Book Review: The Dictators

By Richard Overy, 2004

Copyright © 2009 by Wil C. Fry. All Rights Reserved.

Published: 2009.11.10

Author: Richard Overy
Subject: Adolf Hitlerís Germany compared to and contrasted with Josef Stalinís Soviet Union
Genre: History / Nonfiction / Biography
Publisher: Konecky & Konecky

The Dictators is 849 pages of solid information and facts; fortunately, for the readerís sake, about 200 pages of that is bibliography, notes and index. The text is actually 651 pages, still a substantial read.

For those who love history, especially history surrounding World War II, this is a must-read. Since I was a child, Iíve been fascinated with the world situation leading up to and including the second World War, and especially these two dictatorships, and Iíve read dozens of books on the subject, including The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (William L. Shirer) and most of Winston Churchillís six volume series, The Second World War.

But none of those focused on both of World War IIís major dictators, Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin. This book does exactly that, comparing and contrasting each detail of their unique places in history. The author draws from thousands of historical documents, old Nazi and Soviet files, letters, interviews, court transcripts, diaries, speeches, and many other sources to compile this massive book.

Overy starts in a natural place, the rise to power, noting the many similarities of these two men and their paths to dictatorship, as well as their differences. He also notes the unique situation of both the German nation and the newly formed Soviet Union that allowed these men to rise to their places in history.

Also covered are the political and historical philosophies of Hitler and Stalin, and what they believed about the world and how it should be ruled, as well as how they maintained and tested the limits of their power.

ďThey were exceptional rulers, exerting a form of direct, customary authority based on widespread popular acclamation that was unique in the history of both countries, before or since; and the two dictators saw themselves as exceptional, called to perform a historic task in times of crisis.Ē

Overyís third chapter looks in-depth at perhaps the most important aspect of these dictatorships, the Cults of Personality that allowed them to gain and maintain control.

Other chapters include The Party State, States of Terror, Constructing Utopia, Commanding the Economy, Military Superpowers, Total War, Nations and Races, and Empire of the Camps.

Throughout this historical work, Overy constantly points at the nearly unbelievable number of people imprisoned and/or put to death under these two regimes, leading the reader through the abhorrent beginnings of the concentration and labor camps in both nations, to their natural and disgusting conclusions.

Though Overy does not insert his own opinions or draw moral or political conclusions in the text, it will be easy for the reader to do so. The stark facts behind all of this are that both leaders were elected by legal processes in their respective nations, and both were widely popular when they took power. In this sense, the story is a flat-out warning to peoples of todayís nations to maintain and fight for the freedoms that currently exist, because they can easily be wiped away when the wrong people come to power.

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