Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Booknote: The Nazi Seance

I just thought this book was very neat, so I am sharing my GoodReads review here for my four readers. It is one of those books I found by serendipity. I don't quite recall how I first learned about it, but I am glad I did.

For purposes of reader's advisory reference, similar books that I have read. You can find reviews of these books in my GoodReads shelves:

  • Greg Grandin, Fordlandia
  • Tilar J. Mazzeo, The Secret of Chanel No. 5
  • Ben Macintyre, Forgotten Fatherland
  • Timothy W. Ryback, Hitler's Private Library

The Nazi Séance: The Strange Story of the Jewish Psychic in Hitler's CircleThe Nazi Séance: The Strange Story of the Jewish Psychic in Hitler's Circle by Arthur J. Magida
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is definitely one of the most interesting and unique reading experiences for me this year. The moment I saw the title of this book, I felt it would be an interesting one to read, and it did not disappoint. If you enjoy history, especially reading about lesser known topics or more obscure things, this may be a book for you. If you enjoy reading about performers, mentalists, clairvoyants, etc., this may be a good book for you as well as it does have some discussion of that trade as well, including quotes and comments from Teller (of Penn & Teller). And if you happen to be a World War II or Nazi Germany history buff, you may to grab this one. In other words, there is something to interest various folks.

The strength of the book is in the narrative. Magida writes this book as if it was a novel. And even if you know the fate of Erik Jan Hanussen, the psychic in question, you still want to read through it. There are moments when you feel sympathy for the guy and moments when you say, "what was he thinking? Is he really that blind?" Those moments in reading help show that Hanussen was a complex individual. True: he was swindler; he was very selfish (looking after numero uno, so to speak), and he was quite the charmer able to live off his wits. But the guy was also quite the performer struggling to move in a world that was collapsing around him. It is quite the tragic story. It is well written, and the pace just moves along.

In addition, the book is very well researched as evident from the extensive notes at the end of the book. Also, there are some revelations (well, maybe to some). For example, where the Nazis stood when it came to the occult. It is commonly asserted that the Nazis were big on it, yet this book argues that it varied: some Nazis were indifferent, others embraced it. Also fascinating to see was how the Nazis used the clairvoyant for more than just his abilities. Hanussen often lent them money and bailed them out of debts, something he thought he could use as leverage. That and the fact that he pretty much became a Nazi mouthpiece, at least until they turned against him, and by then, it was the end. This detail may make a lot of readers wonder: why did he not leave Germany when he could? How could he not see what the Nazis would do? So on.

Overall, this is an excellent book that I do recommend.

View all my reviews

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