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Fire and Ashes: Success and Failure in Politics [Hardcover]

Michael Ignatieff
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

22 Nov 2013
In 2005 Michael Ignatieff left his life as a writer and professor at Harvard University to enter the combative world of politics back home in Canada. By 2008, he was leader of the country's Liberal Party and poised--should the governing Conservatives falter--to become Canada's next Prime Minister. It never happened. Today, after a bruising electoral defeat, Ignatieff is back where he started, writing and teaching what he learned. What did he take away from this crash course in political success and failure? Did a life of thinking about politics prepare him for the real thing? How did he handle it when his own history as a longtime expatriate became a major political issue? Are cynics right to despair about democratic politics? Are idealists right to hope? Ignatieff blends reflection and analysis to portray today's democratic politics as ruthless, unpredictable, unforgiving, and hyper-adversarial. Rough as it is, Ignatieff argues, democratic politics is a crucible for compromise, and many of the apparent vices of political life, from inconsistency to the fake smile, follow from the necessity of bridging differences in a pluralist society. A compelling account of modern politics as it really is, the book is also a celebration of the political life in all its wild, exuberant variety.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (22 Nov 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674725999
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674725997
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 14.6 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 34,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

This book is fantastic. The insights into the realities of democratic politics are not only subtle and intelligent but I believe they are of extraordinary importance to anyone trying to understand the possibilities of democracy and the modern life of politics. --Marc Stears, University Of Oxford

"This is a brave and mostly convincing case for the young to consider a life in democratic politics." --Chris Patten, The Tablet, November 2013

"The book is stylishly written, as one would expect of an author who is a novelist and journalist as well as a widely-published academic. The phenomenology of the experience, what it felt like to be there in the middle of things, is engagingly rendered" - Stefan Collini, Prospect. "

" Ignatieff's experience of rejection has left him feeling ambivalent in his attitude to the politician's trade. Yet, almost depstie himself, Igantieff does have something important to teach us. [...] Yet in Fire and Ashes he presents a defence of politics that cannot be ignored." --John Gray, The Independent, 15/11/13

"Igantieff has written an elegant, thoughtful, candid book explaining why he tried, and how he failed, to get to the top of the greasy pole. [...] A friend told him, 'at least I'd get a good book out of it'. And, like it or not, he has." --Peter Clarke, Financial Times, 23/11/13

"Long after the details of the 2011 Canadian election are forgotten, anyone interested in democratic politics will be reading this book. As both an access-all-areas insider s guide to the machinations of power and a powerful account of (and, just as fascinatingly, an example of) the weird psychology of ambition, it is a riveting read. It's also an honest book." --Caspar Melville, New Humanist, 1/11/13

"Igantieff has written an elegant, thoughtful, candid book explaining why he tried, and how he failed, to get to the top of the greasy pole. [...] A friend told him, 'at least I'd get a good book out of it'. And, like it or not, he has. --Peter Clarke, Financial Times, 23/11/13

"for a clear-eyed, sharply observed, mordant but ultimately hopeful account of contemporary politics this memoir is hard to beat." --David Runciman, The Guardian, 27 November 2013

"Igantieff has written an elegant, thoughtful, candid book explaining why he tried, and how he failed, to get to the top of the greasy pole. [...] A friend told him, 'at least I'd get a good book out of it'. And, like it or not, he has." --Peter Clarke, Financial Times, 23/11/13

"Fire and Ashes is a frank, tell-all account of Michael Ignatieff's brief career in Canadian national politics" --Lynn McDonald, Times Higher Education, 12/12/13

"Igantieff has written an elegant, thoughtful, candid book explaining why he tried, and how he failed, to get to the top of the greasy pole. [...] A friend told him, 'at least I'd get a good book out of it'. And, like it or not, he has." --Peter Clarke, Financial Times, 23/11/13

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The best books of political theory are written by people who have lost in politics - or never got started, despite trying - Michael Ignatieff writes as he records how he tried to cheer himself up after losing a general election in Canada as leader of the Liberal Party, and losing half his seats.

This book is his own contribution to the subject written in retirement from the fray. It succeeds in both telling a riveting story (for those of us who know almost nothing about Canadian politics, anyway) and offering interesting reflections at every stage along the way - on the role of luck (who knew how soon he'd be contesting a seat and then for leadership of his party when he first returned to Canada) on the nature of political discourse (and the importance of 'standing'), and the nature of politics (not much practised in Parliament, but very much elsewhere in the political system as everyday compromises are worked out) and the relation to the voter (in his view, they are judging who they can trust and who will be 'in it for them'). Also he explains why he lost - reading between the lines a little, it would seem that he misjudged his opportunities in 2009 making both tactical and strategic errors, and also misjudged his Conservative opponent (who behaved in ways Ignatieff would not think of behaving - and maybe that's why he lost). He also of course probably misjudged the electorate at large.

