The latter half of the twentieth century (and the beginning of the twenty-first) is marked by the rise of dictators in countries across the world. Right wing or left, beginning from good intentions or a mere hunger for power, these men rose to great heights and brought destruction on their homes. They didn’t always stop there but sometimes reached out to other parts of the world as well. These five books are an excellent start to see how the modern world has been shaped by dictators and what (if anything) can be done to stop others.


The New Rules of War: How America Can Win–Against Russia, China, and Other Threats
By Sean McFate
William Morrow Paperbacks, $17.99, 336 pages

As technology and society changes and grows, war will change and grow with it. To have any hope of success or even survival, we must understand and accept this. Sean McFate’s new book The New Rules of War looks at the past, present, and future of war in an attempt to combine the wisdom of the past with the realities of the present so we can be prepared for what is to come. As a veteran and professor of war studies, he’s well-versed in this subject, making for a compelling and masterful book.

From Russia with Blood: The Kremlin’s Ruthless Assassination Program and Vladimir Putin’s Secret War on the West
By Heidi Blake
Mulholland Books, $30.00, 336 pages

Anyone following the news from a few years ago will remember the deaths of former Russian dissidents and the attack on Sergei Skripal. As Heidi Blake shows in From Russia With Blood, however, what most of us remember from those days is only the tip of the iceberg. She takes us on a deep dive into not only what the assassinations meant for Putin but also what led to the lack of reaction from Western governments. Eye-opening and chilling, this book is a must-read for anyone who doesn’t want these events to be forgotten.

Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism
By Ariella Azoulay
Verso, $44.95, 656 pages

It isn’t only during their lifetimes that dictators and imperialists shape the world. In Potential History, by Ariella Azoulay, we can see how our modern lives are shaped by imperial violence in the past, from the midtwentieth century as far back as the start of the American colonies. This book isn’t only a history book, however. It’s also a call to action. Our world has been shaped, but it’s possible for us to reshape it into a better future for everyone. This isn’t only a possibility, though. It’s a duty.

How to Be a Dictator: The Cult of Personality in the Twentieth Century
By Frank Dikotter
Bloomsbury Publishing, $28.00, 304 pages

How does a dictator rule? How he (and it is almost invariably a he) comes to power can be shown time and time again in any history book, but once in power, a dictator must hold onto it. How to Be a Dictator, by Frank Dikötter, explores this question, showing how twentieth century dictators created a new style of leadership which informed the dictators of the twenty-first century. The book shows the various powers, hard and soft, which dictators must master to hold onto their power, forming not so much a how-to as a warning for what to look out for in leaders rising to power.

The Russian Job: The Forgotten Story of How America Saved the Soviet Union from Ruin
By Douglas Smith
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28.00, 320 pages

With the Cold War still in living memory, it seems impossible to imagine that the United States and the Soviet Union could have collaborated on anything at all. Douglas Smith’s The Russian Job brings up a forgotten period in history when this very thing happened. In 1921, Vladimir Lenin asked the American Relief Administration for help with a famine. Over two years, Americans saved millions of Russian lives in a story that reminds us that sometimes enemies can work together for a greater good.