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Ours is the age of authoritarian rulers: self-proclaimed saviors of the nation who evade accountability while robbing their people of resources and corroding or destroying democracy. Their mutual-admiration club also draws on models from the past. Vladimir Putin rehabilitates Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin, Donald Trump praises Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi, Jair Bolsonaro ad Ours is the age of authoritarian rulers: self-proclaimed saviors of the nation who evade accountability while robbing their people of resources and corroding or destroying democracy. Their mutual-admiration club also draws on models from the past. Vladimir Putin rehabilitates Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin, Donald Trump praises Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi, Jair Bolsonaro admires Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan invokes Adolf Hitler as the model of an efficient leader. Ruth Ben-Ghiat covers a century of authoritarianism to explain why strongman rulers in Africa, Europe, and Latin America, drawing from a common playbook of machismo, propaganda, violence, and corruption, have found popular support even as they bring ruin to their countries. The fruit of decades of research, Strongmen gives readers insight into how such rulers think, who and what they depend on, and how they can be opposed.


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Ours is the age of authoritarian rulers: self-proclaimed saviors of the nation who evade accountability while robbing their people of resources and corroding or destroying democracy. Their mutual-admiration club also draws on models from the past. Vladimir Putin rehabilitates Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin, Donald Trump praises Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi, Jair Bolsonaro ad Ours is the age of authoritarian rulers: self-proclaimed saviors of the nation who evade accountability while robbing their people of resources and corroding or destroying democracy. Their mutual-admiration club also draws on models from the past. Vladimir Putin rehabilitates Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin, Donald Trump praises Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi, Jair Bolsonaro admires Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan invokes Adolf Hitler as the model of an efficient leader. Ruth Ben-Ghiat covers a century of authoritarianism to explain why strongman rulers in Africa, Europe, and Latin America, drawing from a common playbook of machismo, propaganda, violence, and corruption, have found popular support even as they bring ruin to their countries. The fruit of decades of research, Strongmen gives readers insight into how such rulers think, who and what they depend on, and how they can be opposed.

30 review for Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present

  1. 4 out of 5

    Barbara (The Bibliophage)

    Originally published on my book blog, TheBibliophage.com. Watching real-life strongman moves while reading Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present from Ruth Ben-Ghiat is both surreal and chilling. But given that the book’s publication date was also the U.S. Election Day, comparisons are inevitable. At least to one of the candidates … you don’t need me to specify which one, right? Ben-Ghiat takes a measured, scholarly, historic approach to strongmen in the second half of the twentieth century and first Originally published on my book blog, TheBibliophage.com. Watching real-life strongman moves while reading Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present from Ruth Ben-Ghiat is both surreal and chilling. But given that the book’s publication date was also the U.S. Election Day, comparisons are inevitable. At least to one of the candidates … you don’t need me to specify which one, right? Ben-Ghiat takes a measured, scholarly, historic approach to strongmen in the second half of the twentieth century and first twenty years of this century. She addresses leaders from around the world, dividing them into these categories: the fascists, the coup leaders, and the new authoritarians. As strongmen, they evolve from the first version through the third, since the world changes with them. Rather than turning a macro lens on just a few men with these tendencies, Ben-Ghiat offers a broad variety with seventeen examples. Some history she tells with more detail than others, but each strongman gets their due. Moving from the ways they gain power to the tools they use to maintain it, the details show precisely how they damage the nations they rule. Tools of Power When Ben-Ghiat turns to how these strongmen gather, increase, and consolidate power, the book gets difficult to read. Page after page about violence, corruption, and propaganda isn’t easy. Not to mention the challenge of digesting her chapter on how strongmen use virility and sexual abuse to enhance their power and turn against their own citizens. In this section, you’ll find relatively familiar events and those which didn’t get enough exposure. When a strongman falls, the skeletons generally come out of the closet. But the people who suffered at their hand may choose to stay silent, having gone into exile and started new lives. So many atrocities stay hidden until historians and political scientists seek the truth. Which makes books like Ben-Ghiat’s more necessary now than ever. On the other hand, Ben-Ghiat uses familiar events like Hitler’s concentration camps or the disappearing of Chilean dissidents to make her points. And then she carries those same principles through a variety of other strongmen to show the similarities. I learned more about Pinochet and Berlusconi, and well as Erdogan and Gaddafi. Things maybe I wish I didn’t know … Resistance Thankfully, Ben-Ghiat includes a third section about the resistance to and downfall of the various strongmen. Whether it’s the rebellious Russian musicians, Pussy Riot, or the downfall of Pinochet by virtue of a constitutional citizen’s vote, the implication is clear. Citizens who stand by and do nothing risk their very lives, and the existence of their country as they know it. If this isn’t a message for the moment, I don’t know what is. My conclusions For most of my life, I’ve felt lucky to live in a country that wasn’t blatantly corrupt, that didn’t seem fooled by propaganda, and wasn’t ruled by violent men. The last few years have helped me see American history and current events more accurately, and this book contributes to that awareness. As they say, those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it. Because Ben-Ghiat covers decades of history, I found connections to many books I’ve read from Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh to Night by Elie Wiesel. She mentions the supposed healing touch of French and English monarchs, as the authors of Quackery did. And the discussion of Vladimir Putin’s penchant for poisoning brought to mind Luke Harding’s book A Very Expensive Poison. And books by Isabel Allende often touch on the rule of Pinochet. Without knowing it, I’ve chosen books touched by strongmen rulers. Their very presence in history is painfully common. I recommend Strongmen if you’re a student of history and politics or a citizen of the world. It’s intense, readable, and insightful, and a topic that’s critically important to understand. Acknowledgements Many thanks to NetGalley, W.W. Norton and Company, and the author for the opportunity to read a digital advanced readers’ copy in exchange for this honest review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Rob Alexander

