Compiling short biographies for history’s most evil men and women cannot be easy without resorting to continual use of synonyms for evil, vicious, cold-blooded etc. but Simon Sebag Montefiore succeeds in keeping focus on these horrible individuals in chronological order from the 9th century BC to now. “Monsters” includes dictators, tyrants, warlords, politicians, terrorists, and mass murderers from Jezebel to Osama bin Laden, and I find the short biographies concise and complete in terms of facts and context.
Please note that “Monsters” is popular history; there are no long discussions of the religious influences in the biography of Bloody Mary or ideological subcategories of Fascism in the biography of Mussolini and no footnotes discussing the attribution of the quotation “One death is a tragedy. One million deaths are just a statistic” to Stalin, but then again “Monsters” does not aspire to encompass any more than an introduction to these antiheros from nearly every continent and perhaps show the commonality between these individuals across time, geography, and many cultural, ethnic, religious, political differences. It seems that many charismatic, delusional or even insane individuals have a knack for attaining power and going to extremes to keep it. I believe that message will be one of the memorable ones for me: there is at times a thin line between revolutionary, new leadership aspiring change and evil, power-hungry megalomania without any consideration to the human or economic destruction left in its wake.
I would recommend “Monsters” to readers who are interesting in history and dare look a little closer at the sinister characters in history. Beware, the crimes in “Monsters” will make you question what a person is capable of and shutter by the answer it gives.