Why dictators find the lure of writing books irresistible

Download (22)Lucy Hughes-Hallett at The New Statesman:

Daniel Kalder was living in Moscow in the early years of this century when, switching on his television, he saw a Brobdingnagian book. It was candy-pink and green, and as high as several houses. On its front cover was embossed the golden bust, in profile, of a dictator.

By the time Kalder travelled to Turkmenistan in 2006 the self-styled Turkmenbashi (Father of all Turkmen) was dead. The mechanism of the gigantic book, which opened to display, each night, a different double-page spread of his thoughts, had failed, but the book still loomed, floodlit, over the capital, “ominous and immense and exceedingly kitsch”. A symbol of the vanity of human hubris to rival Ozymandias’s trunkless legs, it set Kalder off on an investigation of the curious fact that dictators from Lenin to Kim Jong-il, not content with absolute power over their people’s lives, have aspired to be, as Stalin put it, “engineers of souls” as well, and – in pursuit of that object – have written some very long and very tedious books.

Kalder’s own book, on the other hand, is brisk, and full of antic fun. Here are some of the words and phrases he uses to describe the works under consideration: “turgid”, “boring”, “entirely vapid”, “aggressively stupid”, “obscure”, “repetitive and violent”, “staggeringly incompetent”, “rote pap”, “sub-fascist waffle”, “virulently awful”, “the worst books ever written”.

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