    Fascinating to see how authoritarian leaders take power, retain it, and eventually lose it. I rarely read books like this, and found myself repeatedly thinking, “Ah, that’s why!” All politicians of good will should read this book, and do all they can to promote transparency and honesty in politics.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lydia Wallace

    Recounting the acts of solidarity and dignity that have undone strongmen over the past 100 years, Ben-Ghiat makes vividly clear that only by seeing the strongman for what he is—and by valuing one another as he is unable to do—can we stop him, now and in the future. They use masculinity as a symbol of strength and a political weapon. Taking what you want, and getting away with it, becomes proof of male authority. Pick this great book up and enjoy reading it page after page without being able to p Recounting the acts of solidarity and dignity that have undone strongmen over the past 100 years, Ben-Ghiat makes vividly clear that only by seeing the strongman for what he is—and by valuing one another as he is unable to do—can we stop him, now and in the future. They use masculinity as a symbol of strength and a political weapon. Taking what you want, and getting away with it, becomes proof of male authority. Pick this great book up and enjoy reading it page after page without being able to put it down. #1 New Release in Men's Gender Studies. Ben- Ghiat you are a great author. This isn't the type of book I would usually read, but I am waiting for your next book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Denise

    This interesting and informative book compares and contrasts the rise to power, rule, and eventual fall (insofar as this has already occurred) of various authoritarian rulers of the 20th and 21st centuries from around the world. A worthwhile read that offers plenty of detail and insightful analysis.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    4.5 stars. I had taken a much-needed break from reading books about Trump this year, but decided to give this one a shot because it seemed so timely...and it is. This is the first book I’ve read that places Trump in a proper historical context, rather than a journalistic account, a psychological evaluation, or a theory-heavy analysis. Instead, it is a well-researched and highly documented scholarly (but accessible) historical discussion of strongmen figures of the last century, the traits they s 4.5 stars. I had taken a much-needed break from reading books about Trump this year, but decided to give this one a shot because it seemed so timely...and it is. This is the first book I’ve read that places Trump in a proper historical context, rather than a journalistic account, a psychological evaluation, or a theory-heavy analysis. Instead, it is a well-researched and highly documented scholarly (but accessible) historical discussion of strongmen figures of the last century, the traits they share, and the ways they gain and retain power. Ben-Ghiat discusses the three types of strongmen: those who rose to power through political machinations in the post-WWI era (Mussolini, Hitler, and Franco), those who rose to power through military coup in the post-WWII era, and finally the more recent strongmen who gained and held power through popular vote (in many cases through corrupt elections), such as Berlusconi, Putin, and Trump. The second section deals with the traits they share to hold power (a toxic combination of propaganda, corruption, violence, and macho-posturing -- what Ben-Ghiat refers to as"virility"), while the final section describes their fall. This is not a book on Trump, per se, but places him in the context of authoritarian strongmen of the last century. As an American, I found the Trump sections to be the most pertinent for me, but the discussions of Berlusconi, Gaddafi, and Putin were equally eye-opening, and often enlightening in what they revealed about living in the Trump era. Since Ben-Ghiat makes the convincing argument that certain authoritarian characteristics of these strongmen are quite similar, I found myself beginning to understand how Trump’s behavior over the last four years was just as much about self-preservation as self-promotion. To think that Ben-Ghiat released this book before the current attempt to overturn the 2020 election is only more proof that her insight and analysis is spot-on. Of all the books I’ve read on Trump in the last four years, I think this is the one that will set the stage for how historians understand his time in office. Well worth a read, even if you’re burned out on Trump (as we all are!).

