Master propagandist of the Nazi regime and dictator of its cultural life for twelve years, Joseph Goebbels was born into a strict Catholic, working-class family from Rheydt, in the Rhineland, on 29 October 1897. He was educated at a Roman Catholic school and went on to study history and literature at the University of Heidelberg under Professor Friedrich Gundolf, a Jewish literary historian renowned as a Goethe scholar and a close disciple of the poet Stefan George.
Goebbels had been rejected for military service during World War I because of a crippled foot - the result of contracting polio as a child - and a sense of physical inadequacy tormented him for the rest of his life, reinforced by resentment of the reactions aroused by his diminutive frame, black hair and intellectual background. Bitterly conscious of his deformity and fearful of being regarded as a "bourgeois intellectual," Goebbels overcompensated for his lack of the physical virtues of the strong, healthy, blond, Nordic type by his ideological rectitude and radicalism once he joined the NSDAP in 1922.
The hostility to the intellect of the "little doctor," his contempt for the human race in general and the Jews in particular, and his complete cynicism were an expression of his own intellectual self-hatred and inferiority complexes, his overwhelming need to destroy everything sacred and ignite the same feelings of rage, despair and hatred in his listeners.
At first Goebbels's hyperactive imagination found an outlet in poetry, drama and a bohemian life-style, but apart from his expressionist novel, Michael: ein Deutsches Schicksal in Tagebuchblattern (1926), nothing came of these first literary efforts. It was in the Nazi Party that Goebbels's sharp, clear-sighted intelligence, his oratorical gifts and flair for theatrical effects, his uninhibited opportunism and ideological radicalism blossomed in the service of an insatiable...