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The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

Ryszard Kapuscinski , Neal Ascherson
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Jun 2006 Penguin Classics

The Penguin Modern Classics edition of Ryszard Kapuscinski's The Emperor is translated by William R. Brand and Katarzyna Mroczkowska-Brand, with an introduction by Neal Ascherton.

After the deposition of Haile Selassie in 1974, which ended the ancient rule of the Abyssinian monarchy, Ryszard Kapuscinski travelled to Ethiopia and sought out surviving courtiers to tell their stories. Here, their eloquent and ironic voices depict the lavish, corrupt world they had known - from the rituals, hierarchies and intrigues at court to the vagaries of a ruler who maintained absolute power over his impoverished people. They describe his inexorable downfall as the Ethiopian military approach, strange omens appear in the sky and courtiers vanish, until only the Emperor and his valet remain in the deserted palace, awaiting their fate. Dramatic and mesmerising, The Emperor is one of the great works of reportage and a haunting epitaph on the last moments of a dying regime.

Ryszard Kapuscinski (1932-2007) was born in Pinsk, now in Belarus. Kapuscinski was the pre-eminent writer among Polish reporters. His best-known book is a reportage-novel of the decline of Haile Selassie's anachronistic regime in Ethiopia - The Emperor, which has been translated into many languages. Shah of Shahs, about the last Shah of Iran, and Imperium, about the last days of the Soviet Union, have enjoyed similar success.

If you enjoyed The Emperor, you might like Norman Mailer's The Fight, also available in Penguin Modern Classics.

'Stunning ... a magical eloquence'

John Updike, New Yorker

'[The Emperor] transcends reportage, becoming a nightmare of power ... An unforgettable, fiercely comic, and finally compassionate book'

Salman Rushdie

'Kapuscinski trascends the limitations of journalism and writes with the narrative power of a Conrad or Kipling or Orwell'

Blake Morrison


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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (1 Jun 2006)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0141188030
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141188034
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 59,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

""[The Emperor]" transcends reportage, becoming a nightmare of power... An unforgettable, fiercely comic, and finally compassionate book."
--Salman Rushdie
"Kapuscinski transcends the limitations of journalism and writes with the narrative power of a Conrad or Kipling or Orwell."
--Blake Morrison
"A Stunning exhibit; the interviewed subjects. . .enunciate their memories of the days of Haile Selassie with a magical elegance that. . .achieves poetry and aphorism."
--John Updike, "The New Yorker"

About the Author

Born in Pinsk, now in Belarus, in 1932, Kapuscinski was the pre-eminent writer among Polish reporters. Kapuscinski's best-known book is just such a reportage-novel of the decline of Haile Selassie's anachronistic regime in Ethiopia - The Emperor, which has been translated into many languages. Shah of Shahs, about the last Shah of Iran, and Imperium, about the last days of the Soviet Union, have enjoyed similar success. He died in January 2007.

Neal Ascherson was born in Edinburgh in 1932, and has worked as a journalist all his life - mostly as a foreign correspondent in east-central Europe and in Africa. For some 12 years he was a columnist on The Observer and The Independent on Sunday. He wrote two books about Poland, and his recent works include Black Sea (1995) and Stone Voices (2002). Neal Ascherson lives in London and is married to the journalist and broadcaster Isabel Hilton.


Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
In the evenings I listened to those who had known the Emperor's court. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How good can it get? 28 Oct 2006
Format:Paperback
Kapuscinsky at his finest! As the world falls apart around Haille Selassie, Kapuscinsky documents his inexorable downfall. But, as always this is not just a documentary. This is colourful, flavoursome, deliciously ironic, bitterly sweet and, whilst inciting despair, drawing symapthy and anger at the same time. If there is one Kapuscinsky to read - make it this one.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A study in autocracy 10 Jan 2007
Format:Paperback
I have just finished reading this book - and I loved it.

I was given it as a Christmas gift; having added it to my Amazon wish list !

I first came across Ryszard Kapuscinski after reading "The Shadow of the Sun: My African Life", which I also loved. I like Kapuscinski's reportage style, but I am particularly gripped by his insight.

As for the actual book; I think that the mechanism that Kapuscinski uses for telling the story - vignettes from different individuals - is a great way of telling a story. The reader receives a variety of perspectives, which on their own may not tell the whole story, but collectively form a mossaic which gives far more detail than simple reportage could ever do.

By the end of the book, I felt that I had a pretty good impression of life in the court of Haile Selassie, but I also felt that I had a much clearer understanding of life in the court of any autocratic absolute monarch - such as King Charles I of England or the Kings Louis' of France.

Highly recommended !
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A snapshot of a society in the midst of collapse 27 July 2006
Format:Paperback
This is one of a number of amazing works of journalism by Ryszard Kapuscinski, who covered the Third World for the Polish Press Agency until 1981.