  6. 5 out of 5

    Fabian Jungmann

    Ruth Ben-Ghiat takes a comparative look at how 20th and 21st century authoritarian leaders around the world came to power, govern and eventually lose power. I enjoyed the overview of each leader and comparisons made between them. There were many things I did not yet know about each of the leaders examined and the bitesized nature of the chapters made it easy to read in several sittings. Even though Ben-Ghiat explains why she didn’t, I would have liked an inclusion of some of the other leaders aro Ruth Ben-Ghiat takes a comparative look at how 20th and 21st century authoritarian leaders around the world came to power, govern and eventually lose power. I enjoyed the overview of each leader and comparisons made between them. There were many things I did not yet know about each of the leaders examined and the bitesized nature of the chapters made it easy to read in several sittings. Even though Ben-Ghiat explains why she didn’t, I would have liked an inclusion of some of the other leaders around the world, such as Chinese president Xi Jinping and more in-depth analysis of Duterte and Modi. Whilst they are arguably not on the same level as Gaddafi, Mussolini and Hitler, I feel like this would have been an interesting addition to an already excellent book, and with the Chinese Uighur internment camps in particular cover a contemporary topic that would fit in well in my opinion.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Excellent book about autocrats from the 20th century to modern times. She covers Mussolini to Trump. She goes from their beginning, their ascent, their ultimate power, and their descent and downfall. One point that stuck out is that Berlusconi in Italy continued his meddling after the elections until he was finally convicted of crimes. He was considered too old for prison but he was out under house arrest. The problems in Italian politics are still there but but much less active.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    A typology of authoritarians that traces consonances from Mussolini to Trump. Strongest on Mussolini, Pinochet, and Gaddafi. Riddled with obvious factual errors and bizarre, nonsequitur sentences. Rushed, perhaps, to appear shortly after the U.S. election.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Viola

