Der rote Baron: Die ganze Geschichte des Manfred von Richthofen by Joachim Castan opens with a thrilling re-telling of the Richthofen-myth practically everyone with a bit of interest in the topic knows. Or even without an interest - after all, you just need to read Peanuts to come across the name Red Baron.
And then the book goes on to deconstruct that myth very effectively. Castan used a lot of sources that authors previously ignored or didn't have access to and as far as I can see, he gets his facts right.
There's also a lot of speculation about Richthofen's character and psychological state, a bit too much I felt at times. I tend to distrust attempts at analysing historical figures because it's so often used to replace facts. But here, it's never wild speculation without factual basis, it's always marked as speculation and the reader is left to draw their own conclusion.
And so we're left with a Richthofen who was not the honourable knight people love to imagine - first of all his mother, whose diary used to be an important, but questionable source for earlier biographies. Which explains a lot about the myth, along with the propaganda about him that catered to the desire for a hero people could believe in without any doubts. Instead of this, we get a man with weaknesses, who wasn't fearless, who did not believe in some code of honour even when his life was at stake.
The book has garnered quite a number of scathing reviews on Amazon and the main point of all that critique is: how dare anyone question one of Germany's last heroes? Isn't it time to stop drag our heroic soldiers into the mud?
I have no words for that much wilful ignorance. And I find it a bit disturbing that so many people feel the need to cling to the fiction of a shining hero in a war almost one hundred years ago.
Library Challenge 2013