Saturday, September 5, 2009
Monsters: History's Most Evil Men and Women by Simon Sebag Montefiore
At first glance this roll-call of despicable people seems an odd project for a historian of Montefiore's standing, but it's a companion volume to his Heroes (2007). The preface takes a high-minded, lest-we-forget tone, but in presenting us with 101 mass murderers and serial killers Montefiore is really catering to our appalled fascination with evil. Wikipedia-style potted biographies are interspersed with idiosyncratic sidebars on loosely related subjects such as voodoo, kleptocracies, psychological profiling and, er, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Expect all the usual suspects - Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Torquemada, Vlad the Impaler, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin - the 20th century contributing by far the most nasties. Montefiore even brings us bang up to date with Mugabe, Saddam, Milosevic and Bin Laden. Some of the lesser-known monsters have wonderful names: Basil the Bulgar Slayer, Godfrey of Bouillon, Pedro the Cruel and Selim the Grim. It's grim stuff, sure enough, and if on a one-night stand you spot it on the bedside table, get out of there immediately.