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

Kenneth C. Davis (Don't Know Much About series) conveys his plentiful knowledge of dictators in this powerful, spine-tingling biographic work that covers five of the world's most horrifying autocrats. Grounded in thorough research, Strongman expertly explores the fragility of democracy through the devastating reigns of Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong and Saddam Hussein.

Mussolini took advantage of Italy's poverty, unemployment, crime and corruption. He lured supporters with propaganda and used the popularity of movies to build his cult of personality. Mussolini paved the way for Hitler, a failed artist. During a heated discussion at a German Workers' Party meeting, the future Führer discovered his gift for persuasive speaking: "He captivated people with the power of a mythical Siren, making them want to belong to his crusade." Stalin employed cronyism, Mao organized farmers and laborers and Hussein, nicknamed "Stalin on the Tigris," eliminated his rivals in his rise to power.

Examining how all five of his subjects gained power and convinced a nation of people to follow--even celebrate--them, Davis works to answer the question: "If democracy is desirable, how do we safeguard it?" Through a study of the dictators' similarities and differences, Davis offers his blueprint for preserving democracy through education, engagement and vigilance. He challenges his audience to be aware of their daily role in protecting it and reminds them how easily it can be lost when it's taken for granted. At times unsettling but always accessible, motivating and compelling, Strongman is a forceful warning about the price of complacency. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

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