A history and Italian studies professor at New York University analyzes the blueprint authoritarian demagogues have followed over the past 100 years, offering readers tools to recognize, resist, and prevent their disastrous rule in the future.
Readers might expect that a book such as this would be a compendium of murder, mayhem, malfeasance, and misanthropic behavior, and they will not be disappointed in the fast-moving pages of this volume. But what they might not anticipate—and what separates this book from the many others that examine tyrants and tyranny—is the analysis that puts this phenomenon in perspective ... particularly strong on Mussolini and Franco ... Many readers can well live without Ben-Ghiat’s explicit disclosure that Mussolini and Gaddafi each had sex addictions, though even the prudes among us might find it intriguing to learn that Mussolini fathered about 20 children, that his first wife ended up in a mental institution, and that he had a son he caused to be murdered by lethal injection ... But whew: There is light amid the darkness here, for in the end tyrannies often come to an end.
In [one] view, rather than a by-product of global and American racist, populist, and fascist traditions reformulated in postfascist anti-democratic ways, Trumpism can be easily bracketed and summarily dismissed ... [Ben-Ghiat] provide[s] powerful evidence against these views ... Ben-Ghiat presents a powerful historical reading of the ways of the leaders themselves ... If Ben-Ghiat teaches us about the leaders, what about their followers? Who are the people who maintain a deep faith in such flawed individuals to the very end? Why do so many people follow the lies of the strongmen? Why do they believe in the cult of the leader despite misery, crisis, and disease? In short, why are they replacing thought with political faith? Ben-Ghiat cogently states that the secret of the strongman is that he needs the crowds much more than they need him.
For the reader inured by the drip-drip-drip of stories of brazen corruption over the course of years, it is bracing to see a half-decade’s worth of reporting so carefully distilled ... This is not, however, merely another addition to the annals of Trumpology. Beginning with the rise of Mussolini and concluding with the present era, Ben-Ghiat attempts to portray the ways democracies die in the arms of authoritarians, and the common traits that enable these downfalls ...at times, the chapters can feel jigsawed together — patchworks of examples undergirding premises stretched thin by all they are forced to contain ... Ben-Ghiat’s study of corruption as a tool of strongman rule is more successful. She has a gift for bringing together details that are both poignant and startling, laying them out with particular aplomb when delving into the orgiastic misdirection of funds into authoritarian coffers ...The book was written and released before the 2020 election was decided, but Ben-Ghiat’s description of the end days of strongman rule fits, with eerie precision, Trump’s erratic, bellicose final weeks in office.