"Talk of the Devil" by Riccardo Orizio is a journalist's quest to interview famous past dictators. The focus of the book is both on the subjects and on author's efforts to find them, and this detracts from the result.
The dictators (or their spouses) are an interesting assortment, but certainly not expansive. There are three from Africa (Idi Amin Dada, Mengistu Haile-Mariam and Jean-Bedel Bokassa), three from Europe (Wojciech Jaruzelski, Nexhimije Hoxha and Mira Markovic) and one from the Western Hemisphere (Jean-Claude Duvalier). The author omitted South American dictators from his sample, and no Asian or Arab dictators are sought or found.
My interest in ethics drew me to the book: I had hoped to find some concepts or ideas that drove these people to make such terrible choices. However, while Orizio is a fine journalist, his writing and interview style did not easily aid me in my goal. Generally, most denied they did anything unethical, called their accusors liars, and appeared unable to distinguish between their own fortunes and that of their countries.
The Africans in particular were very uneven: Dada was not sufficiently interviewed and Bokassa came across as clinically insane. Mariam claims to be a dedicated Marxist, but he also oddly admits to have shopped around for superpower allies after taking power. One almost gets the impression that, had the US been willing to assist him, he might have been a Capitalist. But neither the US nor Maoist China provided support, and Russia's Marxism-Leninism won him over by default.
Like the others, Haiti's Jean-Claude Duvalier appeared to seriously believe he was good for his nation, and beloved there still.
Orizio never really interviewed three European dictators. He interviewed the two wives (albeit strong-willed and perhaps powerful) and Poland's Jaruzelski. Of these, Jaruzelski clearly does not belong in this company (and probably does not belong in the book): of all of the persons interviewed, he is introspective and thoughtful. His lapdog-like devotion to the Soviet Union, even after that nation so brutalized him and his family, reminds one of a person suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.
And there is what the book lacks: footnotes, endnotes, an index, decent photographs, consistent organization, good historical information on the dictatorships and their horrors, and a better editor. But what the journalist needed most was probably a fixed set of good questions to ask each individual, and perhaps a psychologist sidekick to join in the travels.
While Orizio certainly crafted a readable book, he provides little new to help us understand what happened, and why.