Daniel Kalder picks five books that get inside the minds of dictators

Stalin’s claustrophobic life at the Kremlin, Mussolini’s failed campaign against Mickey Mouse, and how Jean-Paul Sartre became one of Mao’s ‘useful idiots’

Although Stalin was for decades the supreme leader of the largest country on Earth, he saw little of his empire, rarely venturing beyond the walls of the Kremlin. Instead, he experienced the USSR primarily as a series of texts that landed on his desk each day. In Stalin’s World: Dictating the Soviet Order, Sarah Davies and James Harris reconstruct his claustrophobic, insular reality through a close study of his archive, shining a spotlight on the daily business of running a massive totalitarian state. It paints a portrait of the dictator as monstrous, paper-shuffling super-bureaucrat.

RJB Bosworth takes a very different approach in Mussolini’s Italy. Via an astonishing accumulation of detail, he immerses the reader in a reconstruction of daily life under the fascist dictatorship. The results are ...