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Who Runs This Place?: The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century [Paperback]

Anthony Sampson
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

17 Jan 2005

These familiar questions are now far more topical and urgent. The peaks of both government and finance have become far more concentrated and isolated; checks and balances have become much weaker; the costs of wrong decisions have often proved disastrous to the public.

Anthony Sampson has spent forty years dissecting the power-structure, with unique access to people at the top, to produce his best-selling Anatomies of Britain. Now in this intensely topical book, he surveys a much more troubled scene with more anger and impatience. He looks at the whole panoply of power, from an embattled Number Ten to the murky intelligence spooks, from corporate boardrooms to banks and pension funds. Everywhere he talks to the people who really know their inside workings.

Who Runs This Place? is written not just for those inside the Westminster Bubble. It is addressed in fresh and vivid terms to those who need to understand the institutions and careers they are choosing, and the bosses who will influence their whole future. And it comes at a time when the British people are clamouring to comprehend the secretive groups that pull the levers, behind the facades. It is essential reading.

Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray; Reprint edition (17 Jan 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719565669
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719565663
  • Product Dimensions: 2.8 x 12.8 x 18.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 243,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


No one has matched Sampson's combination of analysis, networking and sharp drafting ... A model of its kind (Times Higher Education Supplement)

A compelling analysis of power (The Times)

An exhilarating air of authority... [thanks to] its author's happy and unusual combination of wisdom and research (Mail on Sunday)

An impressive and immediate air of gravitas.. Sampson is a clear thinker who manages to gently ease the reader throuh a vast and complex subject (Scotland on Sunday)

Many shrewd and informative chapters (Sunday Telegraph)

A superb diagnosis... enormously readable, containing a wealth of entertaining apercus and digressions... [and] a wit that is as sharp as his scalpel (New Statesman)

A coherent critique about the nature of political power in British society (The Scotsman)

He has stood back from the trees and given us a view of the wood. He is right to find it rotten (Sunday Times)

This is a wise, perceptive and not unduly pessimistic book (Spectator)

Sampson sees power clearly and calmly, as Trollope or Galsworthy did; and it is not a pretty sight...He comes shrewdly at Mr Blair from an unprotected flank (Daily Telegraph)

An important book, raising an increasingly urgent set of questions about who has the power in Tony Blair's Britain, and for whom they exercise it. (The Spokesman Manifesto 50)

His lucid prose dissects the new centres of power ... A bracing read (JG Ballard, Daily Telegraph, Books of the Year)

Brilliantly written and deeply sobering (JG Ballard)

Indefatigable... in researching information and marshalling facts (The Evening Standard)

Sampson succeeds in providing an exhaustive answer to the question he has set himself in the title (The Guardian)

The leap this books asks us to make - the comparison between the Britain of 1962 and that of 2004 - is useful and hugely instructive. (Guardian)

Britain's anatomy is...illuminated by the unmatched politico-social lucidity of a fine mind...a wonderfully dismaying book (Nadine Gordimer, Times Literary Supplement)

Sampson's overview of today's corrupt, nepotistic, celebrity-obsessed Britain makes for fascinating, if depressing, reading (Daily Telegraph)

'A superb field-guide to "the masters of the marketplace" (Independent)

A contemporary history with a strong sense of historical change (John Hudson, BBC History)

This anatomy dissects an old organism still alive and diseased with new secrets (The Times)

Sampson's last book is up there with his best (Evening Standard)

Sampson blows away the smoke that obscures British democracy and ...dissects an old organism still alive and diseased with new secrets. (The Times)

Anthony Sampson's Who Runs This Place? Asks New Labour's central question. (Observer)

