In the study of the monsters of the 20th Century, Mao Zedong largely escaped the detailed scholarship that examined Hitler and Stalin. This is a pity because in many ways he was much worse than either. Hitler, at least, was known to have been physically courageous as a young soldier in the First World War. Mao never risked his hide in any way. Stalin cared (somewhat) for his wives and children; Mao seem untroubled by what befell several of his wives and children.
At least Hitler and Stalin were well groomed – Mao never brushed his teeth and wasn’t known to have taken a bath or shower in his 27 years as the master of China. Hitler’s sex-life is a matter of considerable curiosity, but there doesn’t seem to have been much of it; Stalin’s sexual drives were normal enough and never mastered him. Mao was insatiable in his appetite for young women (what they thought of his hygiene is not recorded).
In a dictator, the man begets the monster; and Hitler and Stalin’s murderous legacies are well known but still seemed to have some slight limits. Mao knew none whatsoever. Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s superb biography Mao: The Unknown Story (Random House, New York 2005) details a man who seems more callous, more cruel, more manipulative, and far greedier than either of his two contemporaries. The book also lifts the lid off many aspects of his career: How Mao went through the Long March carried on a litter; how double agents engineered the collapse of the Nationalist Armies in 1947-48; or how his petty machinations against party rivals destroyed tens of thousands of his own troops needlessly.
This book should be essential reading for any student of 20th Century history.