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Vladimir Putin began as an unruly little boy fighting older thugs in the courtyard of the housing complex where he grew up in post-war Leningrad. He soon became a hooligan and “hood,” just like the boys he fought with. The fearlessness and street smarts of the Leningrad tough are still in his blood.

Easily offended, personal and poltical slights upset Putin viscerally. “Snot” is his favourite derogatory metaphor when provoked. His ex-wife once called him a vampire. He said that anyone who could deal with her for three weeks deserved a national monument.

He is inspired by the writings of the Russian philosophers Ivan Ilyn, Vladimir Solovyov and Nikolai Berdyaev. They contend that Mother Russia has the spiritual and moral greatness necessary to become the global arbiter of good and evil and give the world back a virtuous direction.

When Ali Hosseini Khamenei decided to follow afters his father and become a religious scholar he began to stand out in the streets of Mashhad. The uniform of the cleric was cumbersome and made it difficult to play with the other kids. In an Iran ruled by a secular monarch, he was mocked mercilessly.

Khamenei grew up to be a revolutionary preacher who travelled around the country, smoked cigarettes and fought with intellectuals. He helped topple Shah Mohammad Reza’s Pahlavi dynasty. Jailed six times during the Revolution, he did his time reading poetry and cracking politically correct jokes with communists.

Today, Iran’s Supreme Leader burns with the conviction that Iran answers to no one and that his country’s cultural values are superior to those of the West.

Local villagers remember Xi Jinpingworking barefoot in the cold, from before dawn until well after sunset. Too tired to eat upon returning from work, the Beijing princeling would disappear to read or collapse into sleep. He endured this rhythm of labor and loneliness for seven years before returning to the capital.

China’s future president didn’t drink or experiment with drugs like those in his peer group. While they ran to romance, partying and Western literature to escape the memories of the Cultural Revolution, Xi studied. He developed a fascination for Buddhist mysticism. Thoughtful and cautious as he was, women found him boring.

His second wife, the famous Chinese folk singer who sang for martial law troops in Tiananmen Square right after the 1989 massacre, sparkles alongside him now on state visits. Xi has a Chinese Dream of a mystic destiny for country.

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