His research pays off handsomely when he describes the heroics of an intrepid carrier pigeon, a physician who rode an ice floe to save a desperately ill young patient, and a courageous Catholic social worker who smuggled Jewish babies out of the Warsaw Ghetto. Be warned that lurid chapters about eunuchs, freak shows, and cannibalism may not be to everyone’s taste.

It is clear that the author enjoys traveling through time and across continents to find stories that showcase humanity at its best and worst and nature at her most powerful and unpredictable. Because there are gaps in the historical record, Milton admits that certain facts remain elusive. Did Hitler’s girlfriend really bear his child? Did George Mallory reach the summit of Mount Everest before he died? No one knows for sure. If you want to delve deeper into these and other puzzlers, Giles Milton includes a bibliography for further reading. “When Hitler Took Cocaine” is breezy, lively, and succinct and should appeal to general audiences.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right

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