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The brutal Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, whose military regime burned and banned many books, nevertheless amassed one of the largest and most valuable personal libraries in Latin America.
His personal collection numbers more than 50,000 volumes, most of them non-fiction, that have been housed over the decades in a number of the general’s homes, the Pinochet Foundation as well as at the Augusto Pinochet Ugarte Library at the military academy in Santiago.
Pinochet came to power in a bloody 1973 coup and ruled with an iron fist until 1990. After that, he spent several years as a "senator for life." He died in 2006 while under house arrest; despite various attempts to bring him to trial on human rights violations and illegal enrichment, he was never tried.
The book collection – still in the family's possession, but possibly subject to judicial seizure – mainly contains books of history, geography and Marxism, the ideology he sought to destroy, even instructing to seize and burn every Marxist book found on Chilean territory.
“This man hoarded these books for the same reason,” Juan Cristóbal Peña, author of the book "The Secret Literary Life of Augusto Pinochet," told the Chilean newspaper, La Nación, “Nazi editors and propagandists accumulated Jewish literature." He added, "I suppose it was to get to know the enemy and seize their knowledge to be able to fight it and exterminate it.”
According to Peña, Pinochet’s habit may have been the result of an inferiority complex.
Pinochet was never a prominent soldier, Peña told the Argentinean news service, Télam, and was constantly at odds with those above him. "His military career was a war fraught with difficulties," he said.
The literary treasures in the collection includes many works on the Napoleonic era and rare books from the Spanish colonial era.
Pinochet's favorite book, Peña found out, was “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu, about deception and conflict.
The late dictator's known wealth – which, including real estate, cars and several million dollars in bank accounts is estimated to be around $17.86 million – remains embargoed by the country. Although his family has always said his wealth was acquired honestly, through his military and government jobs, a study by the University of Chile found that his military salary couldn't account for all of it.
During Pinochet's rule thousands were jailed as suspected subversives, and Chile's government estimates 3,095 people were killed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.