Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy


Joseph Stalin doing his best to look like a writer

From the St. Martin’s Press History Reader by Daniel Kalder author of The Infernal Reader: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy:  

Since the days of the Roman Empire, dictators have written books, but in the twentieth century, there was a Krakatoa-like eruption of despotic verbiage, which continues flowing to this day. Many dictators write theoretical works, others produce spiritual manifestos, while still others write poetry, memoirs or even the occasional romance novel. Indeed, the best-selling book of all time attributed to a man rather than a deity is the work of a dictator: Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

However, most of these books are entirely unread today, or are treated as jokes, despite the fact that their authors once enjoyed record-breaking print runs, (literally) captive audiences and the acclaim of intellectuals who should have known better. Since many of the authors were mass murderers of some note, the almost complete disappearance of their texts and subsequent lack of interest in them struck me as something of an oversight. Surely it was worth taking a closer look at these works; perhaps they would provide insight into the dictatorial soul. If not, they might still serve the historian as portals into worlds of suffering, offering glimpses of the ultra-boredom of totalitarianism, a condition endured by hundreds of millions of people for generations.

Read the rest of the article at the St. Martin’s Press History Reader

Categories: History of Culture, Uncategorized

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