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Dictator Literature

A History of Despots Through Their Writing

Daniel Kalder

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

‘The writer is the engineer of the human soul,’ claimed Stalin. Although one wonders how many found nourishment in Turkmenbashi’s Book of the Soul (once required reading for driving tests in Turkmenistan), not to mention Stalin’s own poetry. Certainly, to be considered great, a dictator must write, and write lots. Mao had his Little Red Book, Mussolini and Saddam Hussein their romance novels, Kim Jong-il his treatise on the art of film, Hitler his hate-filled tracts. What do they reveal about their authors, the worst people imaginable? And how did they shape twentieth-century history? To find out, Daniel Kalder read them all – the badly written and the astonishingly badly written – so that you don’t have to. This is the untold history of books so terrible they should have been crimes.


  • Publication date: April 5, 2018
  • ISBN: 9781786070586
  • RRP: £16.99
  • Pages: 400


‘Daniel Kalder has slogged his way through the 20th century’s “Krakatoa-like eruption of despotic verbiage” so you don’t have to: from Lenin to Mao to Kim Jong-il and Saddam Hussein, via Turkmenbashi’s outrageous Book of the Soul, once required reading for driving tests in Turkmenistan. Kalder’s dispatches from “the transnational empire of ultra-boredom” are not only very funny, they also form a quirky, pacey guide to recent world history.’

Sunday Times, Books of the Year

‘This wonderfully entertaining book is a cautionary tale about how societies are easily wooed by foolish demagogues spouting gibberish.’

The Times, Books of the Year

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

Will Self, Guardian

‘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.’


‘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

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

The Times

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


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

Irish Times

‘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 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

‘Highly readable.’


Daniel Kalder

Author page

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