Corruptible by Brian Klaas, review: inside the minds of petty psychopaths

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In similar fashion, corruption in Third World governments isn’t always down to a leader’s personal venality, but the expectations of their particular ethnic group that it is their “turn to eat”. A president who fights that expectation may get plaudits from the World Bank, but will alienate their own base.

The closest Klaas gets to meeting a real dictator is interviewing Marie-France Bokassa, one of the 57 children of emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who ruled the Central African Republic from 1966 to 1979. A tyrant from central casting, Bokassa fed his enemies to crocodiles, and was said to eat their bodies himself. His daughter says Dad was nice at times, but “authoritarian” and quick-tempered. Surely that’s true of nearly every old-school patriarch. Besides, don’t our rulers need some inner steel? When Jeremy Corbyn prevaricated on Question Time over whether he would ever press the nuclear button, he was heckled.

Klaas does concede certain limitations in this book. Too much psychological research, he says, is based on studies done on posh Ivy League psychology undergrads, who are hardly representative of the wider world, let alone tyrants. But that doesn’t stop him quoting such research – and studies involving other species. In 300 pages, I come across references to lemurs, springboks, macaques who’d been fed cocaine, and, of course meerkats (is there a single meerkat pack that doesn’t have a team of Harvard psychologists analysing them?).

Still, Klaas writes entertainingly, and while this book may not be the last word on how to stop future Putins (or Trumps), it’s a fun guide to the darker recesses of the political mind. And, no, he hasn’t bribed me to say that…


Corruptible by Brian Klaas is published by John Murray at £20. To order your copy for £16.99 call 0844 871 1514 or visit the Telegraph Bookshop

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