Madmen of History Critical Context - Essay

Donald D. Hook

Critical Context

Madmen of History is the sort of book that high-school students love and high-school librarians hate. Therefore, it is not readily available to young adults; if it were, it would be one of the most widely read books in the public school system. Hook shows his subjects as they really were in public and in private: He shows the modes of torture and execution that each preferred, indicates their sexual inclinations, reveals their relationship with their families and associates, and reconstructs their self-image.

The most frightening thing about this book is that Hook shows how easy it is for a paranoiac to seize power in a democracy in hard times. The country swiftly becomes a dictatorship, complete with a secret police, an active army, a spy network. Civil liberties are nullified. Human rights abuses become a permanent fixture of the land. Political murder becomes commonplace. Soon, the entire nation is in a paranoid frame of mind and remains so for many decades. Dictators are notoriously hard to overthrow or assassinate because they are paranoid and trust no one.

When reflecting on Madmen of History, however, it is important to note that Hook finds nothing attractive about being an egomaniacal bully with a cause. His subjects are all friendless and depraved. When one thinks of the care and love that it takes to make a decent human being and then of the small effort needed to end a life, one sees the madmen of history as truly repellent.