    Strongman Trump Radicalized His Supporters; Turning This Back Will Be Very Hard | Democracy Now! https://www.democracynow.org/2021/1/1... Over the weekend, federal investigators arrested a number of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol, including two men who were photographed wearing tactical gear, holding plastic zip tie handcuffs — a sign that the domestic terrorists may have been intending to take lawmakers hostage. Federal agents have also arrested a Georgia man named Cleveland Meredith fo Strongman Trump Radicalized His Supporters; Turning This Back Will Be Very Hard | Democracy Now! https://www.democracynow.org/2021/1/1... Over the weekend, federal investigators arrested a number of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol, including two men who were photographed wearing tactical gear, holding plastic zip tie handcuffs — a sign that the domestic terrorists may have been intending to take lawmakers hostage. Federal agents have also arrested a Georgia man named Cleveland Meredith for sending a text message threatening to kill Nancy Pelosi on live TV. At the time of his arrest, Meredith had a Glock handgun, a pistol, an assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. On Sunday, CNN aired shocking video of Trump supporters grabbing a D.C. Metro police officer, pulling him down the Capitol steps, where he was beaten with American flagpoles. Investigations have also been launched into the role of active-duty soldiers and police officers in Wednesday’s riots. Even the president of the United States could face criminal charges for inciting the insurrection. Last week, the top prosecutor in Washington, acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin, refused to rule out charging the president. President Trump made no public remarks over the weekend after being permanently banned on Twitter. On Friday, he announced he would not attend Biden’s inauguration. To talk more about the insurrection at the Capitol and the Trump presidency, we’re joined by Ruth Ben-Ghiat. She’s a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University, author of the new book, Strongmen: How They Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall. Her new piece for CNN is headlined “Trump’s end game? Power at all costs.” Professor Ben-Ghiat, if you can start off by responding to what happened last week, this violent insurrection? Still, the Department of Homeland Security, the president himself, the FBI, the attorney general, none have made comment, even though five people died, another police officer took his own life, and we know the violence that now is becoming increasingly vivid as video after video is released. RUTH BEN-GHIAT: So, the events of January 6 are the product of two long-term objectives that Trump has sought, successfully. One is, like all strongmen who arrive on the scene, they legitimize existing extremism and anti-democratic tendencies. They give validation to the worst criminal elements in society. And in fact, many strongmen, including Trump, either come to power with a criminal record or under investigation, so they are criminal elements themselves. So there’s that. The other thing they do is — and Trump did this with the GOP— is they glamorize and legitimize lawlessness. So lawmakers become lawbreakers. And this has happened. And what is particularly disturbing — and I think we’ll have more of this — there’s an AP investigation that has come out on, you know, who are these participants of the January 6 events. And though it’s tempting to see them as — which is scary enough — as extremists and militia groups, white power, there were Republican donors. There were Republican officials. There were military. There were law enforcement. So this means the threat to democracy is not outside our institutions only. It’s coming from inside. And this is a logical result of a policy that Trump has followed very resolutely since he started signaling during his campaign to extremist groups, but also made that statement you played at the top of the show about shooting someone. What he was saying, in January 2016, is that he would be — he was above the law, and he was capable of violence, and he would get away with it. AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about his family’s rally, that was held right before the marauders, the domestic terrorists, the insurrectionists — whatever you want to call them — right before they marched to the Capitol. By the way, Trump, saying he would be with them, of course, got in a car and safely watched this from the White House. RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yes. AMY GOODMAN: But let’s turn to the video obtained by CNBC of Trump and his family watching a live stream of the pro-Trump so-called Stop the Steal rally at the Capitol last week. This is Don Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle. DONALD TRUMP JR.: I think we’re T-minus a couple of seconds here, guys. So, check it out. Tune in. I’m going to live-stream it. It’s going to be — Mark Meadows, an actual fighter, one of the few, a real fighter. Thank you, Mark. Kimberly? KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE: Yeah. Have the courage to do the right thing! Fight! AMY GOODMAN: And this is President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, addressing the crowd at Wednesday’s so-called Save America rally in Washington, D.C. RUDY GIULIANI: Over the next 10 days, we get to see the machines that are crooked, the ballots that are fraudulent. And if we’re wrong, we will be made fools of. But if we’re right, a lot of them will go to jail. So, let’s have trial by combat! AMY GOODMAN: “Trial by combat.” This is Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney, who apparently will be hired by President Trump, along with Alan Dershowitz, to defend him if there is an impeachment trial. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, if you can talk about what this insurrection looks like in world history, you know, the revving on by not the people outside, but the people on the inside, the leader of a country who refuses to accept a democratic election? RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yeah, this is classic. You know, it’s really interesting because, in my book, it’s the first book to put Trump in context of a hundred years of authoritarian history. And he’s really using tactics from all three eras. He’s got the fascist era, and of course I can’t help but be reminded of the March on Rome, when Mussolini was, you know, trying to take over — trying to get into power, but used these Blackshirts. And he took a train, a first-class train, but all the Blackshirts were there in the streets intimidating the king into inviting him into becoming prime minister. And Mussolini is also important because he was a democratic prime minister for three years, eroding democracy from within. And then, when he thought he was going to lose power, he declared a dictatorship. But he had already had these Blackshirts who were threatening violence. So, and then we have the age of military coups. And we know that Trump was investigating using the regular armed forces, before General Milley put a stop to that. And so he went with these extremists. But the other thing — which, as we see, are not only extremists, but people inside our institutions. The other thing that he’s left for the GOP is a roadmap on how to just nullify elections and treat your political opponent as a political enemy. And so, the GOP was already drifting toward being an authoritarian party when Trump came along. And he has legitimized lawlessness. And in a sense, the whole events leading up to, including the quotes you mentioned — you know, “trial by combat” — they distill this kind of macho lawlessness that’s the essence of authoritarian rule and always has been. And it’s our turn, as a country, to reckon with this. AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to a message posted on Twitter Sunday by the Terminatoractor, the former Republican governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, in which he compares last week’s pro-Trump mob at the Capitol to Kristallnacht, when German Nazis launched a wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I grew up in Austria. I’m very aware of Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass. It was a night of rampage against the Jews carried out in 1938 by the Nazi equivalent of the Proud Boys. Wednesday was the Day of Broken Glass right here in the United States. The broken glass was in the windows of the United States Capitol. AMY GOODMAN: So, if you can give us the background for this? And then we’re going to play more of Arnold Schwarzenegger apparently for the first time in public talking about the complicity of his father and neighbors in Austria at this time. