"[B]rilliantly and convincingly delivered. The big story of mature democracies in crisis is told with remarkable confidence and brio. Runciman writes lucidly and compellingly: this is a book that you cannot put down."--Georgios Varouxakis, Standpoint
"As a corrective to the doom-and-gloomsters, this book makes some telling points, and he is a clear and forceful writer. . . . What Runciman's focus on American democracy helps to do is to remind us that there is an international dimension to this subject that is closely connected to American self-perceptions."--Mark Mazower, Financial Times
"Runciman's writing, often brilliantly aphoristic, is full of insights, opinions, and phrasings that will challenge and delight scholars and general readers both."--Robert Nardini, Library Journal (Starred Review)
"Refreshingly free of received and rehearsed wisdoms, Runciman doesn't tiptoe around sacred cows and invites us to take part in that most adult way of thinking: to examine contradictory ideas in tandem and ponder what the dissonance amounts to. . . . [H]e argues lucidly, persuasively, even exhilaratingly at times. The nightly news will never appear exactly the same again."--Miriam Cosic, Australian
"[Runciman] is a trenchant commentator on current affairs and a historian of political thought who, in his books and his articles in the London Review of Books, has revealed himself to be a gifted explainer. . . . [H]e has a canny sense of how political power operates at its highest levels and in his exposition of political theory he is unfailingly clear and direct. Runciman's prose is conversational, if elegantly so--it is no surprise that he is a fluent lecturer--and characterised by a wry restraint."--Daniel Cohen, Los Angeles Review of Books
"[E]xcellent and interesting. . . . [A]dmirable and very well written . . ."--Chris Patten, Tablet
"Runciman is a good writer and brave pioneer. . . . The picture he sketches is agreeably bold."--John Keane, Sydney Morning Herald
Why do democracies keep lurching from success to failure? The current financial crisis is just the latest example of how things continue to go wrong, just when it looked like they were going right. In this wide-ranging, original, and compelling book, David Runciman tells the story of modern democracy through the history of moments of crisis, from the First World War to the economic crash of 2008.
A global history with a special focus on the United States, The Confidence Trap examines how democracy survived threats ranging from the Great Depression to the Cuban missile crisis, and from Watergate to the collapse of Lehman Brothers. It also looks at the confusion and uncertainty created by unexpected victories, from the defeat of German autocracy in 1918 to the defeat of communism in 1989. Throughout, the book pays close attention to the politicians and thinkers who grappled with these crises: from Woodrow Wilson, Nehru, and Adenauer to Fukuyama and Obama.
The Confidence Trap shows that democracies are good at recovering from emergencies but bad at avoiding them. The lesson democracies tend to learn from their mistakes is that they can survive them--and that no crisis is as bad as it seems. Breeding complacency rather than wisdom, crises lead to the dangerous belief that democracies can muddle through anything--a confidence trap that may lead to a crisis that is just too big to escape, if it hasn't already. The most serious challenges confronting democracy today are debt, the war on terror, the rise of China, and climate change. If democracy is to survive them, it must figure out a way to break the confidence trap.