“Without defending or justifying their actions, I simply say that because these thugs pushed the societies over which they ruled –and ruled absolutely – to one extreme, we push our societies to the other extreme. Balance and counterbalance. Thugs deny freedoms; we valiantly protect freedoms. Thugs place little value on human life; we cherish human life. Thugs act to protect their own narrow self-interest; we fight for the interest of others.”
This quote is in the conclusion of Micah D. Halpern’s Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World Through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder, but it is also the most powerful section and it is something we need to remember in today’s political climate. Halpern explains leaders and dictators from Hamurabi to Kim-Jong-Il and the impact they had on their people. It’s a simple introductory book and while most of the writing is solid, there are a few awkward sections.
If you have studied dictators throughout history, this is not the book for you. A few chapters are only three pages long as they give a brief introduction of the individuals. Most of it is just an explanation of where they are born, how they became a leader of their country and what the result of their leadership was. There are a few instances when we are also introduced to their personality, such as with Idi Amin, but that is not the point of this book.
There is a Wikipedia feel to the book, but it is neatly organised and highly convenient. It has chapters on ancient, modern Middle Eastern (which I really need) and Asian history. There are instances where you can read multiple chapters in one go, because the flow actually works. I might have placed Middle Eastern history later on, but that’s about it. The connections between dictators feels natural so I know who they are talking about if they reference someone else. You can read it all the way through, or if you’re picky, just use the index.That would work as well.
The writing is not flashy or clunky in most areas, so it is easy to become invested in the book. Even though the introduction and conclusion does discuss thugs, it isn’t really used enough for it to feel natural. Instead, each time ‘thug’ is used, it takes away the professional tone that has already been established. There are, I think, two other oddly worded sentences. I swear, there is one section where the phrase ‘pooh pooh’ is used. It is not enough to completely destroy the book, but it does lower the standard slightly.
Definitely read this book if you want to grasp a basic understanding of tyranny that has impacted societies today. Just make sure you keep in mind that it is only an introductory guide and it is slightly outdated. According to Thugs, Mummar Gadaffi is the present prime minister of Libya.