Everything in excess: collections of mass destructors

Everything in excess: collections of mass destructors

Caroline Tiger

TYRANTS COLLECT money and power, but they also amass bric-a-brac like the rest of us. What, if anything, do their material leanings signify?

Possible motives for collecting abound: compulsion, competition, exhibitionism, desire for immortality and the need for experts’ approval. Peter York, a British journalist who studied dictators’ decor for his book Dictator Style, recognizes all of the above in his subjects. It’s basically a dictator’s job, he says, to take everything over-the-top.

Stephen Anderson, professor of neurology at the University of Iowa, has come closest to finding a biological basis for the yen to collect. In 2004 he showed that damage to an area of the prefrontal cortex can lead to hoarding–the pathological cousin of collecting. Anderson doubts that’s the case with the dictators. “Most people who have injuries to this part of the brain are not going to be successful,” he says, “even in a bad-guy way.” Still, he wouldn’t be surprised if the bad guys’ neural wiring were somehow amiss.

York has one more theory to add: the need for compensation. “Some of these people,” he says, “were really very short.”

THEY CAME, THEY CONQUERED,

THEY COLLECTED

Saddam Hussein Sci-fi fantasy paintings featuring menacing

dragons and barely-clad blondes.

Adolf Hitler Bavarian 18th century furniture. Munich

antique dealers were ordered to keep an

eye out for him.

Kim Jong II 20,000 videos (Daffy Duck cartoons,

Star Wars, Liz Taylor and Sean

Connery flicks)

Idi Amin Several racing cars and loads of old

film reels of I Love Lucy reruns and

Tom and Jerry cartoons

Joseph Stalin Westerns with Spencer Tracy, Clark

Gable and John Wayne. Stalin also

inherited Joseph Goebbels’s films.

COPYRIGHT 2006 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group