Foreign Affairs managing editor Tepperman (co-editor: Iran and the Bomb: Solving the Persian Puzzle, 2012, etc.) offers a stirring account of the achievements of risk-taking political leaders.
Based on more than 100 interviews and the author’s deep understanding of international affairs, this welcome book makes “a data-driven case for optimism at a moment of gathering darkness” by exploring how leaders in nations from Brazil and Canada to South Korea and Indonesia have successfully tackled major world problems, including inequality, immigration, corruption, civil war, Islamic extremism, and others. What’s remarkable is Tepperman’s ability to identify and tell the complex stories of places where realistic, pragmatic, and determined leadership at the top has triumphed over staggering challenges. In Rwanda, where 1 million people died in civil warfare between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority, President Paul Kagame used local community tribunals to foster reconciliation based on compromise. In Mexico, President Enrique Peña Nieto convinced three warring political parties to overcome their differences and govern again. In Singapore, former Prime Minister Harry Lee created good-governance initiatives to battle serious corruption, including a tool kit to detect wrongdoing. Perhaps most fascinating is the market-friendly cash-transfer program begun under former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, which brought some 40 million people into the middle class between 2003 and 2011. Least expected among “nations” overcoming political gridlock is New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg circumvented post–9/11 federal inertia and built a formidable intelligence and counterterrorism apparatus. In each instance, writes the author, government leaders ranging from repressive rulers to liberal democrats embraced crisis as an opportunity for action. Aiming for less than perfection, they expected to make mistakes, gave no faction everything it wanted, and succeeded. While recognizing the unique aspects of each nation’s experience, Tepperman finds lessons that can serve as templates elsewhere. Many readers will be astonished to realize that these success stories—all rendered at length in polished prose—have been lurking amid excessive doom-and-gloom headlines.
An important and unusually engrossing book that merits wide attention.