Dictator Literature

Pages: 400
Subject: History
Imprint: Oneworld

Dictator Literature

A History of Despots Through Their Writing

Daniel Kalder

A tour of the merciless leaders who inflicted their books upon society, featuring the soul-killing prose and poetry of Hitler, Mao and many more
9781786075383 (4 Apr 2019)
RRP £10.99

The Book

A Book of the Year for The Times and the Sunday Times

Literacy, long upheld as a standard bearer for progress, is not always a force for good. Had Stalin's mother never sent him to the seminary he never would have learned to read and so never discovered the works of Marx or Lenin. Instead he probably would have ended up like his father - a cobbler by trade and a drunk by vocation.

Throughout the twentieth century dictators subjected captive audiences to soul-killing prose on a massive scale. They published theoretical works, spiritual manifestos, poetry collections, memoirs and even romance novels. Armed with nothing but a darkly humorous wit, Daniel Kalder journeys long into the literary night to discover what their tomes reveal about the dictatorial soul. From the staggeringly vile and incompetent Mein Kampf, and the ‘miracles' wrought by former librarian Mao's Little Red Book, up to the ongoing exploits of North Korea's Kim dynasty, Dictator Literature is an unforgettable look at the power of the pen.

Additional Information

Subject History
Pages 400
Imprint Oneworld


About the Author

Daniel Kalder is the author of Lost Cosmonaut and Strange Telescopes. He has contributed to BBC Radio, Esquire, the Guardian and The Times among other publications. Originally from Fife, Scotland, he lived in Moscow for ten years before moving to Texas, where he currently resides. danielkalder.com


‘Kalder's book is an informative, lively and often hilarious account of some of the worst authors who ever lived, doubling as a history of the terrible ideologies that marred the last century. Some execrable books have come out of communism and fascism, but Dictator Literature is certainly not one of them.'

- Catholic Herald

‘A engaging, brisk, and morbidly humorous haul of the lives and literary pretensions of the murderous wingnuts who defined a century.'

- Irish Times

‘Highly readable.'

- Herald

‘Very funny…After reading Dictator Literature you will never look at books with such a benevolent eye again.'

- Spectator

‘I enjoyed this book a great deal . . . it's actually a rather snappy read.'

- Will Self, Guardian

‘A fascinating study…partly an enjoyable romp but mostly a sombre sidelong-glance history of 20th-century totalitarianism.'

- Sunday Telegraph

‘Brisk, and full of antic fun.'

- New Statesman

‘Hugely compelling…Like coming across a planet-sized car crash, with hundreds of millions snarled up in the wreckage: you can't look away. Kalder has really dug deep into the minds of these infernal texts' creators, and thus delivers some truly enlightening insights.'

- Irish Independent

‘Kalder is our cheeky and irreverent guide to the (generally aggressively tedious) prose by history's despots.'

- Tatler

‘Full of…wonders, and startling individual facts…An overwhelmingly powerful reminder of 20th-century misrule, and of just how delusional human beings can be - especially if they're literate.'

- Telegraph

‘Daniel Kalder…deserves a medal…Dictator Literature is a great book...An insightful book, but also a funny one.'

- Times

‘This is about the most discomforting book I've read in the past year. Never mind Trump and never mind Twitter: Kalder demonstrates that words themselves, and the escapist spells we weave with them, are our riskiest civic gift.'

- Simon Ings, author of Stalin and the Scientists

‘A compelling examination of why bad minds create bad writing, and therefore a valuable read for anyone interested in literature - or the world, in fact. Kalder's dry humour makes Dictator Literature a fun tour de force through the mad history of the 20th century and the present.'

- Norman Ohler, author of Blitzed

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