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Engineers of Human Souls

ebook / ISBN-13: 9780349128580

Price: £25

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Four writers. Four dictators. One world, changed out of all recognition. ENGINEERS OF HUMAN SOULS is an intimate and shocking shadow history of creative vanity in a time that turned writers – once the faithful servants of authority – into figures of political consequence.

Maurice Barrès, who first wielded the politics of identity. Gabriele D’Annunzio, whose poetry became a blueprint for fascism. Maxim Gorky, dramatist of the working class and Stalin’s cheerleader. The Maoist Ding Ling, whose stories exculpated the regime that kept her imprisoned.

All four nursed extravagant visions of the future, and believed they were vital to its realisation. Each was lured to the centre of political action. Each established a dangerous and damaging relationship with a notorious dictator. And when writers and rulers find a use for each other, the consequences can be shattering for us all. These stories – of courage and compromise, vanity and malevolence – speak urgently to the uncontrollable power of words.


[Ings is] the perfect guide to this peculiar selection of odd and ambitious writers ... there are brilliant novelistic flourishes throughout as he frantically blurs the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction ... There's enough material in the vignettes alone for about four different books. Instead, we get just this one wild ride
Ian Sansom, Spectator
An utterly thrilling and intellectually revelatory book. At a time when everything seems to be in freefall, and we are all trying to make sense of who we should be in a time of crisis, this is a stunningly wise book. If you read it, you'll learn about some of the deepest questions human beings can ask - and get closer to the answers
Johann Hari
A compelling new book by Simon Ings about the corrupting effect of power on literary talent
Thomas W. Hodgkinson, Spectator
Ings gives his readers a concise round-up of the intellectual ground in which the twentieth-century dictatorships took root. He has a talent for succinct statements so well turned that they immediately ring true ... His openings are arrestingly quirky. He cleverly leaves out the boring bits to offer the reader a staccato sequence of telling vignettes. His tone - by turns breezy and bitterly sardonic - is engaging ... Rather than plod through the welter of historical facts, he skips lightly from resonant incident to ringing quotation. His put-downs are trenchant, his asides witty, his exposition of political theory is clear and concise ... his book is enlightening and surprisingly entertaining
Lucy Hughes-Hallett, New Statesman