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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; New edition edition (1 Sept. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300084552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300084559
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 12.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 55,428 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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During the last half of the twentieth century the world witnessed an extraordinary and unprecedented political change. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 4 Aug. 1999
Format: Hardcover
Tremendous breadth and perspective on the major political dilemmas of our time from a wise scholar of the academy and citizen of the world. Everyone from experts to laypersons can enjoy, understand, and gain from Dahl's insights and characterizations regarding the fundamental political dilemmas of our time. Rarely, does such a combination of scholarly erudition and simple prose ever come along. I am greatful to Robert Dahl for contributing and elevating political discourse here and around the world with this book. Please read it if you are remotely interested in the politics of any country and the politics of the world. You can probably read it in one long sitting.
On another level, this book will forever remain the textual staple of the "Introduction to Comparative Government Courses" I teach.
This review does not mean that I agree with Dahl on all his positions it just means that I think his book is important.
This book is a provocative, informative, prudent, understated, and insightful explanation of the world's post-Soviet political era. (In this respect, Dahl's book is much better than Francis Fukuyama's ridiculously overstated, criminially impractical, triumphantly-and-arrogantly-toned treatise on "the end of the history." And guess what? Dahl's book is much shorter.)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Alexander Sokol on 17 Aug. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dahl sets out in his book to provide a guide to democracy - to expound its nature, to argue its superiority and to examine the necessary criteria for its survival. At the same time, it appears that he very much would like to make his work accessible to a broad public. However, his endeavours to make his arguments comprehensible to all also makes his argumentation somewhat superficial and lacking in academic depth.

The superiority of democracy to other forms of government is the subject of several chapters and is a theme throughout the book. However, to a very large degree, Dahl simply states this as a fact, as for example in chapter three, where he lists ten desirable consequences of democracy, implicitly and without satisfying references claiming that democracy implies these consequences better than any other form of government.

This type of argumentation is generally present to some degree throughout the book. While it ensures that the book is easy to read, it severely detracts from the depth of his arguments and makes him very much less convincing.

Dahls book may be recommended as a general first introduction to the nature of democracy, but is in general not academic enough to provide a robust defense of democracy as the premier type of government, which ultimately makes the book somewhat disappointing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By H'Angus on 28 Aug. 2013
Format: Paperback
This is a fabulous book - and I'd recommend it in audiobook form, available elsewhere...

As an undergrad student, dangerously unenthused by prose styles typical of my comparative politics module, this book, albeit in audibook form, actually inspired in me a love for the key foundational subjects of the discipline, namely democracy and democratisation.

It provides a history of democracy, and Dahl's arguments on the key social institutions both sufficient and necessary for liberal democracy to thrive, and compares different countries' experiences. It also explores in very brief form some of the relationships between liberal democracy and capitalism.

The style is of providing bulleted lists, and then expanding the points within them. The more abstract theory, of which there is only a little, is isolated in little friendly sections called "words about words".

Dahl seems to be widely respected both as a political scientist and political philosopher (anecdotally - I have readings of his on my list from both philosophy and pol sci departments); he's the daddy in this field, and seemingly one of the fathers of the discipline of comparative political science. So it's quite a treat to find that he's written a book written in plain language targeted at the layman and beginning student in the field.

I enjoyed his presentation of the subject enough to a) really care about his subject, b) raise my assessment average in my module overall by an obscene amount, and c) understand how seemingly disparate pol sci subjects linked together. The arguments he presents can provide bones and meat for many, many kinds of international or comparative politics essays with a democracy element. It also provides a model for putting across complex subjects in accessible and appealing language. Thank you RD.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 8 Mar. 1999
Format: Hardcover
Simple and clean; a great review after years away from school. A great start for that child who has a paper due for school. This essay left me curious and wanting to learn more about the different forms of democracy used around the world. If there is one drawback, it is that some of the best further reading suggestions are no longer available in print, or were not published in the U. S.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 17 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Great Place To Begin A Study of Democracy 22 May 2004
By Andrew Rock - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I read this as a precursor to reading other works regarding the challenges facing democracies. Dahl's book is written for the general reader, the beginner, someone unfamiliar with the subject, or a student who has been away from the subject for a while and wants a broad, relatively easy reading survey of the topics and issues facing democracies. It is written not for the scholar but for the informed lay person. It goes down easily in several metro commutes and even worked as bed time reading. It is also a nice calm look at issues that can become very heated in the press and media. A several page mention of the uniqueness of India, the world's most populous democracy, has also triggered my latent interest in following up on that topic as well.
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Basic 30 April 2006
By Urobolos - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Given that Professor Dahl has written numerous books on democracy and is considered an expert in the field, "On Democracy" is surprisingly uninteresting. The book covers various aspects of democracy (history, preconditions, systems of government, elections, and its relationship to capitalism) superficially. With the exception of a few (very occasional) facts, the book provides little beyond what an educated person with an interest in democracy (e.g., college and reads the newspaper) already knows.

