Madmen of History Critical Essays

Donald D. Hook


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

The six despots whose biographies constitute the opening section of Madmen of History were dedicated to one idea: power. They were willing to do anything to gain power and anything to keep it. Power is a great intoxicant, and in large enough doses it is poisonous to one’s sanity. Hook argues that this is especially the case with a certain personality type—the alienated loner with a morbid, sadistic streak. Usually, this type of person is destined to failure, but occasionally one crops up with a gift for public speaking, a superior cunning, or sheer brute energy and the incipient dictator emerges. Despots thrive on power, particularly on the power to kill, which is where the madness shows itself. Dictators are prone to paranoia; they see enemies where there are none and, having no moral code to curb them, create a murderous secret police and a spy network. They build up an army and use the same bullying tactics by which they gained power over their subjects and neighboring states. Eventually, they go too far, and then the course of events turns against them. Hook observes that despots typically die by violence or foul play.

The six biographical sketches that make up the “Assassins” section provide an interesting variation on the composite of the dictator type. According to Hook, the assassins, except for Corday, have exactly the same personality as the despots, but they have no talent whatever. They are alienated loners with a severely...

(The entire section is 565 words.)