Non­fic­tion

Thugs: How His­to­ry’s Most Noto­ri­ous Despots Trans­formed the World Through Ter­ror, Tyran­ny and Mass Murder

Mic­ah D. Halpern
  • Review
By – December 12, 2011

Mic­ah D. Halpern is a his­to­ri­an and syn­di­cat­ed colum­nist who has appeared on TV and radio. He is also a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to this pub­li­ca­tion. It is there­fore not sur­pris­ing that this live­ly his­to­ry of the West­ern world as seen through the lives of some of its most mem­o­rable char­ac­ters is a fast and easy read. 

Halpern intro­duces us to fifty-four men and two women (Cleopa­tra and Imel­da Mar­cos) who have impact­ed his­to­ry as a result of their author­i­tar­i­an lead­er­ship style. He divides his book into five parts, each cov­er­ing a dif­fer­ent region: The Ancient Near East, Mod­ern Mid­dle East, West­ern Europe, East­ern Europe, and Asia. 

Among his ear­li­est thugs” are Ham­mura­bi, Ram­ses II, Pon­tius Pilate, Alexan­der the Great, Genghis Khan and, sur­pris­ing­ly, King David. In his race through his­to­ry, Halpern pro­files well-known über-tyrants” such as Sad­dam Hus­sein, Adolf Hitler, Josef Stal­in, and Pol Pot, as well as less­er known rulers who nonethe­less fit his def­i­n­i­tion. Among these are Alexan­der Lukashenko, the pres­i­dent of Belarus whom he describes as one of the most noto­ri­ous thugs alive” and Islom Kari­mov, the pres­i­dent of Uzbek­istan who likes to drop peo­ple into vats of water and boil them to death.” 

In his con­clu­sion, Halpern asks, How are we to respond to the thugs of the world?” He answers his own ques­tion, say­ing that even the most hor­rif­ic lead­ers have con­tributed to our lives and to our world” and illus­trates this, stat­ing that democ­ra­cy and free­dom are the nat­ur­al out­growth and response to an author­i­tar­i­an style of lead­er­ship.” Halpern notes that even the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca was cre­at­ed by throw­ing off…tyranny…”

Peter L. Roth­holz head­ed his own Man­hat­tan-based pub­lic rela­tions agency and taught at the Busi­ness and Lib­er­al Arts (BALA) pro­gram at Queens Col­lege. He lives in East Hamp­ton, NY and San­ta Mon­i­ca, CA and is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to Jew­ish publications.

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