From Publishers Weekly
"It is the purpose of this book to present and foster criticism of modern democracy," Samons declares in the first line of this contrarian political history, which argues that Americans suffer from a "national delusion" when it comes to democracy. He diagnoses numerous symptoms of the delusion, from a misconceived, almost religious obsession with the vote to a tendency towards demagoguery amongst elected officials and the loss of "moral principles" as a guide for politics. But though Samons sets out to make what could be a thrilling and infuriating critique of our revered political system, he spends almost all of his time rewriting the history of ancient Athens. Since Samons works as an Associate Professor of Classical Studies at Boston University, it makes sense that he would analyze Athenian democracy in order to "offer bracing positive and negative lessons for modern citizens." In his chapter on elections and voting, he sketches a fascinating portrait of Pericles as a leader willing to challenge popular willa startling contrast to modern political leadership. Subsequent chapters on public finance, foreign policy and national defense have a more tenuous connection to the books stated aim, however. Samons does present a clear and cogent narrative of how increases in Athenss public wealth strengthened its democratic participation, which then fueled its imperialism and later its disastrous retreat from defense spending. But when Samons turns abruptly from this complex history to a direct comparison of Athenian and American democracy, the effect is both jarring and unsatisfying. The book offers plenty of insight for readers interested in Athenian history, but the provocative, perhaps brilliant, critique of modern American democracy promised at its outset gets lost along the way.
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"In this marvelously unfashionable book, Samons debunks much of what passes in the current-day academy as scholarship on classical Athens.... In the process, he casts light on the perspicacity of America's founding fathers and on the unthinking populism that threatens in our own day to ruin their legacy." - Paul A. Rahe, author of Republics Ancient and Modern "This is unlike any recent work I know of. It offers a challenging, often refreshing, and what will certainly be a controversial assessment of classical Athenian democracy and its significance to modern America. Samons is willing to tread where few other classicists are willing to go in print." - James Sickinger, author of Public Records and Archives in Classical Athens; "Samons's lively and challenging account of ancient Athens raises important questions about democracy, ancient and modern. It will surely arouse keen interest and debate." - Donald Kagan, author of The Peloponnesian War; "Samons presents a penetrating analysis of ancient Athenian democracy's dark sides. Whether or not we agree with his critique and conclusions, this book is not merely thought-provoking: it is annoyingly discomforting." - Kurt A. Raaflaub, Brown University"