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A fortnight ago,I changed my taste from self help books to biographies and my first read was Sebastian Haffner’s memoir Defying Hitler and I think that this examination of Sebastian Haffner’s memoir Defying Hitler demonstrates to us how a memoir by itself must not be used as a sole source of scholarly knowledge. Memoirs clearly have their share of strengths and weaknesses — more weaknesses, however, than strengths. First, in terms of their weaknesses, memoirs only represent a specific person, of a specific gender, of a specific social group, age, and location. Second, it is impossible to corroborate certain information, especially regarding the author’s agenda, to identify whether or not he or she is speaking the truth. Third, memoirs only contain people’s perspective of a particular period, which may or may not be accurate if put into a careful academic examination of the events. But in spite of these weaknesses, memoirs still serve a useful purpose, especially when it comes to the fact that the scholar could delve into the writer’s most intimate thoughts, feelings, and desires. Memoirs are a window to a person’s life; they are useful sources of microhistories. In any case, if memoirs were to be used by historians, they had to be aware of its strengths and weaknesses, and only by comparing many different memoirs and other sources of information together could one really determine the most accurate account of a historical event.
Haffner, Sebastian. Defying Hitler: A Memoir. Translated by Oliver Pretzel. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.