In typical Kapuscinski style, in 1974 he went to Ethiopia in the middle of a successful coup attempt to interview servants and associates of the soon-to-be-deposed Emperor Haile Selassie to discover how he ruled and why he was overthrown. The result is a wonderfully composed text that is practically dripping with irony, regret, and even humor.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kings of Kings live off the blood of the people 25 July 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Fantastic!!This was Kapuscinski's first book to be translated into English,and the second of his I read(the first was "Another Day Of Life").
It is a sequence of reminiscence-s of Haile Selasse's court,rendered by a bunch of flunkies,hangers-on and true believers,and they are amazing.When you read one of them arguing that periodic famine is good for Ethiopians,or another saying that education is bad because it's easy to go from the habit of reading to the habit of thinking,you are shaking your head in disbelief.
The second major theme in the book is the Red Terror(the fetasha)launched by the military committee(the Dergue)taking place as Kapuscinski is in Addis Ababa researching this book.His descriptions of crazed soldiers manning jeeps and roadblocks,searching everything and not being averse to opening fire on any real or imagined enemies,is a fantastic description of life under terror.
As you finish this,remember that Kapuscinski was a citizen of a Communist dicatorship in Poland.Is this book really about Ethiopia,or is it Kapuscinski writing about terror and dictatorship in general,a thinly disguised critique of Gierek's Poland?Some Poles I've spoken to about say the former,some the latter.Judge for yourself.
A fine piece of reportage,and well up to Kapuscinski's finest standards.Beware though-if this is the first of his books that you've read,you'll end up reading all of them.Start saving now!!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant and fascinating 19 Oct 2000
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This is a fascinating review of Haile Selassie's reign, told in their own words by people who were in his court. The stories include some really amazing insights into the regime, e.g. the guy who was the official pillow bearer and was responsible for carrying 54 different-thickness pillows (for different height chairs) around the world to place under Selassie's feet so his legs wouldn't dangle. Kapuscinski, by letting the narrators' stories stand as told to him, simultaneously creates a sense of documentary objectivity and of subjectivity in that the stories are personal accounts, and you end up not knowing what to believe. I have some Ethiopian friends who say that the book is full of lies, but raising that very question seems to be the author's point. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in history or, more generally, in the excesses of human existence.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Prince" in Ethiopia... 6 Jan 2011
By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Ryszard Kapuscinski has lead a remarkable life, much of it related in his autobiographical work, "Ebene." In part by inclination, in part by necessity, he saw so much more of Africa, in particular, than literally scores of Western journalists on 5-star hotel expense accounts. Coming from a country in what was once called the "Eastern bloc," Poland, his much more basic expense account did not provide a comfortable, air-conditioned bed each night, and the gossip at the bar. And he, as well as we are richer for that. Kapuscinski also managed to locate himself in the right place at the right time -- the "Holy Grail" of good journalists --and was able to report on the fall of the Shah in Iran, as well as the collapse of Portuguese rule in Angola in 1974. But the story of the reign and fall of the "King of Kings," Haile Selassie, in Ethiopia, also in 1974, is my favorite book.

A man with as many august titles as Haile Selassie might object to a reference as lowly as a mere The Prince (Penguin Classics) but I am referring Niccolo Machiavelli's classic work on rulers and their judicious, cynical use of power. For that is the essence of Kapuscinski's work, and I think it is a serious mistake, which some other reviewers made, to assume this is only about "totalitarian regimes."

Kapuscinski says that via a vital contact who used to work in the regime of Haile Selassie he was able to interview a number of his former functionaries who had survived the purge (and executions) after the revolution. Via these interviews, he reconstructs a telling, comic, and tragic portrait of palace life. The book's format is these interviews, along with the author's own words in italicized sections.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars If you want to learn read this
Very good read very informative now I want to know more about this man and his works in his life time.
Published 1 month ago by Zash
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor kindle editing
An interesting subject marred by inaccuracies in the text. The kindle edition has more errors in the text than those free books compiled by volunteers. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Em B
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent book by Kapuscinski
Wonderful overview of an autocratic system written in a very sharp style. Excellent buy and another example of Kapuscinski's genius.
Published 8 months ago by Anna Bednarska
4.0 out of 5 stars Ethiopia
As the only country in Africa that has never been colonised, Ryszard provides an interesting insight into its famous leader.
Published 9 months ago by Salli
5.0 out of 5 stars Top class reportage
Kapuscinski seems to love writing about the downfall of autocrats (see "Shah of Shahs" about the overthrow of the Shah of Iran) and he does it extremely well. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Mad Geographer
5.0 out of 5 stars Good story
Fascinating insight into a country broken by greed and arrogance. An illustration of dictatorship and theft at its very worst
Published 11 months ago by Georgina Enzer
5.0 out of 5 stars Death of Heile Selassie
I know Ethiopia very well and I found the details of H.S's last days in his palace very interesting. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Ian W Guthrie
5.0 out of 5 stars Not entirely another world...
In the introduction to "Travels with Herodotus", Kapuscjinski describes the act of reading in post-war Communist Poland - having to probe texts to find the second meaning of the... Read more
Published 17 months ago by I. A. INGRAM
5.0 out of 5 stars History as fable; power as theatre
There is much in the record of Ryszard Kapuscinski liable to raise an eyebrow. Questions regarding his journalistic integrity abound. Read more
Published 19 months ago by M. Wenzl
5.0 out of 5 stars The fall of another world
A fantastic insight into the world of Ethiopa and Haile Selassie, told by secret interviews with those that lived in and dwelt among his surreal court. Read more
Published on 18 Feb 2012 by C. Hawkins
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