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How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians Hardcover – February 13, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice (8/5/2012)

"Were he alive today, no doubt, Quintus would be making big bucks as a political consultant. . . . Speaking to us from a distance of more than two millenniums, Quintus Cicero's words are incisive and revelatory: They remind us that, when it comes to that strange beast known as politics, human nature hasn't changed very much since then. The past, that's right, isn't even past."--Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times

"How to Win an Election . . . is a timely new edition for the US 2012 campaign. . . . Most reviewers of How to Win an Election have been struck by its modernity."--Mary Beard, New York Review of Books

"Two thousand years ago, Quintus Tullius Cicero gave his elder brother, Marcus, an unusually frank guide to winning votes--and, on the principle that democracy's brutal essentials have changed little over the centuries, Princeton University Press has now brought out How to Win an Election. . . . [The book] shows that a campaigner's concerns have remained just as constant as the debate about whether any democracy is ever democratic enough."--Peter Stothard, Wall Street Journal

"Just in time for the primaries and the big showdown in November comes the wisdom of the ancients, in this case from Quintus Tullius Cicero, younger brother of Marcus, the greatest ancient Roman orator--perhaps the greatest of all time--who, more than two thousand years ago, ran for the highest office in the Roman Republic."--Steve Levingston,'s Political Bookworm blog

"The pamphlet of Quintus Cicero is filled with savvy political soundbites, still relevant today. . . . Some things never change."--Maggie Galehouse,'s Bookish blog

"[Quintus Cicero's] How to Win an Election is a quick, punchy, and thoroughly entertaining read, cleanly translated by Philip Freeman, chairman of the classics department at Luther College."--John Kass, Chicago Tribune

"The advice holds up. These candidates must have classics scholars on staff, because a close read of Cicero reveals they're following his counsel."--David Weigel, Slate

"Besides the fact that this small book contains such time-worn advice as 'promise everything to everybody' to the value of being a social chameleon, I learned that sexual scandals were fodder for upending an opponent's political campaign even as far back as 64 B.C. Well, as they say, mutatione rerum magis, tanto magis stetisse ('the more things change, the more they stay the same'), or something like that."'s GrrlScientist blog

"I just hope my opponent in the next campaign doesn't get a copy."--James Carville, Foreign Affairs

"There is solace at hand in this little book, which takes only a few minutes to read. . . . Translated (the Latin text appears on facing pages) and put in context by Philip Freeman, whose biography of Julius Caesar was widely praised, the letter is cynical, worldly wise, and oddly reassuring."--John Wilson, Christianity Today

"One of the more entertaining books of this campaign season comes to us from 2,000 years ago. . . . [C]icero's memo accurately describes today's politics."--Joshua Rothman, Boston Globe's Ideas page blog Brainiac

"The release of [How to Win an Election] was no doubt timed to coincide with this year's U.S. presidential election and as campaigning unfolds it's hard not to see some of Quintus' advice in practice. . . . This text has an almost whimsical quality and bluntly lays out what has been all but established practice in politics for--as the book proves--millennia."--Prague Post

"A quick and fairly broad sketch of Roman politics in Cicero's era."--Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Ed

"Candidates, voters and dedicated observers of this vaunted political ritual would do well to take a deep breath and pick up a copy of How to Win an Election. . . . At once a validation of how we humans choose our leaders and cunning in the way of Machiavelli's The Prince, Quintus Cicero's words of wisdom, filtered through the fluid new translation by Philip Freeman, are sobering and more than a little deliciously self-serving."--Carol Herman, Washington Times

"In 64 B.C., Cicero wrote his older brother a letter of advice guiding him on how to win his race for consul. Nearly 3,000 years later, it remains stunningly relevant, and it emerges as key evidence that some things never change, like political trickery, tactics of manipulation, the art of making a sale. . . . It is a book that reads as if it were written by David Axelrod or Karl Rove, who incidentally provides a glowing blurb on the back cover of one of the editions."--David Masciotra, Daily Beast

"The primer, subtitled An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians, written more than 2,000 years ago by Quintus Tullius Cicero for his brother Marcus Cicero, the famed orator, who was a candidate for consul of Rome in 64 B.C., but you would have to be a resident of Mars or maybe Pluto not to see its modern relevance. . . . Quintus Cicero shows himself to be a master political strategist of oppositional research, organization, and turnout. The little book, translated from Latin to vernacular English by Philip Freeman, should remain on the desks of office-seekers for the next four years, its principles underlined."--Suzanne Fields, Washington Times

"Suffice it to say that today's political advisors could learn a lot from reading advice, now almost 2,100 years old, to an aspiring politician."--Bruce Whiteman, Wapsipinicon Alamanac

From the Back Cover

"In his election advice to his brother Marcus, Quintus Cicero shows himself to be a master political strategist with a clear understanding of opposition research, organization, and turnout (though a little weak on message). Fresh, lively, and sharp, this primer provides timeless counsel and a great read for the modern political practitioner."--Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to President George W. Bush

