I recently visited a used bookstore on the square in Bloomington. Their Africa section was rather small, but I did manage to find The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuscinski - a short, 160-page account of Emperor Haile Selassie's final years as Emperor of Ethiopia. I must say, this was a fascinating book that I managed to read in just a few hours. 

The famous Polish journalist, Kapuscinski, visited Ethiopia during the revolution. He managed to locate and interview many of the former palace staff members. His goal was to find out how the Emperor ruled, and why he eventually fell from power. To keep identities anonymous, each section is simply labeled with the initials of the person giving their particular account of events. The book opens as follows:

"It was a small dog," recalls an anonymous functionary, "a Japanese breed. His name was Lulu. He was allowed to sleep in the Emperor's great bed. During various ceremonies, he would run away from the Emperor's lap and pee on dignitaries' shoes. The august gentlemen were not allowed to flinch or make the slightest gesture when they felt their feet getting wet. I had to walk among the dignitaries and wipe the urine from their shoes with a satin cloth. This was my job for ten years."

Some have compared The Emperor to Machiavelli's The Prince and Orwell's 1984 with its detailed description of how power gets hoarded and abused. Split into three sections: "The Throne," "It's Coming, It's Coming," and "The Collapse," this book paints a clear picture of palace life during a stressful and extremely dangerous era.


Photo of Emperor Haile Selassie in his study at the palace.
Emperor Selassie (left) with one of his pet lions. 

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