Who was the most eccentric dictator you included in the book? What made him so eccentric?
Actually, it was a female who might take the title in the quirkiness championship. Anna of Russia was an artistic virtuoso when it came to devising fiendish schemes for punishing those who displeased her – forcing them to impersonate animals and imprisoning them in cages, for example. Where Anna had a mean streak, Turkish sultan Abdul Assiz was a study in unbridled paranoia, rigging his palace with booby-traps and hidden firearms deployed so that they would be triggered by would-be intruders. Then there was James I of Trinidad, who laid claim to a barren, guano-encrusted volcanic island, declared himself king, printed his own currency and hired an army of mercenaries to wage war against England in a sovereignty dispute.
Are there any dictators you included who you found were generally sympathetic figures? Or were they all fundamentally evil?
Maximilian of Mexico was a tragic figure who approached the office of leadership with sound intentions but did not accurately grasp the compass of the position into which he had been thrust. He was cut down by a firing squad still baffled that he wasn’t loved and appreciated by his constituency. Fellow Mexican dictator Santa Anna ruthlessly slaughtered the defenders of the Alamo, although he spared their wives and children. Was he fundamentally evil? Let’s say that the darker side of his nature had the upper hand. Was his fundamentally evil nature tempered by a modicum of compassion and decency? Perhaps…
Is there any difference between theocratic dictators and secular dictators?
Only in the differing colors of their respective hypocrisies…
What characteristics do dictators generally share?
The conviction that they are somehow qualified to “govern” others; that they are superior; that they are “chosen” or “elect”; the tendency to get drunk on power and the refusal to relinquish it; subscription to the notion that might makes right; the prerogative of standing above laws which apply only to others and which are designed to herd and control subjugated populations.
What is the most interesting anecdote or anecdotes you discovered while researching the book?
The case of the contemporary African dictator who acceded to power while in his twenties, was deposed, and currently lives with his mother, subsisting on welfare checks.