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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 August 2013
Racking my brains to try to figure out what I've learnt from this book.

I'm genuinely tempted to say "nothing" but it's not entirely true.

I've learnt that Diocletian formalised guilds in Rome. In school we were all taught how horrible he'd been to Christians, but I now know we additionally have him to thank for the 28 "closed professions" Mario Monti lost his mandate trying to pry open. Cool info.

But I was surprised that the book could not make the connection between Rome and the Ottoman Empire. I mean what was great about both was common (respect for the achievements / tolerance for the culture and religion of their subjects) and what was bad about both was common (the fact that praetorians / janissaries etc. ended up running the empires for themselves a lot of the time). That's before you consider that one was built on the ashes of the other.

And, in general, the book took me through a whirlwind tour of Rome, China, Spain, Turkey, Japan, the EU, California and the US and then did not really do much in terms of putting the pieces together.

There was no oooomph. No passion. No over-riding theme. Too much, er, Balance. Then again, that's what it says on the cover.

Regardless, there are enough fun ideas in the book that one should not reject it. Like, for example, that the British empire did not die of overstretch. Rather, it failed to assimilate the US. Giving British citizenship to American subjects would indeed have been quite a coup. Even if it's the wrong idea, it's an intriguing concept.

Another idea I like was that the state-sponsored catchup with true capitalism can look for a long time like it's outperforming the real thing (like people say it's doing in China at the moment), but ultimately it does hit the stops. Not that any solid proof is provided in the book, but I like my prejudices to be reinforced.

Another idea I like that is that special interest groups are nothing new in America. And therefore, much as we don't like them, they can't be blamed for recent decline, if there is any. So the latest piece of legislation that lets Sheldon Adelson start his own PAC might be distasteful, but less so than not letting him.

Based on that fact, the authors have a stab at explaining ideological polarisation in US politics, blaming it (quite convincingly, from my angle) on changes in party finance laws back in the early seventies, that made it impossible for funds to go to anybody but the two parties (rather than say the candidates themselves or independents)

Then the conclusions appear. They are dreadfully Balanced.
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