The Hangman and His Wife Summary and Reviews

The Hangman and His Wife

The Life and Death of Reinhard Heydrich

by Nancy Dougherty

The Hangman and His Wife by Nancy Dougherty X
The Hangman and His Wife by Nancy Dougherty
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  • Published May 2022
    656 pages
    Genre: Biography/Memoir

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Book Summary

An astonishing journey into the heart of Nazi evil: a portrait of one of the darkest figures of Hitler's Nazi elite - Reinhard Heydrich, the designer and executor of the Holocaust, chief of the Reich Main Security, including the Gestapo - interwoven with commentary by his wife, Lina, from the author's in-depth interviews.

He was called the Hangman of the Gestapo, the "butcher of Prague," with a reputation as a ruthlessly efficient killer. He was the head of the SS, and the Gestapo, second in command to Heinrich Himmler. His orders set in motion the Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938 and, as the lead planner of Hitler's Final Solution, he chaired the Wannsee Conference, at which details of the murder of millions of Jews across Nazi-occupied Europe were toasted with cognac.

In The Hangman and His Wife, Nancy Dougherty, and, following her death, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, masterfully explore who Heydrich was and how he came to be, and how he came to do what he did. We see Heydrich from his rarefied musical family origins and his ugly-duckling childhood and adolescence, to his sudden flameout as a promising Naval officer (he was forced to resign his Naval commission after dishonoring the office corps by having sex with the unmarried daughter of a shipyard director and refusing to marry her).

Dougherty writes of his seemingly hopeless job prospects as an untrained civilian during Germany's hyperinflation and unemployment, and his joining the Nazi party through the attraction to Nazism of his fiancée, Lina von Osten, and her father, along with the rumor shadowing him of a strain of Jewishness inherited from his father's side. And we follow Heydrich's meteoric rise through the Nazi high command—from SS major, to colonel to brigadier general, before he was thirty, deputy to Heinrich Himmler, expanding the SS, the Gestapo, and developing the Reich's plans for "the Jewish solution."

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"The hollowed-out soul of one of Nazi Germany's worst criminals is explored through his wife's recollections in this searching biography...Extensive interviews with Heydrich's wife Lina, who died in 1985, offer an alternate version of the man as a striving careerist with little involvement in the Final Solution; Dougherty demonstrates how delusional that sketch is...The result is a chilling, revelatory case study of the moral corruption of the Third Reich." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Nearly 600 pages of cutthroat Nazi political maneuvering added to genuine throat-cutting in Germany and throughout Europe would be excessive in less-skilled hands, but Dougherty, with the assistance of Heydrich's wife and Lehmann-Haupt, has the right stuff. A masterful account of the quintessential Nazi." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"An exhaustive and dark expedition into the diabolical mind of a truly evil villain and unsettling insight on the deliberate delusion that blinded some Germans to the horrific atrocities committed by the Third Reich." - Booklist

"A dual biography that will have wide appeal for fans of World War II history. Recommended for all libraries." - Library Journal

This information about The Hangman and His Wife was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. Publication information is for the USA, and (unless stated otherwise) represents the first print edition. The reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that they do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, send us a message with the mainstream reviews that you would like to see added.

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Author Information

Nancy Dougherty

Nancy Dougherty was a biographer and film critic. She received the PEN Girard Award in 1987. She died in 2013.

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt was a journalist, novelist, literary critic, and for almost three decades, daily book reviewer for the New York Times. He died in 2018.

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