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How To Feed A Dictator

Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot Through the Eyes of Their Cooks...

Witold Szablowski Antonia Lloyd-Jones



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02 July 2020
History; Politics & government
What was Pol Pot eating while two million Cambodians were dying of hunger? Did Idi Amin really eat human flesh? And why was Fidel Castro obsessed with one particular cow?

Traveling across four continents, from the ruins of Iraq to the savannahs of Kenya, Witold Szablowski tracked down the personal chefs of five dictators known for the oppression and massacre of their own citizens- Iraq's Saddam Hussein, Uganda's Idi Amin, Albania's Enver Hoxha, Cuba's Fidel Castro, and Cambodia's Pol Pot-and listened to their stories over sweet-and-sour soup, goat-meat pilaf, bottles of rum, and games of gin rummy. Dishy, deliciously readable, and dead serious, How to Feed a Dictator provides a knife's-edge view of what it was like to be behind the scenes at some of the turning points of the last century.
By:   Witold Szablowski
Translated by:   Antonia Lloyd-Jones
Imprint:   Penguin
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 197mm,  Width: 128mm,  Spine: 17mm
Weight:   218g
ISBN:   9780143129752
ISBN 10:   0143129759
Pages:   272
Publication Date:   02 July 2020
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Witold Szablowski is an award-winning Polish journalist and the author of Dancing Bears- True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny. At age twenty-five he became the youngest reporter at one of Poland's largest daily newspapers, where he covered international stories in countries including Cuba, South Africa, and Iceland, and won awards for his features on the problem of illegal immigrants flocking to the European Union and the 1943 massacre of Poles in Ukraine. His book about Turkey, The Assassin from Apricot City, won two awards and was nominated for Poland's most prestigious literary prize. Szablowski lives in Warsaw.

Reviews for How To Feed A Dictator: Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin, Enver Hoxha, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot Through the Eyes of Their Cooks

Fascinating . . . Moving . . . Reveal[s] the complicated web of feelings (and morals) involved in cooking for a despot . . . A chilling read. --The Washington Post Lively . . . Szablowski . . . devoted three years to tracking down and personally interviewing the cooks . . . [and] provide[s] historical context for the worlds in which these tyrants operated and makes sure we remember how evil they were, even as we read about their fondness for grilled cheese with honey or refusal to eat dried elephant meat. --The Wall Street Journal I loved the book because it hit my personal sweet spot--food and history. . . . I kept turning the pages . . . with the same gape-mouthed shock I got from reading The Orphan Master's Son. --Joel Stein, Air Mail Anecdotal and easy-going . . . Throughout, the chefs are rendered as compelling and complex characters. Szablowski's skill is to hang back from judgment . . . Like his compatriot, the literary non-fictioneer Kapuscinski . . . Szablowski lets his subjects speak for themselves . . . [offering] behind-the-scenes glimpses of hypocrisies, capriciousness and bullying . . . [and] posing . . . universal questions about collusion and responsibility. . . . Szablowski is a limpid and gently brilliant storyteller. --Financial Times A piquant food travelogue with dimensions that are both comic and Faulknerian, with court intrigue and betrayal so sudden that the book may as well have been titled In the Kitchen With Machiavelli . . . [The] moral ambiguity . . . is both the fascination and the horror of the book. . . . Chilling. --Bloomberg Fascinating. --Minneapolis Star Tribune Riveting, and utterly convincing . . . Viscerally transports us to an alien time, an alien place . . . The dictators are reanimated, transformed from creatures of mythology back into flesh and blood. . . . Exceptionally juicy. --The Sunday Telegraph Winning . . . Szablowski's dogged pursuit across continents was rewarded. . . . This book tells all that we know about the power of good suppers, whoever they are fed to. --The Spectator A very special book . . . We need a new word to describe the uncomfortable hunger one feels reading this book. --Maclean's Food and history buffs will find these firsthand accounts irresistible. . . . Throughout, Szablowski entertains with disturbing rumors, such as [Idi] Amin eating human flesh (whatever the case, his chef never cooked it for him), and strange obsessions ([Fidel] Castro preferred the milk from a single cow named Ubre Blanca, or white udder ). . . . These are the kinds of stories only a chef could know. --Publishers Weekly Its originality and topicality in a world increasingly governed by political strongmen [are] intriguing. . . . The author shares intimate historical insights into the meaning of life under dictatorship. --Kirkus Reviews Fascinating . . . A new perspective on horrible people . . . Interesting anecdotal revelations . . . The chefs' biographical narratives . . . present variations on the themes of rare opportunity, terrifying pressure, and lives permanently warped by proximity to power and cruelty. --Booklist A great book . . . Really a fascinating idea. It's kind of like Chicken Soup for the Soul, except with vicious, bloodthirsty dictators. --Stu Does America A quick read, but tense. I was surprised at how fast my pulse was going when reading. --Victoria Irwin, FangirlNation An interesting combination of politics and food . . . It hit the spot. --Reading Envy Unique and startling--an amazing book. Here's Abu Ali, describing the fish soup with tomatoes, almonds, and apricots that was Saddam Hussein's favorite. And here's Otonde Odera, reminiscing about the steak and kidney pie that won him a huge pay raise from Idi Amin. These accounts of killers at table, delivered in the cooks' own words and placed in historical context by Szablowski, are all the more hair-raising for Szablowski's matter-of-fact prose. He isn't writing about monsters, but monstrous human beings--and that's the scary part. --Laura Shapiro, author of What She Ate and Julia Child: A Life

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