The Emperor : Downfall of an Autocrat, Paperback

The Emperor : Downfall of an Autocrat Paperback

Part of the Penguin Modern Classics series

4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


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.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: African history
  • ISBN: 9780141188034



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Review by

Execllent expose on the decline and fall of an aging autocrat. Reportage at its very best

Review by

This is the first book by Polish foreign correspondent Kapuscinski of what would have been a trilogy of works about absolute power (Shah of Shahs was published in the 1980s; the third book about Idi Amin is unfinished).The Emperor recounts a series of interviews Kapuscinski conducted with members of Haile Selassie's Ethiopian court after its fall in 1974, interspersed with some observations from Kapuscinski. It provides a fascinating insight not only into the absurdities of the regime and the amazing levels of manipulation and misinformation that were required to keep it going, but also into the approaching downfall of the monarchy and the reaction/inaction of the emperor and his courtiers.I particularly enjoyed the details of the Emperor's daily routine - the early morning walks when ministers submitted reports to Selaisse while he fed his lions; the Hour of Assignments when he gave out promotions, prizes and demotions; the Hour of the Cashbox during which subjects would line up to put their case for money to the emperor.The cult of personality that reigned is also really interesting. The courtiers interviewed continued to call Selaisse 'His Merciful Highness', 'His Benevolent Majesty', 'His August Majesty' and many other extravagant titles after his downfall. The country's constitution stated that the emperor was a direct descendant of Solomon. There is a strong sense from those interviewed of shock that anyone could challenge the authority of a man who tried so hard to help his country.While this is a work of non-fiction, the extreme and ridiculous aspects of the regime mean that the story of Selaisse's court often reads like a satire of absolute rule.

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