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…”