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The Scottish writer Daniel Kalder has set himself an unenviable task. Like Morgan Spurlock, the filmmaker who ate only McDonald's for a month to expose the hazards of fast food, Kalder consumed the least appealing of literary diets to reveal the inner workings of the "dictatorial soul." Despite its timeliness and potential, much of the writing is as "soul-killing" as that of the dictators under review. With indifference to language, politics, and history, the reader only encounters textual pedantry and bluster substituting as analysis.
Ava Koffman reviews The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy by Daniel Kalder.