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, give us the history of Kristallnacht and Austria and the Anschluss. RUTH BEN-GHIAT: So, Kristallnacht was so tragically important because there had already been legal persecution of Jews and plenty of imprisonments of Jews who were leftists and beatings in the street. There was plenty of violence in Germany. And then Hitler annexed Austria and had a plebiscite — Austria had a plebiscite. But Kristallnacht was the first large-scale, coordinated attack on Jewish sites, whether they were stores, they were synagogues. And it was — you know, the Nazis allowed the violence to happen, but actually instigated it. So, this is — this technique of lighting the match and already not addressing violence and egging on violence, and then letting it roll, is a classic authoritarian maneuver. And, of course, part of the effect was to lead some Jews to get out and emigrate, which is partly what the Nazis wanted. They wanted to get rid of the Jews that way, as well as with violence. And the reason that Arnold Schwarzenegger — AMY GOODMAN: Professor Ben-Ghiat, I want to go back — RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yes. AMY GOODMAN: — to Arnold Schwarzenegger now. RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yes, that’s what I’m doing. So, Schwarzenegger is — AMY GOODMAN: No, let me go — we’re going to go back to play a little more of what he had to say. RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yeah. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: I was born in 1947, two years after the Second World War. Growing up, I was surrounded by broken men drinking away the guilt over their participation in the most evil regime in history. Not all of them were rabid anti-Semites or Nazis. Many just went along, step by step, down the road. They were the people next door. Now, I’ve never shared this so publicly, because it is a painful memory. But my father would come home drunk once or twice a week, and he would scream and hit us and scare my mother. I didn’t hold him totally responsible, because our neighbor was doing the same thing to his family, and so was the next neighbor over. I heard it with my own ears and saw it with my own eyes. They were in physical pain from the shrapnel in their bodies and in emotional pain from what they saw or did. It all started with lies, and lies, and lies, and intolerance. AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the former Republican governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, if you can talk about what he’s referring to, everyday Austrians? And then take it back to the United States, as increasingly people around this country are asking questions about the senators and congressmembers who have aided and abetted what Donald Trump was trying to do — delegitimize democratic elections — people like Cori Bush calling for the expulsion — the new congressmember from Missouri — of congressmembers who supported this. But start back in Austria with the Nazis. RUTH BEN-GHIAT: Yeah. So, you know, what Arnold Schwarzenegger is referring to is that Hitler was supposed to be — and Hitler was the native child, having been born in Austria. He was supposed to be savior of Germany. And instead, he led it to defeat. I have quotes in my book about women in bomb shelters when Hitler abandoned his people and the Allies were bombing and the Soviets were invading, and she said, “Hitler promised us greatness, and he was really out to destroy us.” So, there was this, you know, massive, massive tragedy and guilt that was experienced and caused violence, domestic violence. And this is this kind of terrible atmosphere post-Hitler, who killed himself, of course, because the — I have it in the conclusion to my book — the one constant with all these men is that they despise their people, and they blame their people when things go badly, and they leave them in the ditch. Their only loyalty is to themselves. And the Republicans in America have seen this happening as Trump has turned on the people who enabled him at the beginning, like Jeff Sessions, who was the first person to bring him to a rally. And Trump said, “Oh, I’m being mainstream now.” And then we know what happened to Jeff Sessions. And so, Trump has had an enormous success, to a shocking degree, in domesticating and making as a personal tool the GOP, considering he didn’t start his party, like Mussolini or — and Hitler was, you know, a head of the party very early on. Trump came in from the outside. And in only four years, through intimidation, bullying, buyouts — the usual autocratic methods — has completely wrapped the GOP around his finger. And this is how we get this complicity. And so, those who had to wait for an armed assault with murderous intentions on the Capitol to do the right thing, like McConnell and Pence, I’m not so impressed. They were only reacting to their personal safety being jeopardized. So, any legacy reckoning with the Trump era has to actually focus on how successful he’s been at getting people to be their worst selves. AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Professor Ben-Ghiat, you tweeted, “Historian of coups and right-wing authoritarians here. If there are not severe consequences for every lawmaker & Trump govt official who backed this, every member of the Capitol Police who collaborated with them, this 'strategy of disruption' will escalate in 2021.” If you would elaborate further and end by talking about what is deeply concerning to so many people right now, that this was just a first attack? RUTH BEN-GHIAT: So, when Trump says this, “Our beautiful” — or, “Our journey is just beginning,” I had already been very worried that this would be — that Trump and the GOP — Trump will act as an outside agitator when he leaves. And this would be a strategy of trying to delegitimize the Biden administration — they’ve already been trying to sabotage it with nonaction on coronavirus, economic misery — but to make America so ungovernable and so difficult to govern, so chaotic, so violent, under Biden and Harris, that it creates more desire for law and order, and in come the Trumps back again, or Trump proxies. So, I’m very worried that this — there’s already a, quote, “armed march” being planned for January 17th around the nation. And once you legitimize and give a presidential imprimatur to extremism, and once you convince — you plant people throughout federal agencies, you know, you radicalize law enforcement, as Bill Barr, who stepped away but has a huge amount of responsibility for this, it’s very hard to turn this back. AMY GOODMAN: Ruth Ben-Ghiat, I want to thank you for being with us, professor of history and Italian studies at New York University, author of the book Strongmen: How They Rise, Why They Succeed, How They Fall. “Trump’s end game? Power at all costs.” https://edition.cnn.com/2021/01/07/op...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Diana Newberry

