Dispatches from the Digital Revolution

Do books still matter? Mein Kampf does.

(*Update 1/25, 11:18 AM: Faced with pressure from the German government and unable to afford a legal battle with the Bavarian state, McGee has backed down and will be graying out the Mein Kampf supplements in Zeitungszeugen, leaving only the accompanying commentary visible.)

Mein Kampf


While writing about the publishing singularity last week, I found myself wondering—in the digital age, do books still really matter? Will the convergence of different forms of media have the ultimate effect of diluting book potency, corroding the patina of authority that has surrounded books for so long?

That day might come, but it definitely hasn’t even breached the horizon yet—at least not in Germany. Before coming across this article, I had no idea that Mein Kampf was still banned in Germany, except for the limited purpose of academic study. Don’t get me wrong here; I know we’re talking about an atrocity of a book, a manifesto of the human capacity for evil. But the idea that a book could still be illegal in the information age seriously rattled my paradigms.

What does that even mean, illegal? How would the state go about policing the distribution of ebook versions of Mein Kampf? Do German citizens reading it on their ereaders get snatched by roving censorship patrols and tossed into jail?

It may be made of Hitler hoodoo, but Mein Kampf is a book, not an arc of face-melting radiation à la Indiana Jones. Lending it a mysticized, forbidden-fruit quality strikes me as a bad idea.

Apparently, Peter McGee, head of the London-based publishing house Albertas Ltd., is of the same mind. Last week, McGee announced that he would be publishing sixteen-page excerpts of Mein Kampf along with critical commentary, with a print run of 100,000 each. The excerpts will be distributed as a supplement to the company’s weekly publication, a controversial series called Zeitungszeugen—Newspaper Witnesses—that reprints pages of Nazi newspapers from the 1920s and 30s.

“It is a sensitive subject in Germany but the incredible thing is most Germans don’t have access to Mein Kampf because it has this taboo, this ‘black magic’ surrounding it,” McGee said in a Reuters interview. “We want Mein Kampf to be accessible so people can see it for what it is, and then discard it. Once exposed, it can be consigned to the dustbin of literature.”

It probably also doesn’t hurt that the latest series of Newspaper Witnesses, released two weeks ago, has already sold 250,000 copies. But the commercial underpinnings of McGee’s motivations are less interesting to me than the stir this has kicked up in Germany. The state of Bavaria, which holds the copyright to Mein Kampf, has already threatened to sue Albertas in order to block publication, claiming that McGee’s republication will violate copyright. And while historians rejoice, Holocaust survivor groups are up in arms.

While I agree that the public should have access to Mein Kampf—if I’ve learned anything from Battlestar Galactica, other than essentially everything I know to be true about life, it’s that history shouldn’t be swept under the rug if you don’t want hordes of gorgeous platinum blondes descending upon your people and permanently messing your planetary junk up—it also simply makes me happy to see that books can still galvanize this sort of mayhem. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and books are still hot.

I also think that as the creation of enhanced ebooks becomes more of a true art form, rather than the manic fiddling with new technology that it currently is, “books” might begin to have even more impact than they already do.

Gilded Curve


Just this week, Orson & Co announced a new literary app: The Gilded Curve, based on author Richard Mason’s The Gilded Curve: History of a Pleasure Seeker, which is being released by Knopf in February in hardcover and ebook formats. The app will be available in April or May, and is being lauded by Mason as a “whole new artistic form” rather than an ebook. Featuring evocative music, interactive photographs and illustrations, audio of Downtown Abbey star Dan Stevens reading the text, and annotation capabilities, all at the reader’s disposal with the tap of a finger, these features sound like the best of what the ebook has to offer—enhanced rather than disrupted content, subject to the reader’s preference.

What might the impact of Mein Kampf have been, had the book been created in a format that combined the stirring power of music with visual stimuli, all meant to emphasize the effect of the written word?

Yeah. Books just got real.

4 comments on “Do books still matter? Mein Kampf does.

  1. Pingback: Evolution of content: The immediacy trend « appazoogle

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  3. R.J.Keith
    February 23, 2012

    I’m with you on the silliness of banning books, or even censoring them (the fact that they’re STILL trying to censor Mark Twain makes me reach for Tylenol and pray for the human race). On this one, however, I do see Germany’s point. Despite the war being more than 60 years over and done, there are still a lot of Neo-Nazis out there that would jump at the opportunity to have Mein Kampf widely available. Like with anything, the book could be (once again) used as propaganda against the so-called “non-Aryans”. And while it may be a “slippery slope” I’m highlighting; the very real fact that there are people who still believe Hitler’s nonsense out there is a dangerous road the (sensible) German people are not willing to tread. No one wants to see the swastika make a comeback, brought back by a guy screaming passages from Mein Kampf and worse, having people believe him and gather around spreading the same lies. Digital age aside, some lies are still willingly believed. Extermination of a race by another is still a very real possibility. Even the Neo-Nazi movement is propogated by the same lies in that book passed down from generation after generation, fed by ignorance and believed by those who are too stupid, or have no desire, to find out any different. Unlike Mark Twain, where a single word is trying to be censored and history is trying to be shoved under the carpet, I think the Germans are trying to put their checkered past behind them while simultaneously keeping a very, very BAD book hidden away where it belongs. Germany has tried very hard (and continues to do so) to educate everyone on the horrors of WWII, so it doesn’t happen again. And really; WWII was started by a very angry (rejected) man with the right economic circumstances and the right sort of political backers. Around the world there is political unrest, economic downturn is the accepted norm, and people are very, very angry and looking for someone to blame. History is doomed to repeat itself if we’re not careful. And some books were never meant to be read.

  4. Lana Popovic
    February 23, 2012

    I completely agree that some books were never meant to be read, and in fact should never have existed, but the very fact that they do exist and are forbidden gives rise to the sort of morbid curiosity that can become so dangerous. The reason I referenced Battlestar Galactica above–other than the fact that it’s my one true, enduring love–is that the show’s refrain is, “All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.” A country’s need to distance itself from a grotesquely horrifying past is lesser than the need to demystify the manifesto that underlaid it, and thereby help prevent even the inklings of a revival. If I can be a little melodramatic about it, logic has always been the enemy of evil, and it’s not as if anyone who really wants to read the thing is going to have any trouble obtaining it anyway. There are a number of versions available on Amazon, and I’m sure plenty can be found elsewhere. I guess I just feel like the symbolic gesture of banning it has shades of denying that the Holocaust ever happened.

Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on January 25, 2012 by in Culture, News, Opinion and tagged , , .

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