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Why Switzerland? 2nd Edition [Paperback]

Jonathan Steinberg
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 28, 1996 0521484537 978-0521484534 2nd
Why Switzerland?, first published in 1976, offers a unique analysis of the structures that make Switzerland work and provides a short, concise "working model" for the visitor or student. Linking an analysis of the microeconomy to the major features in politics, history, religion and language, it shows how a "bottom up" society has survived in a world of "top down" states. For this new edition Jonathan Steinberg has completely revised and extended his text, and a number of unusual and attractive illustrations have been added.

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Why Switzerland? 2nd Edition + Swiss Watching: Inside the Land of Milk and Money + Xenophobe's Guide to the Swiss
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Editorial Reviews


"I recommend that you buy it, read it, and realise what you are missing - not just the railways- by not being Swiss." -Swiss Express

Book Description

First published in 1976, this revised and extended edition offers a unique analysis of the structures that make Switzerland work. Linking an analysis of the microeconomy to politics, history, religion and language, it reveals how a "bottom up" society has survived in a world of "top down" states.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 2nd edition (September 28, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521484537
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521484534
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.9 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #821,697 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
109 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read if you spend over a week in Switzerland November 8, 2000
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This turned out to be an utterly fascinating book, and it explained quite a bit about Swiss behavior and culture. While I of course can't vouch for everything in the book, I've tested a lot of it by observation and questioning the natives, and it seems consistent with reality.
Switzerland turns out to have a number of unique characteristics that aren't obvious to the outsider. For example, the government consists of an extraordinarily complex nested set of committees with a rotating presidency. The author makes the case that virtually all Swiss institutions, including government at all levels, the church and major corporations, are strongly influenced by an 800-year tradition of committee organization. In spite of having the most stable government in Europe (which my Swiss co-workers do not dispute), Switzerland has one of the most malleable constitutions in the world (which my co-workers do dispute).
I'm personally fascinated by language issues, so I read ahead to that chapter before finishing the lengthy chapter on politics. Again, Switzerland is unique in its treatment of dialects, which have very different social implications and practices in the French, German, Italian, and Romansh areas. According to the author, the urban Swiss Germans gave serious consideration to aligning themselves with 'greater Germany' in the 19th century. This obviously did not take place, and one of the unique results is that the local versions of Schwyzer Tüütsch (choose your spelling depending upon the valley you're in) are universally spoken without significant class variations.
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41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book for anyone who deals with the Swiss March 8, 1998
By A Customer
I work in the US for a Swiss company. Switzerland is unique in Europe and it's hard to figure out why. This book does a very good job of explaining the origins and dynamics of modern Switzerland. I should add that this is not a travel book, rather an examination of Swiss politics, history and culture. For a another, more irreverent, condensed but also insightful book on the Swiss, read the "The Xenophobe's Guide to Switzerland"
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39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
This work, first published more than a quarter-century ago and twice revised, most recently in 1996, succeeds because the national Swiss characteristics which it explores are essentially timeless and unchanging. While tracing the begrudging and belated enfranchisement of women and the gradual integration of Roman Catholic and Jewish minorities who once were isolated, the author conveys the underlying tensions beneath a remarkably successful experiment in coexistence. As one who lived and worked in Switzerland for more than eight years, and whose own memoir, Living Among The Swiss, was published in January 1999, I can attest that Mr. Steinberg's generalizations ring true to my own experience and observations, and that they are supported by a myriad of political and sociological details that one would normally expect to learn only from a highly educated native. The prose, though scholarly, is highly readable, and evidences deep thought and mature reflection.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Bacterial Flagellum of Nation-States April 16, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Even if you had no prior curiousity about Switzerland, this book would pique your interest. The author's stated aim is to create a multidisciplinary narrative, in the tradition of the Enlightenment (Johnson, Gibbon), explaining...well..."Why Switzerland?" - i.e. how did Switzerland arise, persist, and come to be so aggressively ecclectic?

And the author has some work to do. Not unlike the 'bacterial flagellum,' Switzerland's spectacularly improbable emergence from the fabric of history could be invoked by creationists to support a 'design inference.' It is, to paraphrase Michael Behe, as though a 747 spontaneously assembled itself and took flight.

Of course, Steinberg's answer to "Why Switzerland?" is much more interesting than "God did it." It cannot be summarized, but involves grain prices, the halberd, high-altitude athletic training, cottage industry, credit and interest and William Tell. At the very least, it has something to teach us about federalism, decentralization, peaceful coexistence and martial virtue.

For me the most fascinating part of this was to see how resistance to the Hapsburgs and then Napolean created a culture of decentralized disorganization - the opposite of Absolutist/Enlightenment France. The Swiss come across like the Duke Boys of central Europe ("Someday the mountain might get'em but the law never will..."). But this culture of rebellion also stands in contrast to Germany's stark tradition of blood and soil reactionism. Napolean's influence on Germany sowed the seeds of the World Wars. In Switzerland it acted as a sort of positive selection pressure, perturbing Alpine society and provoking its organization into Alpine civilization.

This is a very dense book, with more obscure names and places than a Russian novel.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent overview January 6, 2009
_Why Switzerland_ provides a wealth of well-documented information on how Switzerland works today, politically and socially, and how it got that way through the centuries. The style is lively and readable. It is highly recommended for anyone with an interest in the country, whether that interest is historical or contemporary.
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