Top critical review
Thorny, but still a solid effort
Reviewed in the United States on January 12, 2018
In a nutshell this is a decent, fast non-fiction but not without its drawbacks. Main one being an unnecessary amount of melodrama. I wanted to read through a factual account of a man who stood up to Hitler in his own way and not without struggle, so chapters describing how "little boy who was afraid of Father Christmas" sang to his parents at his younger brother funeral; or where boys from poor neighborhood's Sunday school heckled and catcalled him (yet he was able to inspire them on the first lesson) seemed very sensationalized, mostly because there were too many of them. I do understand that Patricia McCormick is trying to draw a portrait of a Dietrich Bonhoeffer to us, but when chapters are overflowed with such stories, it feels like author is purposely trying to pull on reader's heartstrings and it certainly gets in the way in non-fiction. Artistic license should've been used bit more sparingly here.
To add to it, almost every chapter before we get to his actual involvement in the matter ended along the lines of "and that would be a man who will stand up to Hitler" or "and that's what would draw him into conspiracy to assassinate Hitler" (Hitler himself is mentioned in the last sentence of almost all chapters for the first half of the book) in the most dramatic way possible. After about seven of those, it quickly starts to feel over the top. Also, there are glaring repetitions of the text; for example, I encountered three times where it explains who Admiral Wilhelm Canaris and General Hans Oster were, or how his older brother will work with Einstein eventually, which seems excessive for 150-page book.
The beginning is a bit slow, as we are plunged in all those above-mentioned details that author uses to bring Dietrich Bonhoeffer's character to life but it does get going once he is fully engaged in trying to defy Hitler's regime and having inner struggle with the process. The narrative shows a man who chose a path that went opposite way from his own beliefs, and who consistently inspired those around him. We see his efforts to plead with church leaders and influential people in other countries that came with a personal cost, and I like that this inner fight was a part of the big picture. I wish section with him being an actual spy and all the assassination attempts, plotting, organizing and executing was longer - it felt awfully short compare to all the chapters where we read about his studies and thoughts on religion. I also craved more photographs, they would have made the book much richer, and there were so very few in the second part of the book
And lastly, there's an odd one that bothered me. There was a brief description about every member of the family and conspiracy in the very beginning of the book, and under the Archbishop George Bell's description after who he is and how he was involved it said: "Many years later, the Anglican Church acknowledged that Bell had abused children." That was mentioned only once, only there and we never went back to it. I believe that this is too strong of a description to put it in the beginning of the book and never return to it.This kind of addition either shouldn't have been mentioned at all (ultimately, it has nothing to do with Dietrich Bonhoeffer or conspiracy to kill Hitler) or should have been touched upon in the end of the book; these words are just hard to completely dismiss after reading them. I know I've read the entire book thinking about it, just to go nowhere - it felt like author dropped a totally unnecessary mini-bomb and then just left me hanging with it.
"The Plot to Kill Hitler: Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Spy, Unlikely Hero" is a solid effort. It goes over some basic WWII facts with a narrative that is suffering from being overly dramatic at times; a bit too much emphasis is put on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's youth and study years with the actual meat of the story - conspiracy and attempts to kill Hitler being too brief, and some obvious repetition; but it does give us an account of a man not that many people heard of, doing such in a very honest manner - we see that his choices didn't come easy to him. Bringing this particular man's story to wider (especially younger) audience is important, and it's done in a very engaging way. The book also makes you want to research more on your own, and that's always a plus. A good middle-of-the-road work.