How many people are reading Mein Kampf in 2014?

According to Time and ABC News it has rocketed up the e-book charts - but are more people reading it now than six months ago? By turning Mein Kampf into a totem of evil, we only reinforce its dark glamour.

The Internet acts as a powerful echo chamber: Drop a pin and you would think a bomb had gone off. Earlier this month, the bombshell was the news that Mein Kampf had suddenly become a best-selling book. According to reports at Time, ABC News, Fox News, and many other news sites, a 99-cent e-book edition of Hitler’s tract was rocketing up the charts on Amazon and iTunes. Historians and Jewish spokesmen were called on for worried comments; comparisons were made to 50 Shades of Grey. It was enough to make you wonder if, next time you take a peek at someone’s Kindle on the subway, you’ll find them immersed in Hitler’s rants about the Treaty of Versailles. 

Look closely at the news reports, however, and it becomes clear that they weren’t actually reporting anything. They were all simply paraphrasing the same essay by Chris Faraone, which originally appeared on the website Vocativ. And Faraone’s evidence for the alleged surge in Mein Kampf sales is, at best, slender. “Kindle Fuhrer: Mein Kampf Tops Amazon Charts,” the headline shouts; but the chart in question turns out to be “Propaganda and Political Psychology,” where Mein Kampf is, as of this writing, number 2. This is a subsection of Amazon’s Politics and Government chart, which in turn is a subsection of the Politics and Social Sciences Chart.

How many actual sales does it take to move up a few notches on a sub-sub-section of Amazon? No one knows, since the ranking algorithm the bookseller uses is secret. But it’s clear that Mein Kampf is fairly deep into the “long tail” section of Amazon’s titles, where a handful of sales could significantly improve its ranking. (The 99-cent Kindle edition of the book is currently ranked 11,855 among all paid e-books.) Are we talking about a hundred downloads? Ten, which just happen to have come in a short period of time? Maybe less?

The picture is further complicated by the fact that Mein Kampf is easily available for free online. Neo-nazis can find it on Stormfront, while everyone else can find selections at Jewish Virtual Library; a complete facsimile of the 1941 English edition is hosted at Interestingly, that edition, appearing not long before America entered the war against Hitler, lists on its cover not just the author and translator but ten “editorial sponsors.” These literary and academic worthies seemingly had nothing to do with the actual preparation of the book; their names are there strictly to reassure the reader. Even in 1941, the mephitic reputation ofMein Kampf made respectable people feel the need for official permission to pick up a copy.

How many people, then, are reading Mein Kampf in 2014? The answer is that it’s impossible to say, and there’s no real reason to think there are more now than there were six months or six years ago. Yes, the Internet makes it easy to find the book—just as it makes it easy to find hardcore pornography, snuff films, and videos of people eating excrement (remember 2 Girls 1 Cup?). It’s not news that the human imagination is drawn to the forbidden, or that the privacy of the computer screen allows us to violate all kinds of boundaries that remain sacrosanct in real life. Nor should we be surprised that there are people in the world who admire Hitler and hate Jews—after all, they tell us so themselves, all the time. (Just look at the comments section of any of the news reports about Mein Kampf.)

By turning Mein Kampf into a totem of evil, whose very title makes us start jumping at shadows, we only reinforce its dark glamour. At this point in history, no one is going to be converted to Nazism or anti-Semitism by reading Hitler. Indeed, given how execrably written the book is, it’s hard to imagine that many of the people who download Mein Kampf will actually finish it. Owning the book, physically or virtually, is a way of stating one’s politics, not of learning about politics. And since those politics are both hateful and, in the larger scheme of things, utterly marginal, the best thing for us to do with Mein Kampf is to go on ignoring it. Unless, of course, it ever becomes an actual best-seller—in which case we will have a lot worse problems to deal with than literary ones.

A wartime Mein Kampf on display in a Berlin exhibition. Photograph: Getty Images.
Screenshot of Black Mirror's Fifteen Million Merits.
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How likely are the plots of each Black Mirror episode to happen?

As the third series is on its way, how realistic is each instalment so far of the techno-dystopian drama? We rate the plausibility of every episode.

What if horses could vote? What if wars were fought using Snapchat? What if eggs were cyber?

Just some of the questions that presumably won’t be answered in the new series of Charlie Brooker’s dystopian anthology series Black Mirror, somewhere between The Twilight Zone with an app and The Thick Of It on acid.

A typical instalment takes an aspect of modern technology, politics, or life in general and pushes it a few steps into the future – but just how plausible has each episode been so far?

Series 1 (2011)

Episode 1: The National Anthem

Premise: A member of the Royal Family is kidnapped and will only be released unharmed if the Prime Minister agrees to have sexual intercourse with a pig on live television.

Instead of predicting the future, Black Mirror’s first episode unwittingly managed to foreshadow an allegation about the past: Charlie Brooker says at the time he was unaware of the story surrounding David Cameron and a pig-based activity that occurred at Oxford university. But there’s absolutely no evidence that the Cameron story is true, and real political kidnappings tend to have rather more prosaic goals. On the other hand, it’s hard to say that something akin to the events portrayed could NEVER happen.