    I have to admit that this book is not typically the type that I read since I typically like historical fiction, but was pleasantly surprised. The author did a lot of research to depict each strongman in detail. The book does not follow a chronological order, but more of a topic based approach. The topic based approach ties similarities between the strongman, but makes it a bit hard to follow at times since it jumps between the events of each strongman. Overall it is a pretty good historical depi I have to admit that this book is not typically the type that I read since I typically like historical fiction, but was pleasantly surprised. The author did a lot of research to depict each strongman in detail. The book does not follow a chronological order, but more of a topic based approach. The topic based approach ties similarities between the strongman, but makes it a bit hard to follow at times since it jumps between the events of each strongman. Overall it is a pretty good historical depiction with a lot of attention to details.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tyler Winowiecki

    Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s newest book, Strongmen: Mussolini to Present, is a must read for everyone trying to contextualize this current epoch in American history. This book tackles the subject in a way so few of her peers have been able to do. Not only does Ben-Ghiat not engage in hyperbole when discussing various strongmen around the world and across generations, but she presents a somber and exhaustive argument on the dangers and consequences of strongmen and their rein. Ben-Ghiat presents an analysis Ruth Ben-Ghiat’s newest book, Strongmen: Mussolini to Present, is a must read for everyone trying to contextualize this current epoch in American history. This book tackles the subject in a way so few of her peers have been able to do. Not only does Ben-Ghiat not engage in hyperbole when discussing various strongmen around the world and across generations, but she presents a somber and exhaustive argument on the dangers and consequences of strongmen and their rein. Ben-Ghiat presents an analysis starting with Benito Mussolini in Italy and spanning the Pinochet’s military junta in Chile to Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Adolf Hitler’s Germany while always coming back to Donald Trump and his incessant attack on American democracy. She does not attempt to present a rosy picture of good versus evil, but rather vividly illustrates the destruction and loss the society suffers. Neither side ultimately benefit from these undemocratic regimes. The strongman and his personality cult, who are shown to often be shallow and emotionally lacking, are almost always delusional and increasing delirious as their reign continues and their power loosens. And she concludes, the society normally experiences lasting trauma and polarization from these regimes. The personality cults these men create around them, Ben-Ghiat argues, allow followers to stop caring about the leader’s lies because they believe in the symbolism of the man — a sentiment Americans are all too familiar with. Moreover, as anyone who has paid any attention to American society can see, Ben-Ghiat describes how authoritarians exacerbate existing economic inequality, plunder state assets, and favor ideology over expertise, with the end result being the impoverishment of the societies they rule. As someone who decided to leave the United States after the 2016 election, this book helped to honestly situate where Donald Trump falls on the spectrum of strongmen. Ben-Ghiat points to one of the driving factors which led me to leave: in societies in which democracy is the norm, people are less likely to initially challenge aspiring strongmen. Too many Americans in 2016 treated Donald Trump as yet another candidate, or at least someone to exploit for media rating and therefore profits. This Faustian Bargin that American business and media elites made have cost lives, livelihoods and prosperity for millions of Americans. The book is structured in three parts: the rise, the rule and the end of their reigns. The amazing aspect of strongmen is how similar each are to one another. Mussolini, like Donald Trump, said he alone could fix his country’s problems. Hitler, like Donald Trump, created prisons in which children were taken from their parents under the guise of giving them a bath. The similarities even extend to how the strongmen turn on their own people as they lose power; Mussolini, Hitler, Ghaddafi and now Trump fall into this category. Yet, as Ben-Ghiat points out, each strongman and their ultimate story are unique to the societies they attempt to dictate. Strongmen starts and concludes with George W. Bush’s observation of Donald Trump’s inaugural speech: “that was some weird shit”. As Ben-Ghiat’s research points out, it’s only weird if you look at it from an American perspective; taking a world view of strongman history and you will see that Donald Trump fits in with the other desperate and pathetic characters of this sobering book, and we all are — like other societies which experience these governments — the losers.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Karen Adkins

