A carefully researched and argued study of democracy as an evolving, and anciently rooted, means of political organization.

THE DECLINE AND RISE OF DEMOCRACY

A GLOBAL HISTORY FROM ANTIQUITY TO TODAY

The claims of exceptionalists to the contrary, democracy is not a Western invention—nor its definitive form of government.

The received wisdom, writes Stasavage, a professor of politics at NYU, is that the Greeks bequeathed both the word and the institution of democracy before it faded away, to be reborn more than a millennium after with the Magna Carta and the republics of medieval Italy. “One problem with this story,” he writes, “is that when Europeans began conquering peoples on other continents, they sometimes found that local people had political institutions that were more democratic than what they knew in their home countries.” The French missionaries who explored what is now Canada, for example, discovered that women had political rights in a system with a broad distribution of power. In much of Europe at the same time, writes the author, democracy flourished largely in places where local rulers were too weak to control the state—one gauge being the rulers’ knowledge of local economies and their subsequent failure to collect tax revenue based on good information. Autocratic governments, by contrast, tended to know about such things as gross domestic product, collecting significantly more revenue in the bargain. Along the way, Stasavage looks into such matters as whether a society marked by inequality is more inclined to autocracy than democracy, since “have-nots may…be more susceptible to the appeals of demagogues.” It’s a point well worth pondering. In the end, notes the author, democracy isn’t inevitable, but it is and has been so widespread among societies around the world that it appears to “come naturally to humans.” Modern democracy has evolved in complex ways, he adds, with the system of checks and balances being an example of a departure from the powers of the Athenians, eventually allowing the disenfranchised “a powerful argument for demanding the same rights as others.”

A carefully researched and argued study of democracy as an evolving, and anciently rooted, means of political organization.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-691-17746-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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