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Publisher's Summary

“Amazing stories.... Intimate portraits of how [these five ruthless leaders] were at home and at the table.” (Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday

Anthony Bourdain meets Kapuściński in this chilling look from within the kitchen at the appetites of five of the 20th century's most infamous dictators, by the acclaimed author of Dancing Bears.

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 Szabłowski 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 listenable, and dead serious, How to Feed a Dictator provides a knife’s-edge view of life under tyranny.

©2020 Witold Szablowski; Antonia Lloyd-Jones - translation (P)2020 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“Food and history buffs will find these firsthand accounts irresistible.... Throughout, Szabłowski 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)  

“Szabłowski writes in a simple, vivid style...with [a] fine sense of the comic and the absurd.” (Orlando Figes, The New York Review of Books

What listeners say about How to Feed a Dictator

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Masterpiece

Excellent idea, beautifully executed. I have enjoyed every word of this story. And, as a native Pole, living in the United States of America, I can appreciate such a very thorough translation.

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  • 05-01-20

Utterly Fascinating!

The most fascinating book I’ve read that should be required reading for international poly sci and international affairs. It is a work of daring and bold journalistic achievement. Szablowski obtained the oral testimonies of the chefs who served dictators and asked these culinarians the hard questions we’d all want to ask. The chef’s answers are a revelation of how to survive, and more importantly, how to manipulate, a tyrant. And the insights into the daily lives, the tastes and proclivities, of these evil men, their lavish generosities juxtaposed against their capricious cruelty, render these twentieth century tyrants more inscrutable ever. How could someone capable of such wanton cruelty have such a fondness for ice cream? But also, why shouldn’t he? Ice cream is delicious and a dictator is only human after all, just another animal with needs, wants, and a reward center.

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MMMM, food.

A great story combining cooking tidbits with mini bios. Cool stuff here. One of the narrators is one I've heard of, the others, no. Still, a great effort by all of them. 10/10.

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  • Adam O'Connor
  • 05-19-20

Cooks up a storm

This book is amazing. I’d read various bio’s on Pol Pot and Castro but the view from the kitchen provides the reader with a very different interpretation of the past. The structure of the book is sliced into sections which makes it accessible to all readers.

This will be the book I will be recommending to people this year.