How Democracies Die

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Review #41: Non-Fiction

Blogging for Books #13

How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky

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How Democracies Die is fast-paced and gripping, throwing history at you, analyzing current world governments, and contemplating the future state of world governments with an emphasis on America’s democracy at just the right speed to keep even non-political junkies hooked. It’s very easy to assume that this book is a Trump-bashing tome, but it’s an honest critique of current politics in America, with evidence from governments around the world through decades of struggle with democracy. And it’s a much shorter read than it looks (there’s an extensive Notes section that has successfully added dozens of books to my TBR, so thanks.)

Ziblatt and Levitsky give us just the facts, ma’am — and for anyone who is legitimately concerned about democracy, citizens’ involvement in government, the use of checks and balances, the US constitution — the facts point to democracy in America failing, and being increasingly jeopardized by a Donald Trump presidency. They build a very compelling case, one that does not place the weight of the destabilizing of America’s democracy squarely on Trump’s shoulders. Example after example of fluctuation governments in South America, in Europe, in Africa, etc., show how democracies have risen and fallen, and discuss the events that led up to those points.

What Ziblatt and Levitsky do is point out how each destabilizing event around the world can be related to something in past or recent American history. They pull no punches when calling out American politicians for straying from democratic behavior; they go back to Washington, discuss Lincoln, Nixon, and up through how Donald Trump was elected…and what could happen in the coming years if democratic norms are not restored. They weave an at once fascinating and terrifying story of the birth and weakening of America’s democracy, give us three possible outcomes of the Trump presidency, and thankfully leave us with optimism that there is still time to correct our path.

True believers in democracy will read How Democracies Die with a lump in their throat and finish it with a fire in their belly to make things right. Unfortunately, those who merely believe in their political party, regardless of how that party may be undermining the tenants of democracy, will probably write the book off as an attack on one party, one figure in particular, and may not get what they should out of this warning. Ziblatt and Levitsky have raised the alarm, and we would all do well to respond to it.

5 out of 5 stars

*I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

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Revolution

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Review #20: Non-fiction

Revolution by Russell Brand

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Russell Brand has clearly been making some waves lately with his involvement in the discussion of inequality in the world and his call for non-violent revolution.

This book puts everything that you think you know about the staggering wealth and political power inequality in the world alongside things you probably don’t know or choose not to see all in one place and the outcome is a reality that you cannot ignore.

He writes passionately, honestly, and intelligently about so many problems with equality in the world that when reading you cannot help but get swept up in and feel like you’re having a deep and meaningful conversation with a friend. Everything he says drips with truth and in many places it was physically painful to realize just how bad things have gotten. Brand focuses mostly on the government and wealth and power inequality in the UK and US, while pointing to the policies of other countries that have more inclusive and, by definition, real democracies. He shows us that inequality doesn’t have to be the norm, that as a collective the disenfranchised can do something about it, and that policies that are more inclusive and representative are possible.

The best part of this book is that it is so very obviously Russell Brand. He doesn’t censor himself at all (read: there will be profanity and crude jokes). He speaks his mind, he stays true to himself and his views and beliefs, and doesn’t sugarcoat or hold back. He calls it like he sees it, and it is unbelievably refreshing to read such an honest account of the world today from someone so influential, intelligent, and passionate as Brand is.

The downside to this book is his use of personal spirituality throughout. His wonderfully honest account of how he found his faith and followed his beliefs to where he is now and the work he’s doing now is great; he holds nothing back here either (you’d know a lot of this already if you’ve read either of his Booky Wooks) which, again, is refreshing. However, I don’t know if it really had a place to be so prominent throughout the book. It’s great to see that he is so passionate about his faith and his beliefs and that he uses his religious and spiritual life to guide him in his work toward this Revolution, but I have a feeling a lot of readers of this book may not feel that way. I was able to see his religion as his driving force and be happy that it works for him while also agreeing with his views on the world and the state of equality and wealth and power. That doesn’t mean everyone will, and I worry that highlighting his religious beliefs may turn people away from the truly important and, well, revolutionary material in this book.

Overall, Brand’s writing is exceptionally engaging and has a way of drawing you in and forcing you to think. I put the book down several times just to let the last passage that I read sink in. I laughed out loud throughout. Revolution is beautifully researched and brilliantly presented. If you read this with an open mind and an honest desire to know the true state of wealth, power, and political inequality, you will not be disappointed with this book. It’s also very refreshing to know that all proceeds are going to creating non-profit social enterprises. I encourage anyone who may be turned off by the religious and spiritual aspects to take it with a grain of salt; just because he uses his faith as the basis for why he believes in the connectivity of humanity and working toward a more equal world doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

*Cover art from Amazon.com