A leading academic exposes the historical and cultural contexts which allow political strongmen to thrive
'A gripping and illuminating picture of how strongmen have deployed violence, seduction, and corruption' Daniel Ziblatt, co-author of How Democracies Die
'A timely analysis of how a certain kind of charisma delivers political disaster' Timothy Snyder, author of On Tyranny
Today, countries from Russia to India, Turkey to America are ruled by men who combine populist appeal with authoritarian policies. These leaders have reshaped their countries around them, creating cults of personality which earn the loyalty of millions. And, as historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat shows, they do so by drawing on a playbook of behaviour established by figures such as Benito Mussolini, Muammar Gaddafi and Adolf Hitler.
So why - despite the evidence of history - do strongmen still hold such appeal for us? Ruth Ben-Ghiat reveals how, for a hundred years, charismatic leaders have emerged at moments of uncertainty and transition, manipulating electoral systems, brutally suppressing opposition, gaining control of the media and distorting the imaginations of the people they rule over in pursuit of absolute power.
Authoritarians hold their greatest appeal when society is polarised. Skilfully exposing both the power and the weakness of the strongman, this fierce and perceptive history is a vital step in understanding how to combat the forces which seek to derail democracy and seize our rights.
Ruth Ben-Ghiat is Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University and a political commentator and cultural critic who has received Guggenheim, Fulbright, and other fellowships. An expert on fascism and its memory, authoritarian rulers, Donald Trump, and propaganda, she's written for or appeared on BBC World News, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Sky News, New Yorker and other media outlets.
General & world history