In Madmen of History, Donald D. Hook examines the lives of eighteen unbalanced, ruthless people who affected history. The book is divided into three sections, with six lives to each section. The first section, entitled “Despots,” describes dictators Ivan the Terrible, Pope Alexander VI, Maximilien de Robespierre, Benito Mussolini, Adolf Hitler, and Rafael Trujillo. The second section is entitled “Assassins” and profiles John Wilkes Booth, Charles Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz, Lee Harvey Oswald, Charlotte Corday, and Gavrilo Princip. The third section, entitled “Hangmen, Henchmen, and Mystics,” examines Adolf Eichmann, Grigory Rasputin, William Clarke Quantrill, Nat Turner, Yukio Mishima, and Tomás de Torquemada. Sadly, there is no bibliography, although the book is well researched. As an introduction to the seamy side of history for young adults, this book does an admirable job.
Hook jumps around in time and space, as it is obvious that the biographical sketches are not arranged chronologically except with the four assassins of American presidents. The most startling leap is from modern Japan (Mishima) to fifteenth century Spain (Torquemada). Certain profiles give a double perspective on historical events: Pope Alexander VI and Torquemada illuminate the fifteenth century Catholic church; Robespierre and Corday shed light on the French Revolution; Booth and Quantrill show the Civil War in a fresh perspective; and Hitler, Eichmann, and Mussolini delineate twentieth century European fascism clearly, while Trujillo demonstrates the U.S.-backed, Latin American variety.
The author states in his preface that he included Turner and Mishima to show that madness in history is not exclusive to the white race and Corday to show that such madness is not limited to men. Hook uses clinical and legal definitions of madness loosely, but his subjects are clearly unbalanced and egomaniacal. Some were religious fanatics, some were political fanatics, and some were devoted merely to power itself. Generally, they carried an ideal too far and were motivated by vindictiveness.