Title: Strongman The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy
Author: Kenneth C. Davis
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co., 2020
Themes: fascism, Communism, genocide, democracy, communism, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao, Hitler, Saddam Hussein, authoritarianism,
What makes a country fall to a dictator? How do authoritarian leaders—strongmen—capable of killing millions acquire their power? How are they able to defeat the ideal of democracy? And what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
By profiling five of the most notoriously ruthless dictators in history—Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein—Kenneth C. Davis seeks to answer these questions, examining the forces in these strongmen’s personal lives and historical periods that shaped the leaders they’d become. Meticulously researched and complete with photographs, Strongman provides insight into the lives of five leaders who callously transformed the world and serves as an invaluable resource in an era when democracy itself seems in peril. (publisher)
I am going to quote the ending, as I love it.
In the beloved children’s book, “The Cat in The Hat”, after two children spend an afternoon of chaos and messiness with a mischievous cat while there mother is out, a boy wonders whether he and his sister Sally should tell her what took place. His question is the same one these terrible stories force us to ask:
“What would YOU do if your mother asked YOU?”
Why I like this book:
This book is soundly researched, clearly structured, and written in a way that students from middle school and up can gain a strong introduction to the five dictators included and make connections to the past and present threats to democracies such dictators pose. The chapters are short and make engaging reading as well as being packed with dates, photos, political explanations and especially the correlation often to wars that create the opportunity for these “Strongmen” to flourish.
The author doesn’t avoid depicting the genocidal policies pursued by these men, nor does he shy away from the alarming parallels between the dictatorships discussed and present day American politics. It is a wake up call, not to be passive when faced with such attacks on democracy. In the final chapter, “Never Again”, Davis offers a call to active resistance. Protests, writing letters to elected officials, and asking lots of questions are depicted as requirements of citizens in a healthy democracy. Ultimately it is asking the reader, “If faced with a Strongman what would I do?”
This book would be great addition to units about the dictatorships of Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, or Saddam Hussein, or any lessons looking at the rise of democracies and republics from their roots in in ancient civilizations. Or, lessons of a more philosophical and societal nature, looking at complicity. A solid introduction to dictators, despots and democracy and a terrific addition to middle and high school libraries.
I felt that Election Day, 2020, was an appropriate date on which to post this book review.
Highly recommended, and thank you to the publisher for my review ARC.
The author draws from an extensive lineup of thinkers and writers, from Primo Levi, Thucydides, Madeleine Albright, and Dr. Seuss to George Orwell and more. The book concludes with an extensive bibliography and endnotes, providing a wealth of resources for further research