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Six Dictators' Favorite Books

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Augusto Pinochet, the twentieth-century dictator who left his mark on modern Chile, also left behind an exquisite library of 50,000 volumes. “General Pinochet was rarely admired for his intellect,” as a story in today’s New York Times allows—he once confused Washington state with Washington, D.C.—and it may have been “an intense inferiority complex” that drove him to assemble his erudite collection. Still, the books offer some insight into the man. His laden shelves “contained almost no poetry or fiction, an exception being 'The Rigor of the Bugle,'" a novel about Chilean military life written in the nineteenth century by Arturo Givovich, ”according to the Times. Pinochet was more likely to pick up nonfiction works on Chilean history—the prison diaries of nineteenth-century politician Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, or the Marxist theories of philosopher Antonio Gramsci—or the life of Napoleon, his particular hero.

The literary tastes of dictators are a slightly sordid fascination. Do we hope to find a glimmer of humanity in the revelation that history’s coldest killers enjoyed verse, or are we comforted if their libraries—like Pinochet’s—were full of war? Either way, here are the favorite books of a few of our least favorite men.

Hitler loved Shakespeare

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He was fond of musing, “To be or not to be,” and “What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,” wrote Timothy Ryback, author of Hitler’s Private Library. Other favorites included The Last of the Mohicans and Don Quixote.

Stalin loved Mikhail Bulgakov

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Bulgakov, the Russian satirist and playwright, remains best known for his book The Master and Margarita, but Stalin allegedly preferred The White Guard, a 1925 novel about the fate of a Ukrainian family during the Russian Civil War.

Hugo Chávez loved Ezequiel Zamora

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A biography of this Venezuelan Federalist and soldier is said to have influenced Chávez. He was a young soldier when he found a copy of the book, along with the works of Lenin, Marx, and Mao, in a rusted car abandoned by socialist guerillas.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei loves Victor Hugo

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In 2004, the supreme leader of Iran told his country on state T.V.: “In my opinion Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’ is the best novel that has been written in history…This ‘Les Miserables’ is a book of sociology, a book of history, a book of criticism, a divine book, a book of love and feeling.”

Kim Jong Un loves … Hitler

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Last summer, the North Korean leader reportedly handed out copies of Mein Kampf to high-ranking officials. Some experts theorized that he was just trying to intimidate them.