Four day weekend. I would like to say I spent it reading, writing or doing something else productive. The truth is that I spent a lot of time goofing off, cursing at the TV during football, and goofing off. (Muse: You said "goofing off" twice.) So I did. Some days, it's fun to be a slug.
But I did re-read an old favorite of mine: The Most Evil Men and Women in History.
The book is a compilation of profiles and essays on the worst of the worst, baddest of the bad. Each of the essays is quick and easy to read, and is written in a wry tone that flows very well. The book covers a couple of Roman emperors (Caligula, Nero), a few British monarchs (Mary I and John I), some Russians (Ivan the Terrible, Rasputin), a handful of 20th century dictators (Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin) and others. Each chapter covers the person, their history, rise to power, and the terrible, terrible acts they inflicted. A lot of blood is spilled on these pages. Sadly, violence is a spectator sport and those who think otherwise have obviously never seen two mothers wrestling over the last copy of the season's hot toy at a Christmas sale.
There are some problems, too. For one, the information on the older historical figures is often hard to separate from the propaganda. There is a circle of thought out there that Caligula wasn't guilty of nearly as much brutality and deviancy as is laid at his feet – but was instead the target of well-run smear campaigns by subsequent emperors and historians. Ditto Elizabeth Bathory. Mary I and John I were brutal rulers but no more so than their contemporaries. Will we ever know the total truth on these folks? Probably not. And anyone looking for a wide coverage of global history, the focus is more Eurocentric, and essentially Western Europe-centered, at that.
Sadly, much of the above paragraph doesn't matter; if even half the shit these people did was true (and for the more modern folks, it's harder to dispute), there are enough acts of evil to give anyone the shivers. Humanity has infinite capacity for a rainbow of emotions – including, unfortunately, cruelty and inflicting pain. For me, knowing what has happened in real life puts most fictional evil in perspective. When you read about a cruel king who wants to wipe out the tribe of elves living in the forest, for no reason other than "just because" … you might think it's hard to believe. It really isn't.
There is an entire series (Most Evil Women, Most Evil Dictators, etc., etc.) out there. I've read a few; if you can pick 'em cheap, give an open-minded read. Overall, they are great light reading, to be taken as such. Enjoy!