In This Review

Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present
Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present
By Ruth Ben-Ghiat
Norton, 2020, 384 pp

The protagonists of this illuminating study of authoritarian rulers range from early-twentieth-century fascists such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, to postcolonial strongmen in Iraq, Libya, and Uganda, to modern autocrats who rode elections into office in Brazil, Hungary, the Philippines, Russia, Turkey, and, yes, the United States. It is disturbing how comfortably U.S. President Donald Trump fits into this lineup. From his dark inauguration speech to his wild attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, much of Trump’s behavior—including his inability to conceive of his own failure—makes perfect sense according to Ben-Ghiat’s authoritarian playbook. Her closing warning that “strongmen do not vanish with their exits from power, but . . . remain as traces within the body of their people” could not be more timely.