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 handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

THE COMFORT BOOK

Bestselling author Haig offers a book’s worth of apothegms to serve as guides to issues ranging from disquietude to self-acceptance.

Like many collections of this sort—terse snippets of advice, from the everyday to the cosmic—some parts will hit home with surprising insight, some will feel like old hat, and others will come across as disposable or incomprehensible. Years ago, Haig experienced an extended period of suicidal depression, so he comes at many of these topics—pain, hope, self-worth, contentment—from a hard-won perspective. This makes some of the material worthy of a second look, even when it feels runic or contrary to experience. The author’s words are instigations, hopeful first steps toward illumination. Most chapters are only a few sentences long, the longest running for three pages. Much is left unsaid and left up to readers to dissect. On being lost, Haig recounts an episode with his father when they got turned around in a forest in France. His father said to him, “If we keep going in a straight line we’ll get out of here.” He was correct, a bit of wisdom Haig turned to during his depression when he focused on moving forward: “It is important to remember the bottom of the valley never has the clearest view. And that sometimes all you need to do in order to rise up again is to keep moving forward.” Many aphorisms sound right, if hardly groundbreaking—e.g., a quick route to happiness is making someone else happy; “No is a good word. It keeps you sane. In an age of overload, no is really yes. It is yes to having space you need to live”; “External events are neutral. They only gain positive or negative value the moment they enter our mind.” Haig’s fans may enjoy this one, but others should take a pass.

A handful of pearls amid a pile of empty oyster shells.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313666-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Life

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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