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The Myth of the Strong Leader
Cover of The Myth of the Strong Leader
The Myth of the Strong Leader
Political Leadership in the Modern Age
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From one of the world's preeminent political historians, a magisterial study of political leadership around the world from the advent of parliamentary democracy to the age of Obama


From one of the world's preeminent political historians, a magisterial study of political leadership around the world from the advent of parliamentary democracy to the age of Obama

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  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 10, 2014
    Oxford University emeritus politics professor Brown (Rise and Fall of Communism) offers a panoramic view of global leadership mixed with a survey of 20th-century political systems. Brown weighs individuals and governing styles in brief, densely packed studies of Franklin Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle, Josef Stalin, Fidel Castro, and others change-makers, examining Turkey and Atatürk, Russia and the Bolsheviks, and leaders in totalitarian regimes, including Adolph Hitler. While Brown’s beau ideal of the transformational leader is the Soviet Union’s Mikhail Gorbachev, he praises Nelson Mandela for the relatively peaceful transition from apartheid in South Africa, and Deng Xiaoping for decisive changes in Chinese communism. Rich in historical detail and insight, Brown’s volume reminds us that face-to-face meetings of world leaders were rare before 1945 and that Neville Chamberlain was the first prime minister to use an airplane in international diplomacy. British politics animate much of the book, with Brown expressing disdain for “strong leaders” with “foreign-policy illusions,” and pointing the finger at Chamberlain, Anthony Eden, and more recently, Tony Blair, whom he accuses of “Napoleonic ambitions.” Brown argues that no American president can be transformational and no president has been so since Abraham Lincoln, a proposition that many U.S. historians will contest. In addition, he sidesteps appraisal of Barack Obama on the premise it’s too early to tell, a caution that will leave some readers unfulfilled. Agent: George Lucas, Inkwell.

  • Kirkus

    March 15, 2014
    Brown (Emeritus, Politics/Oxford Univ.; The Rise and Fall of Communism, 2009, etc.) addresses an apparent paradox in attitudes about political leaders. While people are presumed to prefer strong leaders, the author contends that leaders who attempt to appear overtly strong are actually less effective than more self-effacing ones. By the "strong leader" of the title, Brown means leaders who seize the responsibility for decision-making in all spheres of government, without deferring to colleagues with greater expertise in their areas of responsibility. Such leaders are essential to some authoritarian regimes, such as the fascist states of the 1930s or the "cult of personality" communist states like Russia under Stalin or North Korea today, but they appear in democracies as well, usually with unfortunate results. Regardless of the form of government, Brown argues that while the man on the white horse may cut the most striking figure, he is more likely to make faulty decisions on his own than will someone who governs through persuasion and consensus. The author therefore deplores the tendency for presidents or premiers to take personal credit for achievements properly attributable to their party or government--he is particularly hard on Tony Blair in this regard--and of media to emphasize the influence of these leaders at the expense of other senior ministers. Accessible if somewhat dry in tone, this wide-ranging survey of regimes from the early 20th century to the present illuminates the author's thesis by contrasting the governing styles of a host of such leaders as Mao Zedong and Margaret Thatcher, on the one hand, with those of Deng Xiaoping and Clement Attlee on the other. Occasionally, it seems that Brown was torn between writing solely to press his point about effective leadership and producing a scholarly and thus more inclusive survey of political leadership styles and results regardless of their relevance to his overall theme. A sure-handed historical review with an engaging viewpoint.

    COPYRIGHT(2014) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Booklist

    February 15, 2014
    Oxford politics scholar Brown (The Rise and Fall of Communism, 2009) examines the nature of political leadership and challenges the notion that so-called strong leaders are the most effective. Even in a democracy, he suggests, we the people often prefer to hand executive power to charismatic, opinionated, sometimes even aggressive individuals, who dominate other policy-makers to achieve their agendas. But setting leaders above and apart from the ruling group as a whole makes leaders prone to vanity and self-deception and, in antagonizing other policy-makers, sets daunting obstacles in even the most driven leader's path. Such has been the case for many U.S. presidents whose ambitious agendas were ultimately thwarted by Congress or the Supreme Court. Those political leaders who are best able to effect dramatic change may be those who, like Mikhail Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping, understood the importance of collegiality and collaboration even as they transformed the systems that brought them to power. Reviewing and categorizing dozens of heads of state past and present, Brown raises important questions about the nature of leadership and the expectations we have for our leaders.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2014, American Library Association.)

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The Myth of the Strong Leader
The Myth of the Strong Leader
Political Leadership in the Modern Age
Archie Brown
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