The Benevolent Dictator by Tom Trott

The Benevolent Dictator is released on 1st July 2018



Ben Hollow has a deep desire to make the world a better place and from the age of ten dreamed that one day he would become Prime Minister. Like many who enter politics he had a utopian vision where doing the right thing would improve the lives of many.

“I would join a progressive party, promote third-way policies, and sweep to victory on a new wave of economic liberalism and social responsibility

However, having reached the end of university studies he becomes overwhelmed with self-doubt, wondering if he did, in fact, have anything significant to offer which would further his career in politics.

When Ben is asked to represent the university to debate ‘ideology is dead’ he meets Amal, his opponent, and this chance encounter sets Ben on a path he could never have anticipated.

As they become friends that evening in the union bar Ben learns that Amal’s destiny is enshrined in his role as Prince of Argolis. Amal does not have the freedom to embark on a career of his own choosing because his future is tied to his responsibilities in his home land.

Argolis is an Arab emirate with a population of a quarter of a million people run by Amal’s father, the King.. Amal has no desire to rule Argolis when his father dies – ‘my brother will be king, someday. I, thankfully, will not’ – but must still fulfil his duties as prince. Whereas Ben is desperate for a position of power which is far beyond his reach, Amal has power at his fingertips but does not want to rule as his father has ruled. He quotes Shelley:

Government is an evil; it is only the thoughtlessness and vices of men that make it a necessary evil. When all men are good and wise, government will of itself decay

When Amal’s brother is killed in a car accident, and the king’s health is in decline, it is evident that soon Amal will be king. Ben tells Amal this is his opportunity to change the way Argolis is governed and, not wishing to make these changes alone, Amal asks Ben to work alongside him as his advisor.  Ben accepts.

When the king dies shortly after Ben’s arrival the task of accompanying his friend to improve the lives of the people of Argolis begins. Although Amal, with the help of Ben, has the vision of transforming his country to work under a democracy he discovers it is no simple task. He finds he is not free to make decisions alone but must work with the men who had been advisors to his father: Daniel al Had, head of Government operations; General Othman, head of the army; Admiral of the fleet and Marshal of the air force. Trying to implement any change was going to be a challenge.

Ben and Amal soon find themselves far out of their depth, with serious threat to their lives, as their ambitions for democracy become evident.

Tom Trott has succeeded in taking a topical subject and weaving it into a very entertaining story.The struggle of the people, throughout history, has been a difficult one where blood is shed in order to gain freedom and democracy from dictatorship. Those in power will do all they can to hold on to it.

The opening chapter begins with Ben’s reflection on the story he is about to tell and encapsulates the essence of the book.

“I used to believe in democracy. I even, for a brief time which I now consider my childhood, believed in politics. Politics is about changing the world for the better, my father would tell me; ever the academic, never the politician. Politics is the art of the possible, is how Bismarck put it. When I say I do not believe in it, I mean it: it does not exist as a force in the world. Democracy and politics are just different ways of describing power; those who have it, and those who do not. Power is very real.”

It is a thought-provoking statement which leads one to reflect on the nature of democracy and who truly wields the power to bring about change. Can the ideology for a better world be achieved through governments or will it only come “when all men are good and wise” as predicted by Shelley? Can a better world only be achieved when each individual lets go of the desire for power and treats others with respect?

The Benevolent Dictator is a fast moving novella of about 150 pages and is a light and easy read. Ben and Amal are taken on a journey which – like so often in life – is not of their making but changes their perspective on live immeasurably.

The very nature of a novella makes it difficult to develop the characters fully and this is the only area where criticism could be aimed. Although Ben’s dry humour gives an insight into his character it would have been interesting to get better acquainted with both Ben and Amal to understand more of their emotions as the plot unfolds.

That said it was an enjoyable read.

Follow Tom Trott on Twitter: @tjtrott

Thank you Tom for the review copy.