Since the days of the Roman Empire dictators have written books. But in the twentieth-century despots enjoyed unprecedented print runs to (literally) captive audiences. How did the production of literature become central to the running of regimes? What do these books reveal about the dictatorial soul?
In all, this is a mesmerizing study of books by despots great and small, from the familiar to the largely unknown ... Kalder’s survey of the bizarre library of dictator literature might easily leave a reader shaken, even dejected. The badness of these books, and their effects, is almost impossible to fathom ... Luckily, Kalder maintains a skeptical sense of humor throughout.
The Infernal Library, Daniel Kalder’s long march through the writings of 20th century tyrants, is mind-numbing and mortifying in equal measure ... Kalder’s task seems to have driven him over the edge — his book brims with vituperation and strident put-downs ... There is sometimes a crudeness to the author’s charges ... However meretricious such drivel is, the examples Kalder surveys have a power that is almost confounding.
To say this was a tall task would be an understatement but Kalder delivers with this entertaining and highly informative book. It helps that he keeps his sense of humor ... 'Dictators usually live lives that are rich in experience,' he deadpans early on, and the quips are sprinkled throughout (including a shot at everyman author Bill Bryson). Given the subject matter, they are never unwelcome.