Dictators : The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century

3.68 (1,660 ratings by Goodreads)
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A New Statesman, Financial Times and Economist Book of the Year

'Enlightening and a good read' SPECTATOR
'Moving and perceptive' NEW STATESMAN

Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Kim Il-sung, Ceausescu, Mengistu of Ethiopia and Duvalier of Haiti.

No dictator can rule through fear and violence alone. Naked power can be grabbed and held temporarily, but it never suffices in the long term. A tyrant who can compel his own people to acclaim him will last longer. The paradox of the modern dictator is that he must create the illusion of popular support. Throughout the twentieth century, hundreds of millions of people were condemned to enthusiasm, obliged to hail their leaders even as they were herded down the road to serfdom.

In Dictators, Frank Dikoetter returns to eight of the most chillingly effective personality cults of the twentieth century. From carefully choreographed parades to the deliberate cultivation of a shroud of mystery through iron censorship, these dictators ceaselessly worked on their own image and encouraged the population at large to glorify them. At a time when democracy is in retreat, are we seeing a revival of the same techniques among some of today's world leaders?

This timely study, told with great narrative verve, examines how a cult takes hold, grows, and sustains itself. It places the cult of personality where it belongs, at the very heart of tyranny.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 304 pages
  • 129 x 198 x 22mm | 264g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 9781526626998
  • 75,745

Review Text

Essential reading . The standalone portraits of his eight dictators are riveting Evening Standard, 'Book of the Week'
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Review quote

Essential reading ... The standalone portraits of his eight dictators are riveting -- Justin Marozzi * Evening Standard, 'Book of the Week' * How to be a dictator? Ruthlessness matters a lot more than talent, but luck most of all. That is the upshot of Frank Dikoetter's elegant and readable study of the cult of personality in the 20th century ... [Dikoetter's] penmanship and eye for anecdote brings [the dictators] to life * The Times * A brilliant study of twentieth-century dictatorship ... The book's psychological insight is devastating, the stories are eye-popping ... Essential reading for any student of political manipulation, as a study of man's inhumanity to man, it's almost unbearably moving -- Sue Prideaux * New Statesman, Books of the Year * A disturbing emblem of our times -- Justin Marozzi * Evening Standard, 'Best Books to Take on Holiday' * A whistlestop tour of some of the most infamous leaders of the 20th century ... What Dikoetter does so well is to find the pathological and ideological connections among leaders who "teetered between hubris and paranoia" * Observer * Frank Dikoetter provides a timely reminder of just how destructive toxic insecurity, and its corollary, pathological narcissism, can become ... In terms of the dynamics of narcissistic authoritarianism, there is much in How to Be a Dictator that is of critical contemporary relevance ... History only makes sense if we understand the psychological pathology that underlies it, and our own propensity for partaking in such pathology. We need a clear-eyed understanding of history as a recurring series of monumental follies, led by cretins who duped or forced millions of us into humiliating childish submission. Only then can we hope to avoid the repetition. Dikoetter is in the vanguard of historians opening our eyes to this fundamental truth * Irish Times * Enlightening and a good read * Spectator * A heroic piece of research ... Devastating in every sense of the word -- Praise for 'Mao's Great Famine' * Economist * Ground-breaking ... Unsparing in its detail, relentless in its research, unforgiving in its judgements ... Dikoetter's achievement in this book is remarkable -- Praise for 'The Tragedy of Liberation' * Sunday Times * Worryingly close to home ... Dikoetter has put together sharp portraits of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Kim Il-sung, Duvalier, Ceausescu and Mengistu * Times Higher Education * How to Be a Dictator is a timely book and enjoyable to read. It is strangely comforting to be reminded that many of the dictators in Dikoetter's book came to an ignominious end. But that is no excuse for underestimating the need to protect democracy today * Financial Times *
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About Frank Dikotter

Frank Dikoetter is Chair Professor of Humanities at the University of Hong Kong and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. His books have changed the way historians view China, from the classic The Discourse of Race in Modern China to his award-winning People's Trilogy documenting the lives of ordinary people under Mao. He is married and lives in Hong Kong.
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Rating details

1,660 ratings
3.68 out of 5 stars
5 18% (292)
4 41% (674)
3 34% (572)
2 7% (110)
1 1% (12)
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