I really liked the writing style of this book, probably even more than the content. Nordlinger has a very casual way of communicating with the reader, and throws in some occasional (usually dark) humor as well.
His mission, as he lays out in the introduction, is to examine the children and grandchildren of 20 dictators that rule or ruled in the 19th and 20th centuries. He explains that many of these people are shrouded in mystery, so some of his research has holes, but overall, I found it very informative. He also draws some interesting conclusions from the information that he shares with us. For instance, Nordlinger concludes quite a few of the chapters on the various descendants of these dictators by discussing whether so-and-so “lived by lies”. This originates with Svetlana Alliluyeva, Stalin’s daughter who defected to the U.S. in 1967. She chose (for a while, at least) to live without venerating her father. Most of the children and grandchildren of this study do not follow her example — many become violent dictators and/or sociopaths themselves. Many others choose to continue the worship of their father or grandfather, and reap the rewards of other peoples’ worship of the same. For instance, General Mao Xinyu (a grandson of Mao Zedong) “spoke of his life and the reflected glory he enjoys.”
One thing that really surprised me about this book was how little I knew about these dictators. I mean, you learn about Hitler, Stalin & Mussolini in school. Castro. Mao. The Kims of North Korea are pretty hard to avoid. I read The Last King of Scotland, so I was familiar with Amin. And most of the Middle Eastern rulers I knew fairly well from school and the news. But some of these guys I’d never heard of: Hohxa, Ceausecu, Duvalier, Bokassa, Mengistu. I feel torn between wanting to read more about these terrifying men in order to edify myself, and wanting to avoid all retellings of their actions for the rest of my life.