Bill Yenne's book Hitler's Master of the Dark Arts: Himmler's Black Knights and the Occult Origins of the SS is a disappointment, focusing more on fairly well-known politics, and lacking much discussion of the occult at all. Topics which Yenne might consider "occult" are really more about paganism and folklore: an interesting read but still a disappointment in light of what the title promises. Finally, Yenne's mocking tone undermines his own authority on the subject.
Yenne is clearly very familiar with the rise of Heinrich Himmler and his creation of the SS within Nazi Germany, and this book gives an incredibly detailed account of these events, drawing from pages and pages of bibliography. In fact, I fear it might be overly detailed, involving so many different figures – and often their own backgrounds – that the reader may have a hard time keeping track of it all. Readers should also be a fan of the German language. Yenne likes to use the German versions of many terms, including ranks and organizations within the Nazi regime. This approach may well appeal to World War II aficionados, but I found myself wanting to create a scorecard in an attempt to keep track and understand what was being discussed.
Occultism vs. Paganism and Folklore
The biggest disappointment for me, however, was the topic itself. If you're looking for stories – either documented or just rumored – of Nazi rituals and practices, or information about esoteric belief systems within the Nazi party, you're going to be disappointed. What Yenne depicts is much more about paganism and folklore than occultism. That is interesting in and of itself, but not what the jacket cover promises.
Approach to the Topic
Finally, despite what might be good research, Yenne seriously undermines his own authority as he repeatedly mocks the very beliefs on which he is reporting. It is, quite frankly, blatantly unprofessional and smacks of sensationalism. If you wish to understand why others believe as they do, you need to approach it from a neutral position. He refers to Theosophy and other 19th century New Age religions as "quasireligions" and "pseudoreligions." Religion is religion. He never clarifies how he might be dividing the real religions from the "fake" ones. Yenne clearly finds the religious and philosophical beliefs central to the book as nonsensical, weird and goofy, and repeatedly expresses these opinions. So the aspect that Yenne claims to be central to his topic is the one that he is least respectful and professional toward. Meanwhile, much of the book is full of information on political developments, which seems to be Yenne's comfort zone.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.