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Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brief but absorbing dissection of the U.K. power elite, 15 Oct. 2009
This review is from: Who Runs This Place?: The Anatomy of Britain in the 21st Century (Hardcover)
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 our lives. Tracking this "will o' the wisp" of power leads Sampson to dissect political parties, treasury, Whitehall, secret services, the mainstream mass media, bankers and others. Covering such a wide range of topics in under 400 pages, the result is most certainly lacking in depth but Sampson's writing style is crisp and understated and he has conducted many first-hand interviews.

Written in 2004 (or rather, updated from his 1960s edition), Who Runs This Place? inevitably revolves back towards the most significant way in which a state can exercise its' ultimate power - the ability to wage war - and in this particular case, the illegal war against Iraq. Perhaps if Sampson were alive today, a revised version of the book might take more time to look at the financial power structures. Some may find this frequent reversion to the state's war powers and its' links with the mass media obtrusive (Hutton et cetera) but for this reviewer, the power to send the population off to fight and die, cannot be overstated and should not be glossed over.

Sampson's book also gives us a snapshot of who runs the various institutions and what their backgrounds are. Unsurprisingly, we do not find that Britain is a meritocracy; Oxbridge alumni are an Establishment fixture in many key areas, though Sampson does acknowledge that many at the top of Britain's industries were not born in this country.

As a whole, Who Runs This Place? is a book that has more breadth than depth, one that provides a snapshot, not a portrait of the power elite as they were in 2004. Anthony Sampson has an agreeable writing style that keeps the book alive with choice quotes and well-chosen historical details, though perhaps overall a book more for the general reader than the socio-political student.
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