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Strongman: The Rise of Five Dictators and the Fall of Democracy

Kenneth C. Davis

Hardcover edition
Henry Holt and Company, Inc.
Discrimination: Racial Insensitivity/Racism , Discrimination: Religious , Social Issue: Harsh Realities of Life , Violence: Death , Violence: Genocide , Violence: Torture , Violence: War/Harsh Realities of War
Out of stock

What makes a country fall to a dictator? How do authoritarian leaders—strongmen—capable of killing millions acquire their power? How are they able to defeat the ideal of democracy? And what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

By profiling five of the most notoriously ruthless dictators in history—Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein—Kenneth C. Davis seeks to answer these questions, examining the forces in these strongmen’s personal lives and historical periods that shaped the leaders they’d become. Meticulously researched and complete with photographs, Strongman provides insight into the lives of five leaders who callously transformed the world and serves as an invaluable resource in an era when democracy itself seems in peril.

Discrimination: Racial Insensitivity/Racism , Discrimination: Religious , Social Issue: Harsh Realities of Life , Violence: Death , Violence: Genocide , Violence: Torture , Violence: War/Harsh Realities of War




Page Count


Trim Size

9" x 6"




0: points 0



Scholastic Reading Counts


JLG Release

Dec 2020

Book Genres



Benito Mussolini (1883–1945). Adolf Hitler (1889–1945). Joseph Stalin (1878–1953). Mao Zedong (1893–1976). Saddam Hussein (1937–2006). Biography. Dictators. Dictatorship. Twentieth-century history. Democracy.

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Praise & Reviews

School Library Journal

Davis profiles five ruthless dictators: Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein. Three of the book’s eight chapters discuss democracy and other forms of government, the times in which the ­dictators lived, other “strongmen,” and the need for vigilance against authoritarianism. Each biographical chapter features a time line of the dictator’s life and quotes by or about the man and his regime. Davis deftly opens these chapters with a narrative about the subject, followed by a chronological account of his life. The time line and quotes give readers a sense of both the historical context and the character of the profiled person. Davis describes the brutality inflicted by the dictators but, aside from the chapter on Hussein, most of the descriptions are not graphic. The text also explains the role that the Western powers had in allowing these men to gain dominance. The abuses committed by the United States, as in the case of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, are also mentioned. The prose can be dry at times, and there are a few instances where the historical context is not explained well. Relevant black-and-white photographs, which are credited and captioned, maintain readers’ interest. An extensive bibliography, which contains adult and young adult titles, and endnotes support further research. VERDICT A title that satisfies research and general interest needs, and one that libraries serving high schoolers will want to have.–Hilary Writt, formerly at Sullivan Univ., Lexington, KY

Horn Book

After a brief introduction to the central figures and the crucial importance of understanding these men today, Davis opens his history of modern dictators with the burning of the Reichstag and Hitler’s subsequent rise to absolute control over Germany. Flashing back to the infancy of democracy in ancient Greece and Rome, Davis lays out how democracies function and where they are susceptible to breaking. Following this history, readers are brought back to the twentieth century with a look at Fascist dictator Mussolini, then move forward chronologically through the rises and falls of Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Saddam Hussein. Each biographical history effectively places the dictator in time and aptly builds context around his ascent to power. Similarities in each figure’s childhood are noted, but readers are often warned not to draw causal connections between the events of these men’s youth and their notoriety in adulthood: “if every boy who has ever been expelled from school for fighting—or even attacking someone with a penknife—became a dictator, the world would have far more dictators.” Davis’s central thesis regarding the fragility of democracy reads as a warning to readers who will undoubtedly think about the current viability and strength of twenty-first-century democracies at home and abroad. This well-researched book includes extensive quotations from contemporaneous newspaper accounts as well as footnotes and an in-depth bibliography (which helpfully notes the titles most useful to young adult readers). Index unseen. ERIC CARPENTER

Grades 9 & Up
Biography High Plus
For Grades 9 & Up

Fascinating biographies and compelling personal stories that provide a view into history or perspective on the issues of our times.

14 books per Year
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Grades 9 & Up
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