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

Holt. Oct. 2020. 272p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781250205643.
Gr 9 Up–Davis profiles five ruthless dictators: Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein. Three of the book’s eight chapters discuss democracy and other forms of government, the times in which the dictators lived, other “strongmen,” and the need for vigilance against authoritarianism. Each biographical chapter features a time line of the dictator’s life and quotes by or about the man and his regime. Davis deftly opens these chapters with a narrative about the subject, followed by a chronological account of his life. The time line and quotes give readers a sense of both the historical context and the character of the profiled person. Davis describes the brutality inflicted by the dictators but, aside from the chapter on Hussein, most of the descriptions are not graphic. The text also explains the role that the Western powers had in allowing these men to gain dominance. The abuses committed by the United States, as in the case of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, are also mentioned. The prose can be dry at times, and there are a few instances where the historical context is not explained well. Relevant black-and-white photographs, which are credited and captioned, maintain readers’ interest. An extensive bibliography, which contains adult and young adult titles, and endnotes support further research.
VERDICT A title that satisfies research and general interest needs, and one that libraries serving high schoolers will want to have.

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