The new book, The Man Without a Face, by Masha Gessen is at least partially intended to humanize Russian leader Vladimir Putin in hopes that it will eliminate the power he appreciates by maintaining a fearful reputation (as is discussed in her interview on The Daily Show here).

Has a book ever been so incendiary, so revelatory that it resulted in the leader it criticized being removed from power?

I acknowledge that there are likely many factors contributing to the downfall of an oppressive leader-- what I am after here is an instance where a book can be cited among the causes of a leader being removed.

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    Kinda hard for a book to remove a dictator if the dictator has the power to censor the media and ban protests. – Opt Mar 2 '12 at 5:51
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    I'm pretty certain that the answer is "no" - books don't have that kind of power. They don't have the reach (even bestsellers are only read by a small percentage of the population) and they don't have the reputation of being objective (unlike newspapers). The real danger of books is that they can introduce new ideas in the population which is why dictators often ban certain books (as happened in Nazi Germany and USSR). – Wladimir Palant Mar 2 '12 at 8:57
  • @WladimirPalant: While neither the major nor only source of the French Revolution, books by authors such as Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau are credited as contributor factors to the fall of the monarchy during the Revolution. Of course, you can argue that they were failures since they were focusing on Louis XIV and not XVI... Let the flame war begin! -- or should I say the Guillotine war? – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Mar 2 '12 at 10:21
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    @Sardathrion: As I said, books can introduce new ideas - but attacking a single person is doomed to be a failure. – Wladimir Palant Mar 2 '12 at 10:44

I would relate your question to that of asking whether a hammer builds a house. The shortest most accurate answer is "no". A more nuanced answer requires some explanation however. A hammer doesn't build a house, just as a book has never produced societal change, because both lack two vital qualities: agency and uniqueness. The fact that both lack agency is obvious. Outside of say "Beauty and the Beast", hammers and books generally don't act without human intervention. Like previous posters have noted a book can be used as a tool to spread ideas as a hammer can be used to drive in nails and thus bring pieces of wood together.

The other point has not been noted, which is that a book is not necessary to produce societal change and a hammer is not necessary to build a house. In both cases the tools can make their respective jobs much easier, for example think of constructing a house by hammering nails with a shoe, yikes! On the other tack (PUN!), largely illiterate societies have produced movements without any assistance from no fancy book learnings, yet most of these movements only produce results (such as overthrowing dictators) by the direction of a literate minority. Such an observation would lead to Vladimir Lenin's theory of vanguardism.

Thus, no a book has never produced the impetus to overthrow a ruler, but like a hammer to building a house it would be very difficult to incite a popular overthrow of a dictator without using the guidance of ideas produced by books and pamphlets.


In Russia, I think Das Kapital probably has a reasonable claim

  • I think the OP probably meant a book that directly causes harm to a leader's reputation. Das Kapital is more of a book that advocated a different system of government and helped launch a revolution for that system in Russia. – Opt Mar 2 '12 at 3:49
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    Would The Communist Manifesto be more appropriate?... – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Mar 22 '12 at 10:15
  • @Sardathrion - yes – none Mar 23 '12 at 2:22
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    Actually, I'd argue against the CM. The government put in place by the folks who overthrew the Czar was a Republic (The February Revolution). The communists overthrew that (in The October Revolution), not the Czar. – T.E.D. Apr 11 '12 at 19:05

In most of Europe the publication of things in support of the Protestant Reformation would have removed the power of the pope from a country.


"Slavery" wasn't exactly a dictator. But Harriet Beecher Stowe's book "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is widely credited with helping to bring about the Civil War that ended slavery in the South. Even President Abraham Lincoln asked her "Are you the little lady that wrote the book that started this great war?"

  • However, as I argue above, no matter how powerful the emotional content or the level of insight it would be all for naught without the efforts of the abolitionists and the popular sentiment of the times (which was rapidly becoming more abolitionist). Had it been published say 25 or 50 years earlier there is a very good chance it would have very little impact. One could even argue that it is much less likely that Harriet Beecher Stowe would have been moved to write the book had she been born 25 to 50 years earlier. – BrotherJack Apr 4 '12 at 23:08
  • +1 Even though this arguably doesn't exactly match the question. It certainly had a lot to do with the violent overthrow of an entire way of life. – T.E.D. Apr 5 '12 at 3:16
  • I thought of it too. Even though slave owners wern't exactly political dictators, they were often far more tyrannical to their slaves than any dictator in history was to the general population, so contributing to the overthrow of thousands of dictatorial, tyrannical slave owners was a lot like contributing to the overthrow of thousands of petty dictators. So I upvoted. – MAGolding Nov 16 '18 at 19:22

From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp. It is available (PDF and audio book) free of charge from the Einstein Institute. A short description of the history of this book, From Dictatorship to Democracy, may be downloaded here. The books was written as a general non-violent manual to topple dictators.

The methods describe within the book have been used in "Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Slovenia, Madagascar, Mali, Bolivia, and the Philippines. Nonviolent resistance has furthered the movement toward democratization in Nepal, Zambia, South Korea, Chile, Argentina, Haiti, Brazil, Uruguay, Malawi, Thailand, Bulgaria, Hungary, Zaire, Nigeria, and various parts of the former Soviet Union (playing a significant role in the defeat of the August 1991 attempted hard-line coup d'etat)". It was used in many of the Arab Spring uprisings/revolutions as Arabic copies were circulated as described in those articles: Gene Sharp: Author of the nonviolent revolution rulebook and Gene Sharp: How to Start a Revolution are two articles that indicate that his work was used in Egypt during the Arab Spring. There is even a Al Jazeera talks with the quiet but influential scholar of non-violent struggle.

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    Please elaborate. – o0'. Mar 2 '12 at 9:15
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    @Lohoris: Sorry, I assumed that it would be well known enough but since this is an answer site, it should have more information on it than just a link ^_~ – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Mar 2 '12 at 9:26
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    -1 Not only false information, but falsification of reference. "It was originally published [...] in Bangkok, Thailand in 1993" so good luck with toppling dictators in Estonia, Latvia, etc. – kubanczyk Mar 4 '12 at 12:36
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    @quant_dev: Seriously? – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Mar 22 '12 at 7:24
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    Well, talking about Egypt... ok technically, and only on the more literal term, a dictator was ousted... but since it's still a dictatorship, ruled by those who already were in power before, I really wouldn't count that among the success stories. – o0'. Mar 22 '12 at 8:34

There's a fair debate that the release of some dispatches by Wikileaks was responsible for the ouster of Ben Ali in Tunisia.

I have to say "partially responsible" though. Obviously the Tunisian people did most of the heavy lifting. But it is said that one of the things that enabled them to even think about it was the revelation that the US, far from supporting the guy, actually looked upon him as somewhat of a corrupt buffoon.

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