"Given the lowly state of politics these days, this ancient Roman handbook on electioneering shows how little has changed. Freeman has done a masterful job of bringing this delightful text into the modern day--so masterful that one might think it was actually a spoof."--Gary Hart, former U.S. senator

"Loaded with down-and-dirty advice on how to sway voters and win office in ancient Rome, this practical campaign handbook offers shameless hints for political hopefuls of any era: making and breaking promises, networking and calling in favors, spreading rumors, appealing to special interests, speechifying, pressing the flesh, and more. Wickedly funny, astute, and timeless!"--Adrienne Mayor, author of The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; Bilingual edition (February 13, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780691154084
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691154084
  • ASIN: 0691154082
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 4.8 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #74,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Phil in Mågnoliá TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book has received some good publicity recently, and because it sounded very interesting I ordered a copy for myself. I have enjoyed reading it very much and it has proven to be interesting and informative for several reasons.

First, it provides a fresh translation of the letter written in 64 BC to Marcus Tullius Cicero, then 42 years old, from his younger brother Quintus. This has previously been translated and published - for example, it was included in volume 462 of the Loeb Classical Library (Cicero: Letters to Quintus and Brutus. Letter Fragments. Letter to Octavian. Invectives. Handbook of Electioneering; D. Letters) where the title was stated as "The Handbook of Electioneering".

I don't posses any other translations of this particular work, but I can say that this translation by Freeman is enjoyable to read and puts the work into our current (American) English in a way that works very well (and when I compare it to the Loab translation mentioned previously, using Amazon's "Look Inside" feature, I strongly prefer Freeman's translation to the Loab interpretation). It reads like a contemporary letter from one brother to another, and avoids the kind of awkwardness that frequently results in translated works when the translator sometimes tries to make a more literal substitution of the grammar or usage of 2000 years ago. Freeman provides a glossary at the end of the book which further explains some of the terms that he has translated into a suitable modern equivalent.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on March 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
'How to Win an Election' was written in 64 B.C. by Cicero's brother. The intent was to advise Cicero on how conduct his campaign for Consul (highest elective office of the Roman Republic) of Rome. The advice given is amazingly consistent with the conduct of campaigns today, and even 'endorsed' by today's experts, Sen. Gary Hart (D) and Karl Rove (R).

The advice given includes promise everything to everybody, widen one's support base (eg. do favors for various groups), remind voters about your opponent's scandals (displaces attention from their positive aspects), constantly surround yourself with rabid supporters, and call in your chits from all those you've helped in the past. In addition, flatter the audience (includes recalling names and faces), give people hope, constantly campaign (don't take any days off and leave town). As for possibly over-promising and under-delivering, the advice was that fewer people would be upset by failure to deliver than offended by not making any promise to help in the first place.

Additional background: Voting was by secret ballot and in person, only. (No absentee ballots.) Before running for Consul, a candidate first had to be elected as a quaestor (supervised financial affairs), then as praetor (magistrate).

Seems there just isn't much in today's public affairs that wasn't done 2,000+ years ago!
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Nonna162 on March 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I heard about this book on the PBS broadcast of the Bill Moyers show. I often wondered why candidates use such vile strategies to try and defeat their opponents. Nothing is safe. This book helped me to understand where it originated and why. I still don't like the way campaigns are run, but I now understand it. The old adage "nice guys never win"....I still ask, why not? I wish there were two ways to rate this. I rate it 5-stars because I did enjoy the book and I learned a great deal... Wish I could also rate it 1/2 star because the information and the way it is used often destroy people and families.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Priscilla O. Treadwell on March 17, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The Kindle edition is corrected with smooth links from the English text to the Latin text and back. Full disclosure: I represent the Publisher and am not commenting on the content. This is to reassure Kindle customers that the book displays properly on your device.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Theodore A. Rushton on March 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Honesty in politics is like chastity in prostitution; it may sound great in terms of moral conduct, but nobody's ever tried it because they know it's not what people want.

People go about their daily lives because they live one day at a time; they love politics for the same reason they love lotteries, both give them eternal hope of someday winning a truly tremendous jackpot. As Alexander Pope so neatly wrote, "Hope springs eternal in the human breast; man never is, but always to be blest."

"There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election," Cicero's younger brother advised Marcus, "favours, hope, and personal attachment."

Hope is the essence of every great society. People work hard to benefit their interests and create a better future for themselves and their children. Politicians who best promise hope for that better tomorrow will draw unlimited loyalty, support and effort from their followers even when they warn of the rigours they must sacrifice today to succeed tomorrow.

It is why Quintus Tullius Cicero emphasizes to Marcus that he must give voters hope of a better Rome. Even the most cynical need to believe in someone or something; it's after the election that politicians can cleverly explain why "the big rock candy mountain" is really nothing but a pile of gravel -- which voters themselves must shovel.

The minor weakness of this book is the lack of comment on how to "lose" an election; as happened to Sen. John McCain in 2008, when he carried the millstones of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin around his neck. It is worth noting Barack Obama did not "win" the 2008 election as much as Bush "lost" it for McCain -- who is a decent, honourable and capable public servant (usually).
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