Dictators and their doctors


Dalrymple in the British Medical Journal (subscription required):



There is something fascinating about the memoirs of the servants or confidants of great dictators. They allow us to see raw power close up, and to thrill to its horror. Personally, I can never resist a book with the title I Was X’s Y, where X was a dictator and Y was his maid, secretary, or chauffeur.


Doctors have written memoirs of dictators. Among the most famous, or infamous, are those of Dr Li Zhisui, The Private Life of Chairman Mao. When they were published there was a controversy as to how genuine they were, with both translator and publisher accused of spicing them up to attract sales. The author himself was accused of claiming a closer relationship than he really had with the Great Helmsman, whose insatiable sexual appetite and deficient personal hygiene, an unfortunate combination, he describes in horrifying detail.


Hitler’s doctor, Theodor Morell, kept a secret diary in which he recorded his master’s manifold symptoms and his unconventional treatment of them (he was known sarcastically as the chief Reich injection officer)­­­­­—treatment which is thought by many to have hastened Hitler’s physical deterioration. Once in US captivity, Morell himself claimed to have applied such treatment precisely for that end; but then he would, wouldn’t he?


Franco’s dentist, Julio Gonzalez Iglesias, wrote a memoir called Los Dientes de Franco (Franco’s Teeth), a dental biography of the Caudillo, in which we learn the effect Franco’s continual dental problems—he suffered greatly from toothache—had upon his temper and hence upon his decisions.

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