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The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age Hardcover – April 8, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (April 8, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465027660
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465027668
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #346,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Oxford politics scholar Brown (The Rise and Fall of Communism, 2009) examines the nature of political leadership and challenges the notion that so-called strong leaders are the most effective. Even in a democracy, he suggests, we the people often prefer to hand executive power to charismatic, opinionated, sometimes even aggressive individuals, who dominate other policy-makers to achieve their agendas. But setting leaders above and apart from the ruling group as a whole makes leaders prone to vanity and self-deception and, in antagonizing other policy-makers, sets daunting obstacles in even the most driven leader’s path. Such has been the case for many U.S. presidents whose ambitious agendas were ultimately thwarted by Congress or the Supreme Court. Those political leaders who are best able to effect dramatic change may be those who, like Mikhail Gorbachev and Deng Xiaoping, understood the importance of collegiality and collaboration even as they transformed the systems that brought them to power. Reviewing and categorizing dozens of heads of state past and present, Brown raises important questions about the nature of leadership and the expectations we have for our leaders. --Brendan Driscoll


Washington Post
“A lively and probing scholarly reflection on the interplay of power and high politics.”

Foreign Affairs
“Rich and multidimensional.”

Wall Street Journal
“It is a pleasure to find a book on political leadership that imposes no theories or models but studies actual political leaders, dozens of them from many countries, in a historical survey from the beginning of the 20th century.”

Guardian, UK
"A rich description of different varieties of political leadership in diverse cultures. It is hard to imagine a better guide than Brown, who has lived and worked in the UK, US and Russia, and is both an outstanding political scholar and an elegant, witty writer.”

Independent, UK
“Persuasive analysis of politically leadership.”

“Impressive in scope and sophistication, Brown offers a model of leadership that is both strong and purpose driven.”

“A sure-handed historical review with an engaging viewpoint.”

Publishers Weekly
“Rich in historical detail and insight.”

"Brown raises important questions about the nature of leadership and the expectations we have for our leaders."

Ian Kershaw
"A profound, and wise, book - one of the most important works on politics for a long time. On the basis of penetrating, wide-ranging analysis, traversing democratic and authoritarian systems, Archie Brown clearly demonstrates the commonly held belief in strong leadership as the answer to political problems to be completely, often disastrously, misplaced."

Anthony King, Professor of Government at the University of Essex and co-author of The Blunders of Our Governments
"This book badly needed to be written, and only Archie Brown – with his unique breadth of scholarly knowledge combined with a finger-tip feel for real-world politics – could possibly have written it. It turns out that there are fewer strong leaders in the world than is often supposed and that many of them, far from being desirable, are positively dangerous. Perhaps the best political systems are those that are effectively ‘leader-proofed’."

Alfred Stepan, Wallace Sayre Professor of Government, Columbia University
"A major comparative and revisionist history about political leadership in the modern world. In deftly and beautifully written analyses of democratic leaders such as South Africa's Nelson Mandela, Spain's Adolfo Suárez, Britain’s Clement Attlee, or the USA’s Harry Truman, Brown shows how none of them overpowered colleagues and opponents as the strong leader thesis holds, but instead articulated a better possible future and won strong coalitional support for this future. Political leaders, commentators, professors and students looking for what good leadership requires, and does not require, can read this book with great profit and pleasure."

Wm. Roger Louis, University of Texas, Past President of the American Historical Association
“A magnificent achievement, The Myth of the Strong Leader combines bold conceptual analysis with vivid descriptions of leaders ranging from Stalin and Hitler to Roosevelt and Churchill, from Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro to LBJ and Nelson Mandela. Archie Brown examines the types of power and leadership amassed by such diverse figures as Lenin, Ataturk, de Gaulle, Gorbachev, and Margaret Thatcher. This is a book which will be read with sheer pleasure by the general reader for its riveting insights and by students throughout the world as a lucid and witty guide to distinctive kinds of political leadership.”

Barbara Kellerman, James MacGregor Burns Lecturer in Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government
"Hallelujah! For those of us in Leadership Studies the dry spells can be long—long periods of time without sensational additional contributions to the field. Brown's is such a book, a gift to serious students of leadership, equally a gift to thoughtful practitioners. As befits a historian and political scientist of international eminence, Brown has crafted a sweeping survey of the field. Some of the book is theory but most of it is rooted in the real world of leaders, followers, and the political context within which the two necessarily are embedded. This, finally, is a book that belongs on the shelf of anyone, everyone, who is remotely interested in the political dynamics of dominance and deference.”

Gary Hart, Former United States Senator
“The best analysis of the nature of true leadership I have read. Turning his considerable erudition on Russia and communism to the vaguely-discussed but seldom qualitatively defined question of political leadership, Professor Brown dismantles the myth that power equals strength and that strength guarantees positive outcomes. Genuine leadership, he cogently argues, redefines national directions and social agendas and transforms entire political systems as the means to move nations forward. History, experience, and wisdom underwrite his case.”

Charles King, Professor of International Affairs and Government, Georgetown University
“For nearly a half century, Archie Brown has been one of our most perceptive observers of world leaders and their contexts, from Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union to Margaret Thatcher's Britain and beyond. His message is that our virtues are in fact our vices. Being decisive, staying the course, and having a clear vision are lauded as the core requirements of good leadership--yet they have just as often blinded those in authority to the folly of their own choices. Established leaders as well as aspiring ones should heed the lessons in Brown's timely book.”

Jack F. Matlock, Jr., author of Autopsy on an Empire, Reagan and Gorbachev, and Superpower Illusions
“A brilliant analysis of leadership in democratic, authoritarian, and totalitarian states, Archie Brown’s The Myth of the Strong Leader draws on a remarkably wide range of examples and is distinguished by the relevance of its insights and by the precision and clarity of their exposition. It is an absorbing read that deserves to become a modern classic of political thinking.”

Lilia Shevtsova, Chair, Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center
“This is a real triumph of scholarship and intellect - and brilliantly written. Archie Brown demonstrates how dangerous is the myth of the strong leader and he pinpoints the disservice it does to society. The book is awesome in the depth of its analysis and in providing truly indispensable insights.”

Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Gibbs TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 3, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The idea that the more power one individual leader wields, the more we should be impressed by that leader is an illusion. Where corners are cut because one leader is sure he knows best, problems follow, and they can be on a disastrous scale, according to Archie Brown in this book. The book examines the leadership styles of a large range of political leaders including dictators and democratic leaders.

The author’s essential thesis is that it is unhelpful to rate political leaders on a single strong-weak scale given that there are so many different dimensions to effective leadership, and indeed leaders who are unconstrained by others in making their decisions tend to make significantly poorer decisions. Mao Zedong was a better leader in the early days of the Chinese Communist Party than when he acquired a position of absolute power. Tony Blair made his poorest decisions when he made them without adequate discussion with others.

The book tells interesting stories about a very large number of political leaders from the past century. The author has a great deal of personal knowledge of many of those leaders, and the book is an excellent history book. However, it is hard to read the book without observing that the best leaders are rarely the ones who float to the top of the political process, whether in democracies or in dictatorships. The author has provided extensive material to demonstrate the dangers of the “strong” political leader, but the stories do not coalesce into a neat description of the characteristics of a “good” political leader.
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Clear, concise, scholarly work that is well researched and documented. Not a lot of opinion, just the facts, mam. Not a page turner, more of a research work. But outstanding in its way.
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By spsanders on May 30, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Good discussion but slightly heavy on the history lessons. Hard to discern valuable information that can be applied today. Just makes me miss the old leaders even more.
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