Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy

Kenneth C. Davis. Holt, $19.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-20564-3
This captivating history of five depraved “strongmen” offers a timely warning about the need to protect democracy. Davis (In the Shadow of Liberty) provides absorbing, clearly distilled biographies of Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Mao Zedong, Benito Mussolini, and Joseph Stalin, as well as profiles of their respective dictatorships and atrocities. Pithy prose effectively dramatizes catalyzing events, such as how Hitler exploited a fire in the German government headquarters of the Reichstag in 1933 to seize absolute power for the Nazis. A concise history of democracy from Athens to the American Revolution describes its inherent fragility and helps contextualize the tyranny of each of these authoritarians. While documenting these distinct men and their political realities, Davis skillfully defines what the dictators and their regimes share, as in the targeting and indoctrinating of youth, reified in Stalin’s Young Pioneers and Hussein’s Lion Cubs. Powerful black-and-white photographs further underscore the events, and a complex concluding chapter titled “Never Again?” wrestles with how history repeats itself, challenging readers to preserve democratic freedoms. A fascinating, highly readable portrayal of infamous men that provides urgent lessons for democracy now. Ages 12–18. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 11/05/2020
Release date: 10/06/2020
Genre: Children's
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