Meet a man who gave Hitler, Pol Pot, and Idi Amin a run for their money

James Palmer’s 2009 biography The Bloody White Baron traced the life of Nikolai Maximilian von Ungern-Sternberg—a psychotic Baltic aristocrat who became an officer in the czar’s army and, eventually, Mongolian khan. The book (just out in paperback) is unpredictable in all sorts of interesting ways.

Ungern-Sternberg was paranoid, messianic, and murderous on a scale that set the stage for Hitler, Stalin, and others to come. Oddly, only the experts know his name. Palmer—an English travel writer who lives in Beijing—knows a lot more than that, and he digs up a slough of grotesque but fascinating details. If you have a strong stomach and an appetite for off-road histories, this real-life horror show may be your cup of tea. If not, you’ll find that the baron’s name still makes for a memorable Google search.

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Meet a man who gave Hitler, Pol Pot, and Idi Amin a run for their money