Mr. Burns election posters

From well-rehearsed public weeping sessions to extravagant book burnings to bloody campaigns of suppression against opposition movements, despots throughout history have utilized a number of deplorable strategies to manipulate, connive and censor their way to the top. Fuelled by hate, incapable of forming normal human relationships and unwilling to listen to dissenting voices, these tyrants personified the perfect mélange of charm and delightfulness. With ruthless abandon, each, in their own way, sacrificed the interests of their respective subjects to achieve and maintain absolute power. The following are a few of the Metropolitan Library System’s selections examining the nature and appeal of these below-average leaders.

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator book cover

Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator by Oleg V. Khlevniuk and Nora Seligman Favorov

From 1929 until his death in 1953, Josef Stalin presided over the Soviet Union, exercising supreme power. During that quarter-century, the nation was transformed from a peasant society into an industrial and military superpower. However, this prosperity came at a severe cost. Stalin instigated the imprisonment and execution of no fewer than a million Soviet citizens per year with millions more falling victim to famine directly resulting from the dictator’s policies. What drove this man toward such brutality? Stalin: New Biography of a Dictator, offers an unprecedented, and intimate portrait of Stalin, the man and the autocrat. Beginning with the Red Tsar’s childhood and covering his involvement in the Russian Revolution, the Terror, World War II, and the postwar period, Oleg Khlevniuk presents a comprehensive, compelling narrative of a life that altered the course of world history.

Mao: The Real Story book cover

Mao: The Real Story by Alexander Pantsov and Steven I. Levine

Both “poet” and “champion of the poor”, Mao Zedong has proven to be one of the most notable figures in the history of modern China. However, in addition to these seemingly noble pursuits, he also doubled as a murderous tyrant and ruthless oppressor. With a relentless drive to succeed, Mao rose to attain the most prominent role within the Communist Party of China. Managing to rescue his country from poverty and economic backwardness, he eventually propelled China into the modern age and onto the world stage as a major player. Yet, as the architect of the disastrous Great Leap Forward with its accompanying famine as well as the bloody Cultural Revolution, he was responsible for an unprecedented loss of life. Living and behaving as China’s last emperor, he was a loyal Stalinist who never broke with the Soviet Union until after the notorious dictator’s death. Mao: The Real Story investigates the rise and the reign of one of history’s most infamous rulers.

Hitler’s Charisma: Leading Millions Into The Abyss book cover

Hitler’s Charisma: Leading Millions Into The Abyss by Laurence Rees

Blinded by fury, filled with prejudice and unable to sustain intellectual argument, Adolf Hitler seemed an unlikely leader, and yet he was able to command enormous support, managing to ascend to a position from which he could exert a powerful influence. At the outset, his determination and vision would garner the dedication of a small group of like-minded political and social outcasts. However, his allure would ultimately make him an attractive figure to millions. But, was he a frenzied madman, a master manipulator or a little of both? In Hitler’s Charisma, acclaimed historian and documentary filmmaker, Laurence Rees, conducts a psychological and historical investigation into the formation of the personality that would eventually win over a nation and plunge the rest of the world into a cataclysm unlike any that had ever been seen before.

A Kim Jong-Il Production book cover

A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power by Paul Fischer

Before becoming one of the world's most ignominious leaders, Kim Jong-Il ran North Korea's Ministry for Propaganda and, in turn, its film studios. As such, he played a part as both producer and screenwriter, conceiving every movie made within the nation’s borders. However, underwhelmed by the local talent pool he devised a drastic scheme, ordering and executing the kidnapping of Choi Eun-Hee, South Korea's most famous actress, along with her ex-husband Shin Sang-Ok, the country's most notable filmmaker. Forced to act as the Dear Leader's film advisors, together they made seven films, in the process gaining Kim Jong-Il's trust. But, to what end? Author Paul Fischer's A Kim Jong-Il Production offers a rare glimpse into a secretive world, illuminating a fascinating chapter of North Korea's history and revealing how the nation became the hermetically sealed, intensely stage-managed country it remains today.

The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe book cover

The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe by Peter Godwin

In 2008, after 30 years as the country's dictator, Zimbabwean ruler Robert Mugabe was finally ousted as president. Mugabe's tenure had left the nation with the world's highest rate of inflation and its shortest life span. But now, with his impending ouster, the nation held a glimmer of hope for change. Or, so it seemed. Rather than concede power, Mugabe would soon launch a violent campaign of terror against his own citizens. With foreign correspondents banned from the country, and he himself there illegally, journalist Peter Godwin was one of the few observers to bear witness to this period the locals call The Fear. From the formation of torture bases to the burning of villages and much more, he bore witness to the atrocities committed in the name of Robert Mugabe. The Fear: Robert Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zimbabwe is Godwin’s harrowing account of the surreal mix of desperation and hope he encountered upon returning to his broken homeland.

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