Despite it all, Ignatieff remains a believer in democratic politics - and also makes a strong case for the political life, even as practised in contemporary Canada.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
“Fire and Ashes”

Professor Ignatieff, a distinguished professor and idealist, wrote an extremely interesting and educating book which I can recommend without hesitation to any student of politics young or old.

The objective and honest description of his experiences of six years immersion into Canadian politics helps us all understand the advantages but also the disadvantages of the way modern democracy functions nowadays.

One of the many lessons to be drawn from his very interesting book is that we should all try to improve democracy by making sure that brutal aggressive advertising against persons and not policies not only should not be encouraged but if possible not even be permitted. I am very pleased that I had the opportunity to read it.

George Vassiliou
Former President of Cyprus
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5.0 out of 5 stars Searingly and refreshingly honest 7 May 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
I read this book while researching hubris in leaders. I think it's one of the best things ever written on the subject, and shows a very disarming sense of the author's own known limitations. Ignatieff writes brilliantly and I finished the whole book in a couple of sittings. His plea at the end is I think very timely; we need to have people continue to enter politics for the right reasons, and as an electorate to be less cynical or disappointed in those who take on democratic leadership roles. So far it's my book of the year. A pleasant antidote to other apologia you may read from less grounded pols.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A candid, honest, and extraordinary book 12 Feb 2014
By Eduardo A. Cruz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book should be mandatory reading for all those considering a career in politics. Or for those already in politics, but that need renewal.

Prof. Ignatieff recounts his successes, failures, and more importantly his learnings during five and a half years in the middle of politics at the highest level is HIS country Canada.

A great book worth reading more than once because it's reflections are very profound.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Canadian Candidate 12 Mar 2014
By Christian Schlect - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The self-told tale of a Canadian intellectual who journeyed north from Harvard, after a long stay in the United States, to run for elective office in his home country. His goal was not just to obtain just any parliamentary seat , but eventually to be the next Liberal Party prime minister. He failed, but learned a lot about practical politics and voters. This book is aimed at encouraging potential candidates for office in a democracy, especially liberal/progressives.

Mr. Ignatieff is a true believer in the value of big government and social programs. He finds one of the big ills now to be the amount of money now sloshing around national campaigns in Canada, let alone the United States. He is for rural development, against handguns, for the French-speaking minority, for roads, health care for all, against discrimination of about any kind, for higher taxes, for public financing of elections, etc.

I, personally, do not favor many of Mr. Ignatieff's political solutions, but I am particularly opposed to one: from p.133, "Libel laws should also be used to punish the worst [campaign] lies."

Just what is needed: more lawyers and judges involved with determining the fine boundaries of "appropriate" political speech.

Still all-in-all a good and well-written book for everyone--not merely Canadians and not only liberals-- with a keen interest in political campaigns and the practical realities of governance in a modern democracy.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So realistic, so true 22 Jun 2014
By Margarita Rosado - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
From social scientist to politician, a hard transit, as the author himself could taste. Ignatieff is not afraid to share, to show, his expectations to become the Canadian Premier in a scenario he admits only knew as an outsider. In the end, a true lesson of life learned the hard way. Is politics for dreamers? Is politics for non politicians? The books is so interesting and educational, the reader gets convinced this is Ignatieff's real vocation.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I had taught Machiavelli, but I had not understood him. 12 Mar 2014
By W. Jamison - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"I had taught Machiavelli, but I had not understood him."
I selected this book to read thinking it would be an academic treatment of politics and instead discovered what Wikipedia already knew, that it was an autobiographical account of his success and failure in politics. None the less the academic shines through as this is an excellent and thoughtful memoir of those experiences and certainly does teach a practical set of lessons regarding the importance of the political life and the trials that come with it. "The issue is how your opponents turn your "record" to their advantage." And by the way, his book on Isaiah Berlin: A Life is the best as are his interviews with him that are on Youtube.
5.0 out of 5 stars dumbed down political language 7 July 2014
By GeraldM - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
For an insight into the current state of democratic politics Ignatieff''s book is unrivalled. Already a public intellectual with many years experience Michael Ignatieff entered the bear pit of Canadian politics. He rose to become Leader of the Opposition in Canada's Parliament and describes in detail how the game is currently played. Big money, narrowly focused negative campaigning, dumbed down political language, issues and, in the end result, people.
Ignatieff opens our eyes to the way democratic politics are going and offers remarkably simple solutions for suggestions for improving the situation.
Fire and Ashes is written with clarity and style.
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