When ebooks and ereaders caught on, they brought about the indomitable rise of a once-languishing genre: romance novels. “If the e-reader is the digital equivalent of the brown-paper wrapper, the romance reader is a little like the Asian carp: insatiable and unstoppable,” the New York Times wrote cryptically in 2010. But romance novels, it seems, are not alone; other titles in other genres are benefitting from the anonymity of ereader packaging. One book that’s seen a big boost? Hitler’s Mein Kampf.
It makes sense. No one wants to be caught reading the 720-page tombstone by one of the most evil figures in history on the subway. (Just imagine the Cover Spy entry: Mein Kampf, Hitler [M, 30s, hipster beard, flannel shift, Semitic nose, A train].) Having an electronic edition lets you pore over Hitler’s ravings without judgment.
Chris Faraone, writing for the site Vocativ, has taken a deep look at the phenomenon, and the results are pretty fascinating:
Mein Kampf hasn’t made The New York Times nonfiction chart since its U.S. release in 1939, the same year Germany invaded Poland, and its print sales have fallen steadily ever since. But with a flood of new e-book editions, Hitler’s notorious memoir just clocked a banner digital year. One 2012 English-language version is currently the number one Propaganda & Political Psychology book on Amazon. Another digital selection is a player in the Globalization category.
Or to put it another way: On Amazon, there are more than 100 versions of Mein Kampf for sale in every conceivable print and audio format, from antique hardbacks to brand-new paperbacks. Of those 100 iterations, just six are e-books — yet all six of them rank among the 10 best-selling versions overall. And those are just the ones people are paying for.
According to Faraone, various English-language versions of the book have been downloaded from the Internet Archive “in excess of 100,000 times.”
I followed in Faraone’s footsteps and did some digging around on Amazon: Currently, Mein Kampf ranks as #20 on the Politics & Social Sciences bestsellers list. Within that category, it’s #1 on the Propaganda & Political Psychology sublist, #6 on the Globalization sublist, and #7 on the Politics & Government sublist. It’s also #14 on the Philosophers sublist of the Biographies & Memoirs category. On iTunes, it currently holds both the #3 and #4 slots on Politics & Current Events list of Top Paid Books (beat out only by Charles Krauthammer’s Things That Matter and Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s Double Down).
Personally, I find the iTunes results more surprising than the Amazon ones, because of the book’s high standing on a broad chart. (It does not place in Amazon’s top 100 bestselling books overall.) On Amazon, the categories are more specialized ones, where the book’s placement makes sense.
Still, it gives me a strange feeling to chart Mein Kampf‘s popularity — which, it should be noted, isn’t exclusive to the web: in 2012, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported on Hitler’s following in India. It’s bizarre to read Michael Ford, the president of the California company that produced last year’s 99-cent Kindle version, telling Faraone, “Sales are great,” before going on to say that he faces “a moral dilemma in promotion” (poor guy). And because most of these editions feature portraits of Hitler on the cover, it’s unsettling to see his face popping up everywhere, including underneath a flashy Amazon “Click to LOOK INSIDE!” banner. Talk about cognitive dissonance.
The comments on the 99-cent Kindle edition — which has a healthy three and a half stars — are quite a trip, too. They range from “People need to understand that if we do not learn from people like this, then we will fall into their traps again” to “How does one rate a book by Adolf Hitler? It is a must read for anyone into history.” But if I had to choose one that summed up the whole phenomenon best, I’d probably go with this:
It’s cool to read a book like this and get inside hitlers head. Plus it was only a dollar, so I’d say its worth it.