The Infernal Library
On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy
Daniel Kalder; read by Chris Ciulla
The Infernal Library is a harrowing audiobook tour of “dictator literature” in the twentieth-century, featuring the soul-killing prose and poetry of Hitler, Mao, and many more, which shows how books have sometimes shaped the world for the worse.
Since the days of the Roman Empire dictators have written books. But in the twentieth-century despots enjoyed unprecedented print runs to (literally) captive audiences. The titans of the genre—Stalin, Mussolini, and Khomeini among them—produced theoretical works, spiritual manifestos, poetry, memoirs, and even the occasional romance novel and established a literary tradition of boundless tedium that continues to this day.
How did the production of literature become central to the running of regimes? What do these books reveal about the dictatorial soul? And how can books and literacy, most often viewed as inherently positive, cause immense and lasting harm? Putting daunting research to revelatory use, journalist Daniel Kalder asks and brilliantly answers these questions.
Marshalled upon the beleaguered shelves of The Infernal Library are the books and commissioned works of the century’s most notorious figures. Their words led to the deaths of millions. Their conviction in the significance of their own thoughts brooked no argument. It is perhaps no wonder then, as Kalder argues, that many dictators began their careers as writers.
Tradition and the Individual Tyrant
This is a book about dictator literature—that is to say, it is a book about the canon of works written by or attributed to dictators. As such, it is a book about some of the worst...