Book Review: Grey Wolf: An Intimate Study Of A Dictator

Grey Wolf:  An Intimate Study Of A Dictator, by H.C. Armstrong

It seems remarkable to me that this book was published in Great Britain considering their strict libel laws.  I am not sure that the author meant to be as negative towards Kemal as he is, but this book is a very harsh and negative account of Kemal’s life story and one that likely would lead to some negative feelings about the way that it deals with Kemal’s personal life and discusses his political authoritarianism and so on.  If this is not a famous book on the level that some biographies of dictators are, it is largely because Kemal died before World War II and Turkey managed to keep its head down and avoid the negative press that similar dictators like Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco did because of the violence of their regimes just before and during the period of that brutal conflict.  Kemal’s brutal regime was overthrowing a corrupt monarchy in an area of the world that few people were paying attention to then or now, and so he was largely able to get away with his tactics without drawing the sort of reputation that sinks someone for decades.  Few people know about about him to view him all that negatively, and that is probably for the best.

This book is about 300 to 350 pages long and contains a discussion of Mustafa Kemal that not even his mother could love.  He is described as being cruel, bitter, lazy, drunk, licentious, bisexual, and a whole host of other things.  The author discusses his family’s impoverished background and his own political incompetence and his continual hostility towards Germans and other Europeans.  The author discusses his rise to fame in World War I thanks to his military genius and his opposition to the treaties being forced upon the Ottomans after their loss in World War I, exploiting Turkish nationalism to overthrow the Caliph and set up an authoritarian republic with himself as head, involving plenty of purges as well as a cautious desire to ensure that he did not move too far ahead of the people and the army to be overthrown himself.  The author spends a lot of time talking about Kemal’s sex life, which is unedifying and somewhat terrifying, given that the author insinuates that his adoption of children was viewed as being predatory in nature until it was seen that his adopted children were not sufficiently cute to be of interest to him.  The book as a whole comes off rather poorly in terms of its focus.

In reading this book I was greatly disturbed by the fact that beneath all of the gossipy details of Kemal’s life and behavior that fill these pages that as a man I could definitely relate to Kemal in many respects and I did not think that was meant by the author as a good thing.  A person of strong opinions, he found his political disfavor hindered his rise in the Ottoman army, and during his entire life he was a somewhat vindictive and harsh leader with strong authoritarian tendencies but a marked inability to get along well with authority as well as being an emotionally reserved person who was not particularly warm and with whom it was very difficult for others to be intimate.  This is not far from my own particular set of qualities and it certainly made me think less of this book than I would have thought otherwise had the author hit a bit further from the mark.  Given the author’s willingness to traduce the name of a dictator who does not appear to be a wholly different sort of person than many others are, it is hard to like this book even if it may be accurate in terms of its discussion of his life and conduct.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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