George Pitt-Rivers and the Nazis

George Pitt-Rivers and the Nazis

“Not content with having discovered the Pitt-Rivers papers, Bradley Hart skilfully weaves them into the contexts of Pitt-Rivers’ numerous interests and networks. The result is a fascinating and insightful study which is an original and compelling contribution to British cultural and intellectual history.” –  Dan Stone, Professor of History, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK


George Pitt-Rivers began his career as one of Britain’s most promising young anthropologists, conducting research in the South Pacific and publishing articles in the country’s leading academic journals. With a museum in Oxford bearing his family name, Pitt-Rivers appeared to be on track for a sterling academic career that might even have matched that of his grandfather, one of the most prominent archaeologists of his day.

By the early 1930s, however, Pitt-Rivers had turned from his academic work to politics. Writing a series of books attacking international communism and praising the ideas of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, Pitt-Rivers fell into the circles of the anti-Semitic far right. In 1937 he attended the Nuremberg Rally and personally met Adolf Hitler and other leading Nazis. With the outbreak of war in 1940 Pitt-Rivers was arrested and interned by the British government on the suspicion that he might harm the war effort by publicly sharing his views, effectively ending his academic career.

This book traces the remarkable career of a man who might have been remembered as one of Britain’s leading 20th century anthropologists but instead became involved in a far-right milieu that would result in his professional ruin and the relegation of most of his research to margins of scientific history. At the same time, his wider legacy would persist far beyond the academic sphere and can be found to the present day.


“Against a meticulously researched historical background, Bradley Hart tells the fascinating story of Captain George Pitt-Rivers – a wealthy Nietzschean aristocrat who aspired to match the reputation of his eminent Victorian grandfather. Befriended by Bronislaw Malinowski during the 1920s, Pitt-Rivers seemed set to pursue a successful anthropological career. But he failed, despite his keen intelligence and old-Etonian charm. Hart develops the narrative thread of Pitt-Rivers’ life as a war-wounded soldier, a budding social scientist and a tireless polemicist. Broken marriages, rapacious mistresses and alienated sons add to the poignancy of the story. Pitt-Rivers’ profound conviction that western civilization had to be saved from an international Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy, and his admiration for Hitler, led to his downfall. Informed by the latest research, Hart’s deft depiction of the shifting political scene is a model of clarity, while his account of Pitt-Rivers’ arrest and imprisonment in 1940 has all the ingredients of an espionage thriller.” –  Michael W. Young, Australian National University, Australia

George Pitt-Rivers and the Nazis is a beautifully written and all-encompassing look at the iconoclastic anthropologist, aristocrat, and Nazi sympathizer who was detained by the British government during World War II. Pitt-Rivers numbered among his acquaintances such disparate figures as Carl Jung, Adolf Hitler, Havelock Ellis, Bronislaw Malinowski, Oswald Mosley, and Lord Haw Haw, and the local villagers claimed he planted the hedges on his estate in giant arrows to guide Luftwaffe pilots toward London. Bradley Hart’s fascinating biography brings Pitt-Rivers to life as assuredly as if he had walked off the screen of a theater showing Remains of the Day.” –  Jonathan Spiro, Associate Academic Dean, Castleton College, USA