But as technology develops further and further it starts to swing the other way. It's much more difficult to control 20 million people who are on Twitter than if the country has just one central TV and radio station.

You said somewhere that people aren't "born" bad. How do you account for psychopaths?

I don't know. My guess is that there are people who are born psychopathic. Clearly someone's genetic nature is part of who they become.

For instance, something was fundamentally off with Stalin. He was a sadistic, vicious man. Stalin wanted to have dinner with people the night before he killed them. But to be a dictator, you don't have to be a psychopath.

Ultimately, someone like Pol Pot is the most mysterious and fascinating to me, because he was not a psychopath. There was no way.

People who met him before and after he left power found him to be incredibly nice, sweet and soft-spoken. A British camera crew interviewed Pol Pot late in his life. He had married and had a little child. It was [hard] to believe that he'd been the head of the Khmer Rouge, the most brutal regime in the world.

Are you concerned that you'll be accused of sympathizing with monsters?

They are not more or less human than anyone else. It was important to me to emphasize the smallness of their thoughts and concerns. A huge chunk of what they did was to blow themselves up into gods and dehumanize everybody else. So by rooting my characters in their own banal desires, I am doing the opposite of what they did to themselves and the world.

Humanizing someone is always an anti-dictatorial act.


If you go

Anton Piatigorsky will read from his short story collection at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Ivy Bookshop, 6080 Falls Road. Call 410-377-2966 or go to theivybookshop.com.

About the book

"The Iron Bridge" was published Sept., 14, 2012, by Goose Lane Editions. $11.40, 272 pages.