    What a brilliant book. Ben-Ghiat's goal here is simple: to demystify autocrats. She examines a century of authoritarians (starting with Mussolini and running through Trump, just under 20 are her focus) to isolate the common patterns. She articulates their grounding ideology (fear of the other and a mythical appeal to a falsely orderly nostalgic national past), their tools (propaganda, corruption, violence, virility), and how they fail (why resistance matters and can work). Crucially, she articul What a brilliant book. Ben-Ghiat's goal here is simple: to demystify autocrats. She examines a century of authoritarians (starting with Mussolini and running through Trump, just under 20 are her focus) to isolate the common patterns. She articulates their grounding ideology (fear of the other and a mythical appeal to a falsely orderly nostalgic national past), their tools (propaganda, corruption, violence, virility), and how they fail (why resistance matters and can work). Crucially, she articulates the ways in which their ideology and tools are inherently unstable (cult of personality appeals and manifestations of virility are dependent on decaying bodies and minds; the kinds of incentives, bribery and coercion that autocrats rely on can lose their appeal; violence and propaganda, in their sheer repetitiveness, can become numbing to a public). In other words, for all the appalling grimness of many of the anecdotes and evidence, this book is a curiously hopeful read. She means us, I believe, to walk away from this book being both aware of the extent and danger of autocratic rule (her conclusion emphasizes the sophistication of newer autocrats, both with social media and their ability to use the optics of democracy to mime a kind of popular rule that is a mirage), and to have a sense of our agency in resisting them. Most crucially for me as an American reader, I appreciated her cross-cultural approach. Ben-Ghiat is a professor of Italian history, but her autocrats come from all over, and as an American, she resists what must have been the temptation to put Trump front and center. Rather, she smartly focuses on less well known autocrats (Mobutu Sese Seko, Augusto Pinochet, Moammar Gaddafi, Silvio Berlusconi), and every chapter opens with an illustrative anecdote of the focus that comes from a non-Trump autocrat. It seems clear that while Trump may have been the occasioning cause of this vast work of historical synthesis, he is not the *purpose*; rather, Ben-Ghiat wants us to be aware of the kinds of structural and social stresses that make the emergence of autocrats a constant danger, and our need to revive our democratic and civic institutions for more transparency, accountability, and animating emotion, so that they are better able to withstand the autocrat's temptation. Everyone should read this book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Regan

    Timely informative and educational read. I stumbled on Ben-Ghiat's book twice in one day -- once while looking at Kenneth C. Davis's book with essentially the same title and then a Twitter post from Ben-Ghiat. With that seeming coincidence I had to read her book. Ben-Ghiat offers her readers a history of the rise of strongmen--men who aren't necessarily physical or mentally strong, but strong in their craving and determination to rule as only a dictator or authoritarian can rule. Unlike many wri Timely informative and educational read. I stumbled on Ben-Ghiat's book twice in one day -- once while looking at Kenneth C. Davis's book with essentially the same title and then a Twitter post from Ben-Ghiat. With that seeming coincidence I had to read her book. Ben-Ghiat offers her readers a history of the rise of strongmen--men who aren't necessarily physical or mentally strong, but strong in their craving and determination to rule as only a dictator or authoritarian can rule. Unlike many writing on this subject she goes beyond the "well knowns" of Mussolini, Hitler, and Putin. She takes readers in the regimes of Mobutu, Pinochet and Gaddafi and how they rose to power. At the conclusion of each subject she opens to door for us to see how Trump has used their playbooks in his attempt to become king. Ben-Ghiat draws distinctions between those in closed cultures such as China took on their leadership with those who grabbed power. It is those a who became dictators/authoritarians, she focuses on Strongmen, Mussolini to the Present is an enlightening, educational read. It is one that every junior high, high school and college student should read as well as adults. I started it and read it pretty much straight through because of events occurring in our country now as well as the fact that Ben-Ghiat's writing draws her readers in so you want to learn more. Non-fictions can be dry reads given they are real life and based on fact. Ben-Ghiat's book is not dry but informative and while the subject matter is concerning, a pleasant read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Fleet

