This is dark, riveting book. Quite the most chilling story about the world’s Number One gangster is the recollection of a Kurd go-between, who was rushed in to see Saddam at the time of one particular crisis. He was blindfolded, strip-searched, hurried this way and that, and finally ended up in the real presence. Through the keyhole, then, to a glance at Saddam’s bedchamber: a small, stark room, not huge, not kitschy, but stacked from floor to ceiling with books about Stalin. It is, for Aburish, a crucial insight into the street kid who made it to become the pariah of the West. The cosh, the torture cell, the cunning, the endless paranoia, the organisation – these, Aburish implies, are the lessons Saddam has learnt from his master.
One cannot come away from reading this book without a certain respect for Saddam’s ability. His dark heart is ruled by a clever, opportunistic and well-ordered mind. More than any other biographer, Aburish underplays the wilder stories of thuggishness (the early assassinations, the dumping of his own vice-prime minister into