Before he became world famous as the author of “Fatherland” in 1992, Robert Harris was a respected journalist who wrote, in 1986, the definite account of the Hitler Diaries scandal of 1983.
For readers unfamiliar with the scandal, in 1981/82 the German magazine Stern believed it was offered, by a secretive route through East Germany, the personal diaries of one Adolf Hitler that had supposedly been recovered from a plane crash in early 1945.
They were fraudulent, manufactured by a moderately-gifted forger who should have been detected within days of delivering the first volumes.
Instead, Stern, believing they had stumbled onto one of the publishing scoops of the century, proceeded to engage in one of the greatest farces of modern publishing history, where a mixture of fraud, wilful suspension of disbelief and assumption led to a comedic shambles.
The book reads like a thriller (unsurprisingly), and is a wonderful testament to how a mixture of money, hope and the simple belief by everybody that someone else had seriously verified what was on offer. As it happened, the verification was so half-assed that at one stage one expert was unknowingly verifying Hitler’s supposed handwriting in the diaries against a sample he believed to be real but was actually created by the forger himself.
The cast of characters is superb, from ex-Nazis to Rupert Murdoch to David Irving mischievously and masterfully dropping himself right into the middle of the action, to a deluded German journalist absolutely convinced that Martin Bormann was going to suddenly appear to endorse the whole thing!
I recommend the Audible version read by David Rintoul, one of the leading audiobook narrators in the world.