    Chilling review of how Trump used the authoritarian/facist playbook written by Mussolini and used by Hitler and Putin to try and kill democracy in America. A telling review of how these leaders create a "cult" of followers who idolize these leaders and threaten anyone who tries to challenge their authority. The book points out how fragile democracy can be if the people do not challenge these authoritarian leaders. Chilling review of how Trump used the authoritarian/facist playbook written by Mussolini and used by Hitler and Putin to try and kill democracy in America. A telling review of how these leaders create a "cult" of followers who idolize these leaders and threaten anyone who tries to challenge their authority. The book points out how fragile democracy can be if the people do not challenge these authoritarian leaders.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Power by undemocratic means I came away with a better understanding of how fascism works through the sketches of the included global leaders and their followers. Also included are those who resisted. I liked the way the chapters and sections were organized. I found myself often realizing, “yes! That’s what’s happening here.” The work is amply footnoted and indexed. I read the kindle edition while listening to the audio as well.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sita Vasan

    Horrendous book, poorly written, and filled with horrible anecdotes of rulers picked and chosen to fit her agenda. Not sure why Xi, and Stalin weren’t included, but she insists Xi wasn’t given his “closed” country system which was true for Putin and many African regimes as well although they were cited.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    The strength and horror of this book at this moment in time - the day of Trump's second impeachment - is how the author discusses Trump in the context of other strongmen/cult of personality type leaders, past and present. Seeing his similarity to these figures, and where they have led their countries, makes it clear what a narrow escape we've had in the U.S. So far. The strength and horror of this book at this moment in time - the day of Trump's second impeachment - is how the author discusses Trump in the context of other strongmen/cult of personality type leaders, past and present. Seeing his similarity to these figures, and where they have led their countries, makes it clear what a narrow escape we've had in the U.S. So far.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paula Yerke

    This book was a frightening look at autocrats from Mussolini to the present and how very much they have in common. Their tactics, beliefs and personality types - how they come to power and how they lose it - was very interesting. She highlights how Trump shares so much with other world autocrats. It makes a lot of sense to me.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Priya

    I know I shouldn’t rate this book before I read it but, I do have a problem with the baseless comparison between Hitler and Trump - one massacred 6 million Jews and the other is trying to keep the American democracy afloat. One reviewer begged the question why Communist and Socialist leaders were left out though they spew pure evil and terrorize.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Henry Jack

    The book does not follow a chronological order, but more of a topic based approach. The topic based approach ties similarities between the strongman, but makes it a bit hard to follow at times since it jumps between the events of each strongman.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Carol Dix

    Mostly scanned this, reading about all those autocrats was depressing, given that we are currently under the same regime as other countries have suffered under in history. Yes, Trump fits the bill to a 'T'. Ugh. Mostly scanned this, reading about all those autocrats was depressing, given that we are currently under the same regime as other countries have suffered under in history. Yes, Trump fits the bill to a 'T'. Ugh.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hetta

    Every American should read this. It’s terrifying.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lee Barry

    All of a sudden these kinds of books are on people's radar screens. (Chilling prospects/specters) All of a sudden these kinds of books are on people's radar screens. (Chilling prospects/specters)

  24. 5 out of 5

    Łukasz

    this is a book about Trump with only a few mentions of Mussolini and others like him. The title is misleading

  25. 4 out of 5

    D Sibilant

    Very well done. I'll need to reread it after some more history is written. Great pairing with The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. Very well done. I'll need to reread it after some more history is written. Great pairing with The Testaments by Margaret Atwood.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Everyone who cherishes liberty, human rights, and the rule of law should read this book, because if we don't get clear quickly on what's happening, we stand to lose all three. Everyone who cherishes liberty, human rights, and the rule of law should read this book, because if we don't get clear quickly on what's happening, we stand to lose all three.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Phillip

    3.5 / 5.0 Expected more from this. More historical with main focus on Italy.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Nothing really earth shattering or “new” here. However it is a well-written and engaging introduction for those who maybe aren’t as versed on the topic.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kaja

    Brutal reality.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rikard Anglerud

    A book with an important message, considering the new rise of authoritarians. However, the book feels more like a reading list than a complete work in itself. Each chapter references a lot of other literature, and I'm sure that if I went to read all that, I'd get all that I wanted out of this book - but as it is, it feels a little light on compelling arguments. There is quite a lot of focus on the playbook that each of the strongmen being written about use, but not as much about why it appears to A book with an important message, considering the new rise of authoritarians. However, the book feels more like a reading list than a complete work in itself. Each chapter references a lot of other literature, and I'm sure that if I went to read all that, I'd get all that I wanted out of this book - but as it is, it feels a little light on compelling arguments. There is quite a lot of focus on the playbook that each of the strongmen being written about use, but not as much about why it appears to be so effective. What it is that lets leaders like this get away with making up their own reality isn't addressed. It may be that this book was rushed to publication before Trump's term in office ended, and this is why it doesn't quite hit the mark.

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