Part of the problem is the writing: it is meandering, thus the book's 200 pages are not enough to go into any issue in depth. Part of the problem is a lack of focus, for example, Dahl spends several pages trying to show that assembly based democracy is not practical for large populations (which should be obvious), while not a single page on how democracies in practice assess the opinions of large populations (e.g., polling, districting, etc.).

A deeper problem may simply be that Dahl is a political "scientist". Law and economics seem to have long since stripped polisci of logic and empiricism, both of which are missing here.

Why two stars (instead of one)? The book is well organized and does provide a framework for thinking about democracy; Dahl just never develops it.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
"Aristotle's Politics" for everyone and for our times 4 Aug. 1999
By Frank Cohen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Tremendous breadth and perspective on the major political dilemmas of our time from a wise scholar of the academy and citizen of the world. Everyone from experts to laypersons can enjoy, understand, and gain from Dahl's insights and characterizations regarding the fundamental political dilemmas of our time. Rarely, does such a combination of scholarly erudition and simple prose ever come along. I am greatful to Robert Dahl for contributing and elevating political discourse here and around the world with this book. Please read it if you are remotely interested in the politics of any country and the politics of the world. You can probably read it in one long sitting.
On another level, this book will forever remain the textual staple of the "Introduction to Comparative Government Courses" I teach.
This review does not mean that I agree with Dahl on all his positions it just means that I think his book is important.
This book is a provocative, informative, prudent, understated, and insightful explanation of the world's post-Soviet political era. (In this respect, Dahl's book is much better than Francis Fukuyama's ridiculously overstated, criminially impractical, triumphantly-and-arrogantly-toned treatise on "the end of the history." And guess what? Dahl's book is much shorter.)
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Must-read for those interested in democracy! 20 Nov. 2003
By H Ram - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
The most concise, logical and authoritative text "On Democracy." If you are confused about democracy in theory and/or practice, this book can help you out!
I really liked the way Dahl describes the origins of democratic thought and practices, the necessary conditions for an ideal democracy, the necessary institutions for an actual democracy, pro's and con's of parliamentary and presidential democracies and finally of increasing relevance, the double-edge sworded relationship between market capitalism and democracy.
It's the perfect guide to bring together and give shape to your existing and confused ideas. The only criticism I can offer about the text is its obvious Western bias. Even though modern representative democracy was no doubt shaped in Europe and North America, the author either intentionally or out of ignorance did not give credit and/or mention to the existence of ancient democratic practices in the villages of India and other indigenous peoples of the world.
Nevertheless, a fantastic, though rather dry read. It's money well spent.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Well written and accessible work on democracy 10 Feb. 2007
By Steven A. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Robert Dahl is one of the most respected figures in the study of politics. He has authored some of the most important works in political science, such as "Who Governs?" This little volume is meant as an accessible work that informed nonacademics can profit by reading. In that endeavor, he is pretty successful.

This volume explores a number of key issues: the origins and development of democracy, the nature of ideal democracy, the nature of actual democracies in practice, and conditions that are more favorable or unfavorable to nurturance of democracy.

The book begins with a very nice history of democracy. He begins with the Mediterranean region, with classical Greece, the Roman Republic, and Italian city-states after 1100 AD. He also considers other possible exemplars, from local assemblies among the Vikings, regional assemblies in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. Of course, he considers the development of Parliament in England, as well.

He moves on, in the next section to inquire about the ideal form of democracy. He sees five criteria for democracy: effective participation, voting equality, enlightened understanding by citizens, access to the agenda of issues available for decision making, and inclusion of all adults. These are, indeed, imposing criteria, and actual democracies do not necessarily meet these ideals.

His believes that the practical (as opposed to ideal) form of democracy is what he calls "polyarchy." It includes characteristics such as: elected officials; free, fair, and frequent elections; freedom of expression; access to alternative sources of information; associational autonomy; inclusive citizenship.

In the final portion of the book, he notes factors that can threaten democracy, such as intervention by a powerful country not respecting the idea of democracy, the lure of military dictatorship to ensure stability; poverty and lack of material resources. And so on.

All in all, a useful and accessible introduction to democracy. One can quibble with his faith in polyarchy; one can question the simplicity of his discussion of factors nurturing or undermining democracy (his is a very bare bones view of this issue). Nonetheless, a good introduction to the subject.
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