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How to Become a Tyrant review: A crash course on tyranny and villainy from the 20th century

Netflix’s docu-series is an excellent satirical playbook of one’s path to absolute power.

Ryan Gomez
Jul 19, 2021
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What’s it about:

The six-part docu-series focuses on dictators from the 20th century. Each episode focuses on one particular leader, with stories of their brutality told through a playbook narrated by Peter Dinklage. The playbook is a satire which can be used as a guide for anyone who wants to become a tyrannical dictator ruling over the masses through fear, oppression and by taking control of the truth. The first part titled ‘Seize Power’ is about Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in 1930s Germany, the second ‘Crush Your Rivals’ details the sheer brutality Saddam Hussain dealt upon his rivals. ‘Reign of Terror’ focuses on the Ugandan brute Idi Amin, the Soviet Union’s infamous Joseph Stalin features in ‘Control the Truth’, while Muammar Gaddafi of Libya is the centre of attention in ‘Create a New Society’, and last but not the least, the notorious Kim family of North Korea dominate the episode titled ‘Rule Forever’, for obvious reasons.

What’s hot:

When Peter DInklage aka Tyrion Lannister himself, narrates a docu-series about tyrants and rulers, it is a match made in heaven. Who better to tell a story about people’s lust for power turning them into mad rulers than someone who witnessed it first hand in Game of Thrones when Queen Daenerys Targaryen goes berserk and burns down a whole city along with its citizens. How to Become a Tyrant is more tragic in the sense that these are stories from real history and not fictional fantasy stories. Even the sheer scale and destruction these tyrants left in their wake, dwarfs the death and tragedy in Game of Thrones.

The show uses archival footage, interviews, as well as animated shorts to provide a gripping narrative about the world leaders who believed in absolute power or the divine right to rule, regardless of the cost that often included lives of innocents. Each episode is excellently paced which provides well documented historical facts with just the right amount of information that does not overwhelm the audiences. Peter Dinklage’s narration with a hint of humour acts as a much needed neutralizer for the horror and tragedy that is shown in the mini-series. The accounts from historians and researchers add a layer of authenticity to the production.

What’s not:

The choice of not giving individual episodes to some of the other more notorious dictators like Mao Zedong of China and Pol Pot of Cambodia has been a let down. Mao Zedong and the ‘Great Leap Forward’ was briefly mentioned but it most certainly warranted a full episode simply because how China has become a global superpower since then at the cost of reportedly 45 million lives. This could have been a thought provoking episode which would have critiqued the idea of the ‘strong man’ leader, and how deeply flawed it is - something which is relatable to contemporary politics across the globe.


The docu-series is most definitely a must for everyone, even those who lack interest in history. The reason being that understanding history is essential to stop civilizations from repeating the same mistakes by pushing authoritarians and populist leaders into the forefront.

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