Adolf Hitler. Joseph Stalin. Benito Mussolini. Mao Zedong. Kim Il Sung. Vladimir Lenin. These cruel dictators wrote their names on the pages of history in the blood of countless innocent victims. Yet they themselves were once young people searching for their place in the world, dealing with challenges many of us face—parental authority, education, romance, loss—and doing so in ways that might be uncomfortably familiar.
Historian Brandon K. Gauthier has created a fascinating work—epic yet intimate, well-researched but immensely readable, clear-eyed and empathetic—looking at the lives of these six dictators, with a focus on their youths. We watch Lenin’s older brother executed at the hands of the Tsar’s police—an event that helped radicalize this overachieving high-schooler. We observe Stalin grappling with the death of his young, beautiful wife. We see Hitler’s mother mourning the loss of three young children—and determined that her first son to survive infancy would find his place in the world.
My review: From a historical point of view, this book is thoroughly researched and overall well-presented to the history-loving public. The information runs deep into emotions and intimate moments of the lives of some of the men that have shaped our world through their acts of cruelty. Even details that might seem insignificant, such as their favorite food, restaurants they enjoyed, or beloved animals helps the reader see things through the eyes of someone that was not despicable at that time. Everything is accompanied by rich biographical references and photos of the six dictators, as well as photos of their loved ones and other people that had influenced their lives.
However, there's one thing that I found distracting while reading Mr. Gauthier's book. I didn't particularly enjoy how the individual stories are laid out. I see what he tried to do, but I would have liked it a lot more if he focused on one dictator from his childhood to the end of his life instead of starting in the middle of their life, continue with another dictator, then after reading a small part about all six of them in turn, it goes to the childhood of the first. Personally, I find that pointless and distracting, but I do appreciate the details of everything presented and the investigation into the minds of these notorious men.
Publisher: Tortoise Books (April 26, 2022)
Review copy provided by Ingram Publisher Services @ Edelweiss+