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The Life and Death of Democracy [Kindle Edition]

John Keane
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

John Keane's The Life and Death of Democracy will inspire and shock its readers. Presenting the first grand history of democracy for well over a century, it poses along the way some tough and timely questions: can we really be sure that democracy had its origins in ancient Greece? How did democratic ideals and institutions come to have the shape they do today? Given all the recent fanfare about democracy promotion, why are many people now gripped by the feeling that a bad moon is rising over all the world's democracies? Do they indeed have a future? Or is perhaps democracy fated to melt away, along with our polar ice caps?
The work of one of Britain's leading political writers, this is no mere antiquarian history. Stylishly written, this superb book confronts its readers with an entirely fresh and irreverent look at the past, present and future of democracy. It unearths the beginnings of such precious institutions and ideals as government by public assembly, votes for women, the secret ballot, trial by jury and press freedom. It tracks the changing, hotly disputed meanings of democracy and describes quite a few of the extraordinary characters, many of them long forgotten, who dedicated their lives to building or defending democracy. And it explains why democracy is still potentially the best form of government on earth -- and why democracies everywhere are sleepwalking their way into deep trouble.

Product Description


`This is a remarkable book, 1,000 pages long and with something to be learnt from almost every one' --Observer

`In this comprehensive history, Keane looks at how democracy was born, its many incarnations and how it may perish' --The Times

About the Author

Born in southern Australia and educated at the Universities of Adelaide, Toronto and Cambridge, John Keane is Professor of Politics at the University of Sydney and at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB). In 1989 he founded the Centre for the Study of Democracy (CSD) in London. In recent years, he has held the Karl Deutsch Professorship in Berlin, co-directed a large-scale European Commission-funded project on the future of civil society and citizenship, and served as a Fellow of the London-based think tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). He recently held a Major Research Fellowship awarded by the Leverhulme Trust and is a Fellow of the Fudan Institute for Advanced Study in Social Sciences in Shanghai. During his many years of residence in Britain, The Times ranked him as one of the country's leading political thinkers and writers whose work has 'world-wide importance'. The Australian Broadcasting Commission recently described him as 'one of the great intellectual exports from Australia'. His current research interests include China and the future of global institutions; the twenty-first century enemies of democracy; fear and violence; public life, power and freedom of communication in the digital age; religion and the history of secularism; philosophies of language and history; the origins and future of representative government; and the history and politics of Islam. He wrote the timeline for the new Museum of Australian Democracy. A consultant to the United Nations and the Evolution of Global Values project at the University of Leiden and a recent member of the American-based Institutions of Democracy Commission, he recently published The Life and Death of Democracy - the first full-scale history of democracy for over a century and the subject of considerable media and scholarly attention around the world.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3434 KB
  • Print Length: 800 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (1 Jun. 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002RI9E1O
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #208,735 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible 21 Aug. 2011
This book is a stunning achievement. It almost equates to a history of the world. It is so well balanced and is not euro or USA centric. It challenges many of our prejudices and preconceptions surrounding history. It is a must read for anyone seeking to call themselves "educated".
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Vista of Democracy 16 July 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Democracy has its origins some three thousand years ago in the small settlements of Asia Minor, where `all' citizens (excluding of course slaves, women and often others!) would meet together in a public forum to discuss and decide matters of interest to the community. Since then it has undergone many transformations, by no means linear, to the form called `representative democracy', where all citizens have the right to periodically vote for representatives, who then make decisions on their behalf. This is probably what most western people understand by 'democracy'. But whatever one's definition, this monumental political history of democracy will undoubtedly have something to say about it, whether it be the parliamentary democracy of Britain, the corrupt party boss system in the 19th century United States of America, the military `peoples' dictatorships' of South America, the enfranchisement of women in the remote Pitcain Islands, or the relatively recent re-emergence of democratic regimes in Eastern Europe as a direct result of `people power'.

In a book of this length, there will necessarily be some parts that a reader will find more interesting than others. For me, the least interesting, even a bit boring (do we really need to know the derivation of so many words in obscure languages?), were the opening chapters on the earliest history of democracy. These seem largely written for the purpose of putting forward the author's theory, based on very limited evidence, that democracy really originated in the region of Syria-Mesopotamia rather than Greece, in particular Athens. Far better are the chapters that keep closer to an account of the facts.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER
This book is an interesting, illuminating and entertaining look at democracy. It's also a sizeable read: at just under 1000 pages. John Keane's purpose in writing this book was to examine and appraise democracy, to look at its origins, its history, its purpose and practice.

John Keane traces the roots of democracy to the Myceneans of the Bronze Age, about a thousand years before it appeared in 5th century BCE Athens. He argues that it first arose in the East (Iran, Iraq and Syria) but it was in Athens that a recognisably democratic polis was shaped. In this form of assembly democracy, the communal gathering place (the agora) was critical. It was where, over two centuries, self-government was practised until ended by repeated Macedonian invasions.

After assembly democracy, a form of representative democracy began to emerge in Europe during the tenth century CE.
`The first parliament was born of despair. In March 1188 - Alfonso IX convened the first cortes in Léon.'

By the 16th century, many people were still indifferent to the idea of democracy, and even by the 18th century, support for the notion of representative democracy was not widespread. Early European parliaments were often exploited by monarchs, or (in cities like Florence and Venice) dominated by oligarchs and plutocrats. The execution of Charles I in England in the early 17th century changed the political horizon immeasurably. Keane notes that the American revolutionaries warned against an `excess of democracy' and it was James Madison's talk of `refining the popular appointments by successive filtrations' that pushed the Founding Fathers to accept a lower house based on popular election.
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