This is the story of a humorless megalomaniac of scant education and limited intellect who brought his country to the brink of ruin because he was stupid enough to believe that his own preposterous personality cult was the literal truth. “A man like me,” Nicolae Ceausescu told his health minister in the 1970’s, “comes along only once every five hundred years.” Romanians will no doubt find such a thought comforting . Ceausescu and his shrewish, ignorant wife, especially in the later years of their reign, were like a blight on the land. Even though Romania is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, Romanians could not find enough food in the shops, their homes were poorly lit and poorly heated, and yet they were too fearful to protest because of the long reach of the security force, Securitate. In the midst of such misery, hack writers fell over themselves to find new superlatives to describe the “Danube of thought,” the “Genius of the Carpathians,”—this of an unimaginative philistine who appears never to have had an original thought.
Ceausescu’s last project before his ignominious overthrow and execution in December, was the destruction of large parts of Bucharest to make way for a huge and ugly “People’s Palace.” Surrounded by fawning sycophants, Ceausescu had become increasingly paranoid and out of touch with reality. How did it all happen? “Romanians have always looked for a strong father figure,” said a Ceausescu niece after his death. Perhaps in the future Romanians will be a little more careful in choosing one. Edward Behr’s account of the rise and fall of the pathetic couple is fast-paced and gripping, although organizationally it could have been improved and the many repetitions eliminated.