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Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation
Conquest is murder and theft. Conquerors are vicious criminals. Vicious criminals become kings. Kings designed civilization. We are the products of civilization. Right wing populists increasingly draw attention around the globe, but the attention is misdirected. The real problem is not the authoritarian leader, but the blinkered supporters who unquestioningly follow him. Without them, the despot is irrelevant. Why do we attach ourselves to demagogues and mountebanks? Why do we defend even their most obvious hypocrisies and lies? The answer lies in the roots of civilization. Despite our romantic traditions, monarchs were never wise, just, nor generous. Even the briefest review of history shows that, without exception, kings were the most vicious psychopaths, narcissists, and sadists who ever lived. And the only path for survival in the ancient world required unquestioningly obeying— and blindly believing— anything the king said.
Joseph N. Abraham’s debut aims to answer a pressing question: “Why do we have a great capacity for logic within certain contexts but refuse to apply that capacity in other contexts?” Spurred by the dismissal of his scientific arguments by leading authorities, Abraham, an emergency room physician, has turned his training in “negative data” to the global history of conquest and monarchy, examining our tendency towards illogical thinking -- especially humanity’s historical bad habit of supporting the rule of authoritarian leaders. Abraham contends that everything we’ve been taught about history is flawed because historians and laymen alike have failed to recognize that civilization is built upon narcissism and psychopathy. He cites supporting examples as varied as Hercules, Aragorn, Al Capone, ancient Rome, Pol Pot, and contemporary corporations.

Lovers of pop history will find much to enjoy in this cultural history’s ten entertaining chapters. The connection he draws between ancient conquerors and modern mob bosses and corporations is fascinating, and his efforts at reading the past through modern psychology produce interesting insights. Professionally trained historians will be frustrated by his reliance on Whiggish periodization and sweeping generalizations, while readers of premodern literature and theology may wonder why those texts, detailing the horrors and pleasures of conquest, are absent from Abraham’s analysis.

Abraham anticipates some of these critiques, presenting them as further evidence for his argument precisely because it upends prevailing scholarship. In this way, Kings reads as much as an attempt to provoke discussion as to prove its thesis. Yet Abraham doesn’t simply put forth a historical account. His work is a call-to-arms urging readers to assert power over our political system to consign to the past the psychopathy that has shaped our culture. Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths is a concise, compelling, and challenging exploration of how humanity became what it is.

Takeaway: Abraham’s entertaining and informative debut will inspire readers to rethink why humanity embraces authoritarian leaders.

Great for fans of: Anne Applebaum’s Twilight of Democracy; Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: B+

'Discover Lafayette' Podcast

"...the relationships between well-known titans of U. S. corporations in the 1940’s and the Nazi regime are disturbing and provide a reason to rethink what [we] know about commerce and the economic benefits of war. The point made  by Dr. Abraham is that this is nothing out of the ordinary in authoritarian societies but reflects the patterns of behavior throughout history."

Los Angeles Review of Books

“Abraham reviews the historical precedent for accepting corruption and violence from our authorities. Why do we excuse an act, unforgivable if committed by an ordinary citizen, if executed or ordered by a leader?”

San Diego Jewish World

"In his must-read, can’t-put-it-down book Kings, Conquerors, Psychopaths: From Alexander to Hitler to the Corporation, Joseph N. Abraham provides a fresh take on these and other questions, backing it up with solid (often shocking) research that concludes we can’t just blame authoritarians but those who follow, obey, and emulate them. It is virtually in humanity’s genetics. He convincingly makes (and documents) the case that despite often romantic images, kings and conquerors were vicious criminals — and the fact the they were psychopaths, narcissists, and sadists became whitewashed, almost in a form of mass hypnosis. Much of what they did and actually were like somehow vanished from cultural perceptions over time."

The Death of Carthage

"If you are at all interested in politics and in the future of our country and, indeed, the future of mankind, this may be the most important book you will ever read."

The Moderate Voice Blog

"Some political observers and historians feel that authoritarianism, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, is making a comeback in the United States and in Europe after being discredited and (in part) defeated during World War II. The questions are always: how does that happen? Is it the strength of personalities, or ideologies that become unstoppable? Where did it start and can’t we be comforted by all the powerful kings and conquerors throughout history?"

'Kings, Conquerors' Garners International Book Awards

Winner: Current Events/Social Change
Finalist: Historical Nonfiction

Judges' comment:
“There’s no question about it: this is an unsavory subject, but an irresistible one. Abraham paints fascinating (if very dark) portraits of the worst of humanity, and tries to answer that most important of questions — why does society give power to despots and demagogues? If you liked Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test, you’ll want to read this book.”