Book Description

Who holds power? How do they use it? Are they accountable?: the questions addressed in this unflinching exposé of power in Britain.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
46 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb legacy left by a brilliant journalist. 18 Feb 2005
Anthony Sampson died just after updating "Who Runs This Place" to the end of 2004. The book itself is an update of his 1962 "Anatomy Of Britain".
Sampson's goal was ambitious - to draw a map of the institutions that really mattered in Britain and trace the threads of influence and power that flowed between them, and to try to understand how things really got done. As an analysis of parliament, the political machine, the civil service, and "the Establishment", his work has rarely been bettered - Jeremy Paxman provided a sort of more anecdotal and perhaps entertaining analysis of the Establishment as it stood in the early 90s in "Friends In High Places", but Sampson's revised work is a masterpiece.
Unlike the earlier versions of the book, Sampson has several axes to grind rather conspicuously in this edition. His own politics surface occasionally - he was a founder Social Democrat, and it's clear that his own sympathies are somewhere to the Left of the Blair government. His analysis of parliament and the political parties is sobering -- he sees politics as being fundamentally in decline, with the two major parties re-invented as essentially support machines for presidential-style Prime Ministers or leaders of the opposition; politics as a career is seen as a refuge for talentless, visionless machine politicians from all ends of the spectrum, and the Liberal Democrats are seen as a regional irrelevance.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nobody Does It Better! 1 May 2004
Anthony Sampson has been writing about 'The Establishment' - or the 'Anti-Establishment' Establishment as he might now call it - for over 40 years.
Not only is he unbelievably well-informed - that one person is able to write in such depth about no less than 24 tentacles to the governance of Britain is in itself worthy of five stars - but he is also able to make very informative comparisons going back to 1962, to demonstrate both the changes that have occurred, and the costs to democracy that have been involved.
Having first voted in the 1959 election, which returned SuperMac with a majority of over 100, it is possible to share Sampson's dismay at the decline that has taken place.
During the course of that campaign I attended meetings in Birmingham addressed by both Harold Macmillan, and a few days later, Hugh Gaitskell.
Looking back, the then lack of security now beggars belief, coupled to the fact that, today, only loyal acolytes would get into the hall.
That election was, I believe, the first in which TV played a part. As Sampson now shows, the role of TV is now all-embracing, and offers party leaders much more control of the presentation of the message.
Of particular interest is the Venn diagram - inside the front and back covers - in which Sampson shows how the various components of the Establishment relate to each other. At either end are two huge circles, on the left Media, and on the right The Rich.
The Prime Minister looms large, Parliament and Cabinet have to be searched for, and Political Parties are of even smaller significance.
All this is fleshed-out in great detail in the book's 24 chapters, and Chapter 25 - Who Runs This Place - is a detailed and perceptive summary.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegent eclectic strikes again 9 May 2004
I came to England in 1963, a year after the first Anatomy was published. At the Royal Military Academy we were showered with the book; a slight surprise as it wasnt exactly pro Establishment stuff. But everyone had it. Everyone read it. It was clearly a revelation, even to those, unlike me, who had been born, brought up and educated here in the UK. Being the stranger to England that I was, what I read in the first Anatomy
was a tale of strange and far off things of which I knew little or nothing,of Palaces and Princes,of Archbishops and Merchant Bankers, of MP's and Lords. They were like half mythical beings, hidden in distant mists.But over the years I became involved with each of the institutions described in Anthony Sampson's wonderful book. It and its subsequent updates have been an invaluable guide to me as I navigated the strange deeps and shallows of English institutional life.
Now, this elegent, eclectic reporter has come back with what amounts to a sociological masterpiece. It is the coolest, clearest history of the last 40 years in Britain yet published, written with a masterley touch, quite unchanged from the touch Anthony Sampson showed all those years ago. He is never uncritical, but his critique is logical, rational and above all non partisan. That is its grandeour. And what a perspective. The basics defined in a bestseller over 40 years ago, and now the linking of those basic discoveries with the current status quo. Probing, amusing, but always with that touch of the scalpel that discloses the weakness behind the PR and the, well, there is only one word for it, bull***t, so common in public life nowadays.
Perhaps the books strongest recommendation is it's readibility. It is simply unputdownable.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars At times descends into quite a rant
The book is well-structured. The inside flaps show a venn diagram of the candidate groups in British society that could run the place; each group is represented with one chapter... Read more
Published 7 months ago by jvhemert
5.0 out of 5 stars Wake up and smell the coffee.
So you think you know what's going on in Britain by reading your daily newspaper and watching the news ? Read more
Published 14 months ago by shakespier
5.0 out of 5 stars Book review
A well written reference book --lost my original copy many years ago--always wanted to replace it and at this price you cannot go wrong
Published on 2 Feb 2012 by K. M. Collinge
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful introduction!
As a Canadian interested in understanding my English roots, I have been extremely pleased to read this detailed guidebook on British institutional and political life. Read more
Published on 21 Mar 2011 by BWL
3.0 out of 5 stars How rapidly the world moves on
Dec 2011 and I have just read this book.

At the time it was written in 2004 it was probably an excellent analysis of how the UK was run then. Read more
Published on 2 Jan 2011 by Pete Y
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting review, slightly dated now
Anthony Sampson's last book is an excellent review of the repositories of political and economic power in the UK. It is wide-ranging and pacey. Read more
Published on 12 Oct 2010 by A. BUTTERWORTH
4.0 out of 5 stars Brief but absorbing dissection of the U.K. power elite
The late Anthony Sampson has attempted to provide an incisive slice through British institutions, hunting for where the power elite reside and make the decisions that effect all of... Read more
Published on 15 Oct 2009 by Mr. Tristan Martin
3.0 out of 5 stars The Big Book Of London Power Lists
True to its remit this book is London, London, London, more London and a bit of London on the side.

The less positive reviews cover most of the shortcomings. Read more
Published on 1 July 2008 by Reimer
2.0 out of 5 stars Superficial, largely about Blair and Iraq...
"Disappointing" is how I would describe this book. "Who runs this place?" reads like a synopsis of the Hutton Report, one of the inumerable royal enquiries which are of such... Read more
Published on 31 May 2008 by Amazon reader
3.0 out of 5 stars See who ruins this place
Sit back and enjoy the ride as the arch-cynic Anthony Sampson leads the reader on a guided tour of what is, apparently, a thoroughly rotten attraction. Read more
Published on 11 Jan 2008 by SAP
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