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The sinister character ­Salazar Slytherin, of Harry Potter fame, was named after Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, prime minister of Portugal from 1932 to 1968, whom J. K. Rowling had learned to revile during her two years living in Porto in the early nineties. By contrast, the American diplomat Dean Acheson considered Salazar the closest thing the twentieth century had to a philosopher-king. “A libertarian may properly disapprove of Dr. Salazar,” Acheson wrote, “but I doubt whether Plato would.”

Which view is correct? It has been hard for English-speakers to come to an informed conclusion, due to the scarcity of books about the man. Now at last comes a scholarly ­biography of enticing readability from Tom ­Gallagher, professor emeritus of politics at the University of Bradford. ­Gallagher portrays Salazar as a dictator but not a fascist, a Catholic but not a theocrat, a man who possessed all the virtues of a gentleman and almost, but not quite, all those of a statesman.

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