“Arouse the largest number of masses in the shortest possible time and by the best possible methods.” So wrote Chairman Mao. It’s a good thing The Little Red Book was little — a bigger volume of that mind-numbing drivel could be fatal. Daniel Kalder has done us a great service: he has read books written by the tyrants of the 20th century so we don’t have to. This wonderfully entertaining book is a cautionary tale about how societies are easily wooed by foolish demagogues spouting gibberish.
Kalder has selflessly ploughed his way through the written works of pretty much every dictator from Lenin onwards. All the big names are there: Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Gadaffi, Franco, Saddam Hussein and Mao, who gets a good review for his poetry. Lesser dictators also feature, including Castro and Brezhnev, even though the Soviet leader wasn’t a great one for reading, let alone writing. Most of their writing is awful, but the great thing about being a dictator is that literary critics can’t mention this without being shot.