Gleason's study of totalitarianism is an outstanding treatment of the complex and contentious subject. What gives it special value is that it contains a thoughtful and succinct analysis of the theories of totalitarianism and at the same time deals equally successfully with the practical politics of totalitarian systems and states.
Gleason surveys the intellectual course, in the U.S. and Europe, of the totalitarian model of one-party dictatorships. It is a political concept that became so influential in the councils of power that numerous scholarly careers and institutes were created in the late '40s to study the Soviet Union. Essentially, Gleason critiques the relevant books and ideas produced, and, incidentally, the two powerful and popular novels, Darkness at Noon
and Nineteen Eighty-Four
, that crystallized the idea of totalitarianism and underpinned the West's justification for resisting Communist expansion. Naturally, refutations of the model were offered over the decades, mostly from the Left resisting conservative claims that Communists were unredeemedly illiberal, an intellectual battle that peaked with Jeane Kirkpatrick facing off critics of Reagan's foreign policy. The text is smooth flowing for readers first plunging into this matter, and libraries that haven't purged their collections of the model's essential formulation, Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism
, can renew interest with this scholarly piece of intellectual history. Gilbert Taylor