Search

Articles & Essays

Jack has written more than 500 articles and essays for The Atlantic, Scientific American Mind, Wired, American Heritage, The History Channel Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, Minnesota Monthly, and many other publications.

Read his articles and essays here.

Jack El-Hai's Books
  • The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness
    The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness
  • Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines
    Non-Stop: A Turbulent History of Northwest Airlines
  • Lost Minnesota: Stories of Vanished Places
    Lost Minnesota: Stories of Vanished Places
  • The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII
    The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII
Follow Jack on Twitter

The Nazi and the Psychiatrist: Hermann Göring, Dr. Douglas M. Kelley, and a Fatal Meeting of Minds at the End of WWII

 

"Journalist El-Hai’s haunting historical account raises questions about the human capacity to cause harm.... In this thoroughly engaging story of the jocular master war criminal and the driven, self-aware psychiatrist, El-Hai finds no simple binary." — Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Ace reportage on the unique relationship between a prison physician and one of the Third Reich’s highest ranking officials... El-Hai’s gripping account turns a chilling page in American history and provides an unsettling meditation on the machinations of evil." — Kirkus (starred review)

A detailed, meticulously researched book about a man who showed that evil can arise anywhere.” — The Independent (London)

"Jack El-Hai’s biography of Army psychiatrist Douglas Kelley provides a riveting look at the top Nazis awaiting trial — and reveals the dangerous power of intimacy with evil." — Minneapolis Star Tribune

"If you liked Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt, try The Nazi and the Psychiatrist by Jack El-Hai." — Psychology Today

"With full access to Kelley’s notes on Nazi psychology, El-Hai infuses his story with the messy, compelling details of people’s lives. These tug the reader inside Kelley’s head for an engrossing exploration of human nature, sanity and despair." — Science News

"This intimate and insightful portrait of two intersecting, outsized personalities—one an exemplar of public service and the other an avatar of evil—is as suspenseful as a classic Hitchcock film that hinges on an eerie psychological secret. Readers of The Nazi and the Psychiatrist will be riveted by Jack El-Hai’s moving study of how good and evil can converge in a heightened instant and across a lifetime.” — Andrew Solomon, National Book Award-winning author of Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity 

“In the chilling tale of Dr. Douglas Kelley, a young U.S. Army psychiatrist and his secret evaluations of Nazi leader Hermann Göring, Jack El-Hai weaves a harrowing narrative that brilliantly probes the depths of evil. The Nazi and the Psychiatrist is an utterly fascinating book.” — Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America

"In this little known and completely gripping story of the American psychiatrist sent to analyze Nazi leaders following their World War II capture, Jack El-Hai tells of an encounter both scientific and deeply haunting. But more than that, he tells the story of efforts to understand evil—in its most chilling human incarnation—and to overcome it in the pursuit of our better selves.” — Deborah Blum, author of The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York

The Nazi and the Psychiatrist is a fast-paced, deeply researched psychodrama about an ambitious American military psychiatrist who is drawn into a sick and dangerous relationship with Hermann Göring, Adolf Hitler’s right-hand man and one of history’s most notorious criminals. The story of their terrible, intertwined fates opens a fascinating window into both the criminal minds of the Nazis and the nature of evil itself. Hermann GöringThis is a truly compelling book.” —Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

Winner of a 2014 Minnesota Book Award and recently optioned for stage and screen by Mythology Entertainment, The Nazi and the Psychiatrist explores the complex relationship between the American psychiatrist Douglas M. Kelley and his 22 Nazi patients awaiting trial as war criminals in the 1945-46 International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.  As Kelley develops an especially close relationship with the former Reichsmarshal Hermann Göring, he launches an investigation of the essence of evil that eventually proves to be the physician’s undoing. Set amid the post-war ruins of Europe, The Nazi and the Psychiatrist is the first book to tap Kelley’s vast collection of personal and professional papers and artifacts from Nuremberg — including medical records of the Nazi defendants — which have been hidden for decades.

French, Mexican, Chinese, Norwegian, Dutch, Polish, Turkish, and Italian publishers have already licensed foreign-language rights to The Nazi and the Psychiatrist.

Read the opening paragraphs of the book: 

The House

The Kelleys lived in a sprawling, Mediterranean-style villa on Highgate Road in the hills of Kensington, north of Berkeley, California. Its red-tiled roof rose high above the distant, drifting waters of the bay, but closer, beyond the yard’s four terraces and stone walks and down a slope of redwood and fruit trees, stood the headstones of Sunset View Cemetery.

A little merry-go-round and a children’s swimming pool sat in the center courtyard of the Kelleys’ U-shaped house. The front door opened onto a hallway with the kitchen to the left, where the doctor made the family’s meals using a large oven, a fast-food griddle, and a meat grinder. The kitchen connected to a pantry with a freezer. The oldest son once sat atop the humming appliance and contemplated killing his father with an ax.

The entry hallway led to a bathroom on the right—the site of a grue- some scene that played out on the first day of 1958—and beyond that to the living room, which contained a fireplace, a long sofa, and the doctor’s own green leather chair. The room was carpeted, with the furniture pushed against the walls to open space for guests. Sometimes Dr. Kelley would play a game there with his oldest son. The boy had to leave the room, and in his absence the doctor would move a pencil on the coffee table. When the boy returned, he had to figure out what had changed.

Beyond the living room was Dr. Kelley and Dukie’s bedroom, overlooking the rear of the half-acre lot. In a small closet that the children sneaked into through a hallway, they could overhear their parents’ fights.

From the living room, black-stained stairs rose to the second level. Up there a bullet hole, hidden beneath a rug, scarred the wooden floor of a hallway drenched with sunlight from tall windows. Before terminating at Dr. Kelley’s office, the hallway ran past a closet concealing the magic tricks and props for his shows.

The view from the office window presented a glorious panorama of the Golden Gate bay and the prison tower of Alcatraz Island. When Dr. Kelley turned his desk chair to face the view, he may have settled his gaze on Alcatraz and remembered his months working in another prison, in Nuremberg. His desk was orderly. In cabinets and a small laboratory he kept bone saws, a lab table, mortars, alcohol burners, graduated cylinders and beakers, collections of crystals, botanical samples mounted on glass slides, two human skulls, and a large assortment of chemicals, many of them toxic.

The children slept in the basement bedrooms. They dreaded the unpredictability of Dr. Kelley’s goodnight visits. When they heard the creak of his weight on the stairs, they had a few seconds to brace themselves for whatever mood he was in.

The last argument began in the kitchen. Often when Dr. Kelley and Dukie fought, she would pack her purse and leave for the day. This time Dr. Kelley burst out of the kitchen howling and stormed up the stairs to his office. He slammed the door, toppling a porcelain doorstop, its fragments raining down the steps. After a couple of minutes he emerged, concealing something in his hand. He came down the stairs and stopped on the land- ing, which commanded the living room like a stage. He shouted a statement that terrified and bewildered his wife, father, and children. Then he put something in his mouth and swallowed.