In the late 1920s Hitler named Joseph Goebbels the Nazi Party's propaganda leader and Gauleiter for Berlin. Shortly after becoming chancellor of Germany in January 1933, the Fu hrer gave Goebbels the additional position of Reich Minister for Propaganda and National Enlightenment. Throughout the "years of struggle" before 1933, and on to the final demise of the Third Reich in May 1945, Goebbels was Hitler's closest partner in the development of the massive propaganda campaign that characterized Nazism. He was also the man in charge of the comprehensive system of censorship and media control through which the Nazis seized hold of, and then strangled, the cultural life of the land of Goethe and Schiller.

Goebbels was a highly effective speaker, and his hard-edged delivery contrasted sharply with the guttural rumblings of the Fu hrer. Along with an enormous capacity for hard work and real administrative skills, Goebbels (like Hitler) stressed mass symbolism in propaganda (rallies, mass demonstrations, etc.).

Among the top Nazi leaders, Goebbels stood out as the most lively, by far the best educated (a PhD), and the possessor of an active--if wicked--sense of humor. He was also a fanatical Nazi with a hatred of communists and a thorough contempt for democracy and civil rights. Goebbels' racism was at least as obsessive and universal as that of the majority of his Nazi colleagues, but he was inclined to use open pogrom methods against Jews in contrast to the bureaucratic devices of deportation and gas chambers favored by Heydrich and Himmler.

Although certainly not a nice man, Goebbels was an intriguing one, and has not ceased to pique the curiosity and interest of outside observers. This interest has been fueled by the fact that Goebbels was an inveterate diary writer who apparently poured two pages of his version of every day's events into the typewriter from the mid-1920s until May 1945. During the 1930s he published a small volume of sharply edited entries for the years 1932-33, and later entries were published from time to time through the late '70s.

The publication of those additional sections has been plagued with troubles. Due to conflicts over literary rights, long battles have raged, and the existence of multiple versions of the original records--all of which are incomplete--has made preparation of a coherent text difficult. But Fred Taylor has persevered to give us an extensive slice of the extant diary materials from January 1939 to July 1941. Historians will be disappointed at the size of the gaps, for there are huge sections missing from the 1940 original, including virtually everything on the build-up for, and execution of, the attack in the West in May and June. But virtually the full run up to the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 is here. Historians will also find valuable accounts of Goebbels' working methods, his relations with other Nazi leaders and his long conversations with Hitler.

For the general reader, as well as the historian, care must be taken in accepting at face value everything Goebbels put in the diary. Obviously, considering his profession and politics, he was both myopic and an enthusiastic bender of truth.

But all such doubts count as nothing compared with the readability and gripping quality of the diary. Goebbels' cynical humor shows up frequently. When "all astrologers, magnetopaths, anthroposophists, etc." in the Reich were arrested following Hess' flight to England in May 1940, the propaganda minister dryly remarked, "oddly enough not a single clairvoyant predicted he would be arrested. A poor advertisement for their profession."

Goebbels' unexpected candor also pops up repeatedly. In May 1941 he asked rhetorically, "Shall we really have to settle for that filthy fellow, [French collaborator Pierre] Laval?" For months he crowed that the English were lying and understating their aircraft losses, but on July 3, 1941, he observed that "our Luftwaffe is probably doing the same thing."

His utter contempt for America did not deter him from an enthusiastic appreciation of Hollywood. He loved "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town": "Marvellous stuff from America, with Gary Cooper. Wonderfully made, excellent idea, beautifully acted. I am delighted." He also liked "Gone With the Wind" and called "Snow White" "a magnificent artistic achievement. A fairy tale for grown-ups, thought out into the last detail and made with a great love of humanity and nature. An artistic delight!"

The incongruities are what make this volume so engrossing. The love and devotion with which Goebbels writes of his many children continually gives the reader a start, for in 1945 he had them all murdered just before he committed suicide. The pure adulation with which this intelligent man invariably refers to Hitler in his diary entries--contrasting so sharply with the mixed reviews he gives to his other associates--leaves one with a sense of bewilderment. Yet just as one is ready to dismiss him as a closed-minded fanatic, one finds entries such as, "wonderful caricatures of me appear in the English newspapers. One could laugh oneself sick at them," or "Wachter has given the Fu hrer 100 original French cartoons of himself for his birthday. A scream! I too am in them, brilliantly caricatured. When such things are done with wit and intelligence, one cannot help but appreciate them."

And when faced with the diary of a racist zealot and warmonger who could write such lines, one can but read on, for this must surely be one of the most intriguing historical records of one of the enigmas and paradoxes of our times. rhetorically, "Shall we really have to settle for that filthy fellow, French collaborator Pierre Laval?" For months he crowed that the English were lying and understating their aircraft losses, but on July 3, 1941, he observed that "our Luftwaffe is probably doing the same thing."

His utter contempt for America did not deter him from an enthusiastic appreciation of Hollywood. He loved "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town": "Marvellous stuff from America, with Gary Cooper. Wonderfully made, excellent idea, beautifully acted. I am delighted." He also liked "Gone With the Wind" and called "Snow White" "a magnificent artistic achievement. A fairy tale for grown-ups, thought out into the last detail and made with a great love of humanity and nature. An artistic delight!"

The incongruities are what make this volume so engrossing. The love and devotion with which Goebbels writes of his many children continually gives the reader a start, for in 1945 he had them all murdered just before he committed suicide. The pure adulation with which this intelligent man invariably refers to Hitler in his diary entries--contrasting so sharply with the mixed reviews he gives to his other associates--leaves one with a sense of bewilderment. Yet just as one is ready to dismiss him as a closed-minded fanatic, one finds entries such as, "wonderful caricatures of me appear in the English newspapers. One could laugh oneself sick at them," or "Wachter has given the Fu hrer 100 original French cartoons of himself for his birthday. A scream! I too am in them, brilliantly caricatured. When such things are done with wit and intelligence, one cannot help but appreciate them."

And when faced with the diary of a racist zealot and warmonger who could write such lines, one can but read on, for this must surely be one of the most intriguing historical records of one of the enigmas and paradoxes of our times.