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I have a burning need to know stuff and I love asking awkward questions.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Just Finished Reading: The Myth of the Strong Leader – Political Leadership in the Modern Age by Archie Brown (FP: 2014)

Especially in difficult times we need a strong leader. One who can ‘get the job done’, override the criticism of weaker minds, stare down opposition at home and abroad and make the difficult life (or sometime epoch) changes decisions other weaker leaders simply don’t have the stomach for…. Right? Not so, says the author of this often fascinating book.

Looking at leadership across the globe in the last hundred years or so the author dissects the actions of leaders from democracies, authoritarian states, totalitarian regimes and those somewhere in between. Concentrating on four broad-brush themes – Redefining leadership, Transformational leadership, Revolutionary leadership and Authoritarian leadership – he shows how supposedly strong leaders, those who gathered ever increasing power and prestige to themselves believing that they, and only they, could ‘save the day’ repeatedly did more harm than good (most especially in foreign adventures) and ending up as colossal and sometimes catastrophic failures. The list of those examined is both impressive and honestly staggering:

Franklin D Roosevelt
Lyndon B Johnson
Ronald Reagan
Margaret Thatcher
Alex Salmond
Konrad Adenauer
Willy Brandt
Helmut Kohl
Frenando Henrique Cardoso
FW de Klerk
Charles De Gaulle
Adolfo Suarez
Mikhail Gorbachev
Deng Xiaoping
Nelson Mandela
Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk)
Ho Chi Minh
Pol Pot
Kim Il Sung
Fidel Castro
Mao Zedong
Neville Chamberlin
Anthony Eden
Tony Blair

…and that’s not an exhaustive list – just an exhausting one! The range of the book is very impressive as is the depth of discussion when required. Being that way inclined I did tend to get most from the British and European examples (most especially the Suez Crisis of 1956 and de Gaulle’s France – both of which I’ll be reading more about) but his discussions of the Russian Revolution, the fall of the Soviet Union and the troubled political history of China all kept my attention and those pages turning. Despite only running to just over 360 pages this was a very well argued narrative full of detailed examples and historical lessons. I did more than once wish that the publication date had post-dated rather than pre-dated the Age of Trump to see what the author made of him but I guess that will be covered in future editions. For those interested in the idea of political leadership this is definitely a must read. If, like me, you have developed a passion for political history and political biography (my latest and growing addiction) you’ll love this book. Highly recommended and needed now more than ever.


Mudpuddle said...

sounds good

Sarah @ All The Book Blog Names Are Taken said...

I may have to pick this one up. This will probably not be a surprise to you :)

CyberKitten said...

@ Mudpuddle: It was. As each month goes by I seem to be more and more interested in the detail and history of politics. I'm even starting to acquire a small collection of political biographies. Maybe I'm becoming mature [lol]

@ Sarah: I think you'd like it. Although he doesn't talk about Trump at all there is much discussion on various Presidents and the whole US political system - plus lots on other regimes too. I certainly learnt a great deal and want to find out more - which is the sign of a good book.

Sarah @ All The Book Blog Names Are Taken said...

I am very intrigued by how LBJ is discussed. I've added it to my TBR.