Plausibility rating: 2 out of 5

Episode 2: Fifteen Million Merits

Premise: Sometime in the future, most of the population is forced to earn money by pedalling bikes to generate electricity, while constantly surrounded by unskippable adverts. The only hope of escape is winning an X-Factor-style game show.

In 2012, a Brazilian prison announced an innovative method of combating overcrowding. Prisoners were given the option to spend some of their time on electricity-producing bikes; for every 16 hours they spent on the bike, a day would be knocked off their sentence.

The first step to bicycle-dystopia? Probably not. The amount of electricity a human body can produce through pedalling (or any other way, for that matter) is pretty negligible, especially when you take account of the cost of the food you’d have to eat to have enough energy to pedal all day. Maybe the bike thing is a sort of metaphor. Who can say?

Plausibility rating: 0 out of 5

Episode 3: The Entire History of You

Premise: Everyone has a device implanted in their heads that records everything that happens to them and allows them to replay those recordings at will.

Google Glasses with a built-in camera didn’t work out, because no one wanted to walk around looking like a creepy berk. But the less visibly creepy version is coming; Samsung patented “smart” contact lenses with a built-in camera earlier this year.

And there are already social networks and even specialised apps that are packaging up slices of our online past and yelling them at us regardless of whether we even want them: Four years ago you took this video of a duck! Remember when you became Facebook friends with that guy from your old work who got fired for stealing paper? Look at this photo of the very last time you experienced true happiness!

Plausibility rating: 5 out of 5

Series 2 (2013)

Episode 1: Be Right Back

Premise: A new service is created that enables an artificial “resurrection” of the dead via their social media posts and email. You can even connect it to a robot, which you can then kiss.

Last year, Eugenia Kuyda, an AI entrepreneur, was grieving for her best friend and hit upon the idea of feeding his old text messages into one of her company’s neural network-based chat bots, so that she and others could, in a way, continue to talk to him. Reaction to this was, unsurprisingly, mixed – this very episode was cited by those who were disturbed by the tribute. Even the robot bit might not be that far off, if that bloke who made the creepy Scarlett Johansson android has anything to say about it.

Plausibility rating: 4 out of 5

Episode 2: White Bear

Premise: A combination of mind-wiping technology and an elaborately staged series of fake events are used to punish criminals by repeatedly giving them an experience that will make them feel like their own victims did.

There is some evidence that it could be possible to selectively erase memories using a combination of drugs and other therapies, but would this ever be used as part of a bizarre criminal punishment? Well, this kind of “fit the crime” penalty is not totally unheard of – judges in America have been to known to force slum landlords to live in their own rental properties, for example. But, as presented here, it seems a bit elaborate and expensive to work at any kind of scale.

Plausibility rating: 1 out of 5

Episode 3: The Waldo Moment

Premise: A cartoon bear stands as an MP.

This just couldn’t happen, without major and deeply unlikely changes to UK election law. Possibly the closest literal parallel in the UK was when Hartlepool FC’s mascot H'Angus the Monkey stood for, and was elected, mayor – although the bloke inside, Stuart Drummond, ran under his own name and immediately disassociated himself from the H’Angus brand to become a serious and fairly popular mayor.

There are no other parallels with grotesque politicians who may as well be cartoon characters getting close to high political office. None.

Plausibility rating: 0 out of 5

Christmas special (2015)

Episode: White Christmas

Premise 1: Everyone has a device implanted in their eyes that gives them constant internet access. One application of this is to secretly get live dating/pick-up artistry advice.

As with “The Entire History of You”, there’s nothing particularly unfeasible about the underlying technology here. There’s already an app called Relationup that offers live chat with “relationship advisers” who can help you get through a date; another called Jyst claims to have solved the problem by allowing users to get romantic advice from a community of anonymous users. Or you could, you know, just smile and ask them about themselves.

Plausibility rating: 4 out of 5

Premise 2: Human personalities can be copied into electronic devices. These copies then have their spirits crushed and are forced to become the ultimate personalised version of Siri, running your life to your exact tastes.

The Blue Brain Project research group last year announced they’d modelled a small bit of rat brain as a stepping stone to a full simulation of the human brain, so, we’re getting there.

But even if it is theoretically possible, using an entire human personality to make sure your toast is always the right shade of brown seems like overkill. What about the risk of leaving your life in the hands of a severely traumatised version of yourself? What if that bathwater at “just the right” temperature turns out to be scalding hot because the digital you didn’t crack in quite the right way?

Plausibility rating: 1 out of 5

Premise 3: There’s a real-life equivalent of a social media block: once blocked, you can’t see or hear the person who has blocked you. This can also be used as a criminal punishment and people classed as sex offenders are automatically blocked by everyone.

Again, the technology involved is not outrageous. But even if you have not worried about the direct effect of such a powerful form of social isolation on the mental health of criminals, letting them wander around freely in this state is likely to have fairly unfortunate consequences, sooner or later. It’s almost as if it’s just a powerful image to end a TV drama on, rather than a feasible policy suggestion.

Plausibility rating: 2 out of 5

Series 3 of Black Mirror is out on Friday 21 October on Netflix.