Tuesday, September 6, 2011

David Irving

First Published in
Inconvenient History

David Irving
by Jett Rucker

This may be Inconvenient History’s first Profile of a living subject. David Irving (born 1938, England) is not only living, but—very happily for the rest of us—working at a pace that would tire anyone half his age, at this moment on a biography of Heinrich Himmler. His only career after a stint as a millworker in Germany’s renascent steel industry after World War Two has been researching, writing, and publishing history, all of it placed within Europe in the Twentieth Century. His distinguished and strife-torn career, then, is already about twice as long as any “average” career, and his productivity exceeds all norms by a large multiple. While his aggressive interpretations of the evidence he examines produce books that read like novels (with footnotes), not one of his titles, neither in English nor in his equally fluent German, is fiction.

Two virtues distinguish David Irving from other historians. First, he is quite innocent of formal education, or training, in history. In fact, he claims no college degree whatsoever, though he obviously commands erudition vastly in excess of the secondary education he received. Concerns for a secure and respected career as an academic historian have, therefore, never affected his pronouncements. Second, he bases his historical findings entirely on original sources—writings in most cases, and direct personal interviews in others. His application of this policy is rigorous—he in fact eschews not only translations, at least of German sources, but he also avoids even purported transcriptions. A striking example of this practice appears in the extensive personal diary of Joseph Goebbels, who wrote the journal in his own neat, but archaic handwriting, quite illegible to native readers of German today. Irving has painstakingly trained himself in deciphering this script to a level of accuracy probably attained by no other person since Goebbels’s death. His biography of Goebbels appeared in 1996.

he research, writing, and publication of Goebbels—Mastermind of the Third Reich, in fact, provides a good example, from among many, of the Sturm und Drang that have characterized Irving’s tumultuous career. By the time (1992) he completed what turned out to be the first version of his biography under contract with Scribner, a complete set of microfilms of Goebbels’s diaries had ....

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