Boardman begins with Shih Huang-ti (first emperor of a unified China), packing in much early history and capsule answers to more questions than young readers will have occasion to ask; then he summarizes, in turn, the careers of seven other historical tyrants who shared a ruthless enjoyment of absolute power--in all, as Boardman describes them, there are five warriors, one demagogue (Hitler) and two ""cowards"" (Nero and Ivan the Terrible). Boardman has no particular pitch, reporting on lands conquered, populations slaughtered, and other matters as they apply, and assessment is largely a matter of separating the violent leaders in violent times from later tyrants who were worse than their times. Shih Huang-ti, we learn, was ""neither wholly good nor wholly bad""; Nero, though the ""most degenerate in his personal life"" was ""not all bad""; and ""Tameriane's terroristic methods seem worse than Attila's or Jenghiz Khan's [because] they were expected to be savages."" In a way, the book seems as gratuitous as the selection of subjects is arbitrary. Of course, we all know youngsters who need no rationale.