Just got through Guderian: Panzer Pioneer or Myth Maker? by Russell A. Hart. I was looking forward to reading it; the introduction says the book "seeks the real Heinz Guderian, not the man of legend." I was expecting a short but interesting insight into how Guderian inflated his accomplishments, much like Bond and Mearsheimer had done with Liddell Hart (and which Gat later attempted to redress). No less than Richard DiNardo proffered a decently glowing review of the book that concluded with, "This monograph is certainly not the definitive biography of Guderian, and I do not think the author had that goal in mind. As a corrective to one of the more mendacious memoirs of the Second World War, Hart's work clearly hits the mark." Looking good!
As it turns out, the book is a hot mess. It consists of surprisingly repetitious (and it's only 118pp), scantily-researched, poorly-evidenced, and thesaurus-driven prose that does little to convince the reader of the author's arguments unless the reader is fine with simply taking his word on things. (Of course, with the way things go on social media, this may not be an issue...). The third sentence in the introduction is, "Unfortunately, too many of Guderian's biographers have accepted Guderian's view of his accomplishments without sufficient critical scrutiny." In the endnote for this sentence Hart mentions seven such hagiographies, including two editions of Macksey's book on Guderian, Panzer General and Creator of the Blitzkreig. From this strong start, I thought with glee, clearly Hart will offer some hard-hitting, original research using novel sources!
Oh. Hart's main sources are the biographies he accused of insufficient critical scrutiny in the third sentence of his book.
Hart consistently makes assertions and accusations with no supporting examples, and often with even no citation. Some of this stuff I even believed going in, but if I had disagreed I would not be convinced by Hart simply saying so. E.g., people now realize Lutz had a large hand in forming the German armored forces. Hart agrees, stating. "It was Lutz more than Guderian who transformed the Mobile Troops Command into a strong, coherent branch in the late 1930s. Quietly, with much less fuss and rancor than Guderian was raising, Lutz negotiated, cajoled, listened, and compromised to push forward his command more effectively than Guderian ever could have done." What negotiations and compromises actually occurred are, like many things in the book, left to the reader's imagination.
Hart later says that "Guderian despised the Catholic, Slavic Poles who now [in 1939] occupied parts of his native, beloved Prussia." This is not provided with any citation or evidence. It's not that I wouldn't believe such a statement, but I would expect some evidence to accompany its presentation. Hart later says that during the French invasion, "In his private correspondence, Guderian expressed compassion for the plight of the French populace. This demonstrated that he held the 'civilized' French in much higher regard than he did the Slavic Poles." So I guess that's the evidence? Again, not that I wouldn't believe it, but that connection seems a bit of a stretch.
Likewise, Hart says that during the Polish invasion Guderian "earned the enmity of many a senior officer whose command prerogatives Guderian carelessly and thoughtlessly trampled over. For example, Guderian soon found himself at odds with the 3d Panzer Division commander--Freiherr Geyr von Schweppenburg--another future rising star of the armored force." What prerogatives were trampled, what odds occurred, and how those odds were resolved are not mentioned.
A fourth example: "Largely as a result of Guderian's insistence, these [Hummel and Wespe] were produced only in limited numbers, sufficient at best to equip a single battalion in each panzer artillery regiment during 1943-5. The lack of self-propelled guns reflected Guderian's opposition to diverting resources and production capacity to artillery weapons and his firm prewar belief that only tanks could fight other tanks effectively." This cites pp.216-22 in Panzer Leader. Unfortunately, my edition is apparently paginated differently, because there is nothing in those pages in my copy that talks about Guderian's opposition to SP arty. I did find where Guderian laid out the notes he took to his 9 March 1943 conference with Hitler et al after becoming Inspector-General of Armored Troops, which included "9.The artillery of the panzer and motorized divisions will from now on be receiving the adequate number of self-propelled gun-carriages which has been requested for the past 10 years...Tanks of latest design must be supplied for artillery observers."
A final example of evidenceless assertions for this post, but by no means final in the book: "[Guderian's] response to that trend [of the SS and Nazi party gaining influence and threatening taking over the army in 1944] was to more strongly identify himself and the armored troops with the national socialist worldview and agenda." No citation, no elaboration on how Guderian identified the armored troops with the Nazi worldview and agend, or even what that means, really.
Hart can't seem to decide how well Guderian performs as far as politics and influencing others. He variously describes him as having "political naiveté" (p.90), being "a consummate political operator" (p.92) who "continuously politicked" (p.93) those in Hitler's sphere, who executed a "calculated political neutrality" (p.102) after the assassination attempt on Hitler, yet who was again "a political neophyte" (p.115) who was "politically naive" (p.117). This list starts at p.90 only because that's when I bothered to start keeping track. It exists throughout the book.
I generally like historical scholarship and biographies to take a decently even-handed approach, but Hart makes no attempt to hide his bias with word choice, time and again throwing out strings of adjectives full of negative connotation: "More than anything else, it was his repeated, insolent defiance of higher authority, his insatiable and threatening demands for more of everything, his inability to understand the needs of other commands or act as a team player, combined with his inability to finesse his superiors, that cost Guderian his appointment." Jeez, say how you really feel.
So, in sum, I was disappointed. I went into this book believing that Guderian made more of himself than he should have re: the formation of German armored forces, but Hart did little to convince me had I not already thought so. The book is not all bad (I hadn't heard of the bribes Hitler gave to senior officers, but this research is not original to Hart, who cites others' work), but it's shallow and I feel it's not very good scholarship, especially from a history professor and PhD-holder who specializes "in the history of the Second World War in the European Theater." At least it was only like $12.