From the Samuel Johnson Prize-winning author of China After Mao, a sweeping and timely study of twentieth-century dictators and the development of the modern cult of personality.
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. In the twentieth century, as new technologies allowed leaders to place their image and voice directly into their citizens' homes, a new phenomenon appeared where dictators exploited the cult of personality to achieve the illusion of popular approval without ever having to resort to elections.
In How to Be a Dictator, Frank Dikötter examines the cults and propaganda surrounding twentieth-century dictators, from Hitler and Stalin to Mao Zedong and Kim Il Sung. These men were the founders of modern dictatorships, and they learned from each other and from history to build their regimes and maintain their public images. Their dictatorships, in turn, have influenced leaders in the twenty-first century, including Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orbán, and Xi Jinping.
Using a breadth of archival research and his characteristic in-depth analysis, Dikötter offers a stunning portrait of dictatorship, a guide to the cult of personality, and a map for exposing the lies dictators tell to build and maintain their regimes.
“Takes off from a conviction, no doubt born of [Dikötter's] Mao studies, that a tragic amnesia about what ideologues in power are like has taken hold of too many minds amid the current 'crisis of liberalism.' And so he attempts a sort of anatomy of authoritarianism, large and small, from Mao to Papa Doc Duvalier. Each dictator's life is offered with neat, mordant compression. Dikötter's originality is that he counts crimes against civilization alongside crimes against humanity.” —The New Yorker
“Historically detailed and compelling in its chronicling of how dictators set about organizing an entire society around their own glorification and power.” —Tablet Magazine
“Monuments crumble and statues fall, but How to Be a Dictator succeeds in identifying how and why linguistic domination has lasting power.” —Paste
“Dikötter writes with academic rigor and awareness that these megalomaniacal figures continue to inspire fascination relevant to politically volatile times.” —Kirkus Reviews
“What the eminent scholar [Dikotter] has provided is much more than a history lesson from the past – it is a warning and a cautionary tale for what could lie ahead. As such, it should be required reading for anyone who wants the future to be qualitatively better than the past … Highly recommended.” —Bowling Green Daily News