Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present

Norton. Nov. 2020. 384p. ISBN 9781324001546. $28.95. POL SCI
Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, Augusto Pinochet, Muammar Gaddafi, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump are representative of strongmen, according to Ben-Ghiat (history, Italian Studies, New York Univ.; Italian Fascism's Empire Cinema), as the author traces the evolution of the charismatic leader who specializes in using power for its sake as a way to obtain political control of a country. The narrative story begins with Mussolini and his rise to power post-World War I. In succeeding chapters, Ben-Ghiat explores the tactics and antics of other leaders, such as Hitler and Pinochet, as they use the existing political structure to garner power in their own right. Through extensive research in primary and secondary sources, Ben-Ghiat creates a sobering picture of how strong-willed men have been able to establish themselves as popular rulers, while undermining the very democratic structure within which they thrived. Ben-Ghiat's narrative is replete with examples of how authoritarian rulers came to power and how they maintain power; overall, the book represents a troubling portrayal of how mature modern democracies can be ultimately dominated by such strongmen.
VERDICT A sober book, and one that we should all take seriously. Essential for all collections.
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