- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 5, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199837457
- ISBN-13: 978-0199837458
- Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.3 x 6.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #178,200 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Democracy: A Life 1st Edition
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"A compact but rich education in classics and democracy, from a leading expert who delights in his subject... No library should be without this wonderful book, in which Cartledge has abundantly shared his love and knowledge of ancient Greece with us." --Kirkus Reviews, (starred review)
"Democracy: A Life is a magisterial and moving account of the fate of democracy, understood as the rule of the masses and political empowerment of the poor, on the basis of some workable definition of freedom and equality. In an easy, graceful style with flashes of revelatory personal expression, Paul Cartledge deploys his stunning mastery of several millennia of human history and deep knowledge of decades of scholarship to bring ancient democracy and its critics, modern as well as ancient, vividly to life." --Danielle Allen, author of Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality
"Democracy: A Life is a splendid match of author and subject. Paul Cartledge has been thinking deeply about the history and meaning of democracy for most of his own life. The impressive result is a passionate and erudite biography of a revolutionary idea that became a way of life, tracing the story from democracy's radical origins, to its early flourishing, multiple crises, many betrayals, and modern rebirth. Buoyed by Cartledge's engaging style and complete mastery of his subject, the reader returns to our own troubled present with new appreciation for democracy's deep history, and armed with fresh resources for building a more democratic future." --Josiah Ober, author of The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece
"The fruit of a lifetime's learning, this passionately argued book reveals what made ancient Greek democracy so remarkable and so different from the tamer version we have today. By showing how far we have come from the ancient Greeks, Paul Cartledge reminds us how much we still have to learn from them." --David Runciman, author of The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present
"Just what was ancient Greek democracy and why does it still matter? Scholarly giant Paul Cartledge answers those questions in this learned and readable book that glides gracefully from Aristotle and the stones of Athens to Rome, the Renaissance, the Age of Revolution, and today's era of globalization." --Barry Strauss, author of The Death of Caesar: The Story of History's Most Famous Assassination
"[A] timely and eloquent book.... This book makes a clear contribution to our panoramic understanding of ancient Greek democracy. It's also a hugely valuable synthesis and an enjoyable read. Much of the argumentation -- particularly on points of ancient Greek politics -- is careful, compelling, and measured. The prose throughout is elegant, never patronizing. We are invited to step into Cartledge's thought world and he is a gracious host throughout the visit." --Eidolon
"Cartledge has an unrivalled eye for detail...But what makes this book most memorable is his true ear. Time and again, he points out how the democratic phrase or mot juste has been instrumental in changing history, from the slogans inscribed on ostraka (the pottery shards used in Athenian ostracism), to Rainborough's 'the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he' and Lincoln's incomparable formulation 'government of the people, by the people, for the people'. The restatement of these resonant phrases leaves Cartledge's reader not only informed, but inspired."--Edith Hall, History Today
About the Author
Paul Cartledge is A.G. Leventis Senior Research Fellow of Clare College and A.G. Leventis Professor of Greek Culture Emeritus at the University of Cambridge. He was the Hellenic Parliament Global Distinguished Professor in the History and Theory of Democracy at New York University. His previous books include After Thermopylae: The Oath of Plataea and the End of the Graeco-Persian Wars, Ancient Greece: A Very Short Introduction, Thermopylae: The Battle That Changed the World, and The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-Heroes of Ancient Greece. He is an honorary citizen of modern Sparta and holds the Gold Cross of the Order of Honor awarded by the President of Greece.
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Top Customer Reviews
First, the overwhelming positives: The book renders a vivid picture of the nature of "democracy" in some of the "citizen-states" (see p. 15) of Ancient Hellenistic Greece, although it primarily focuses upon the Athenians because the evidentiary record for Athens is the deepest - particularly for the years 350-322 BCE (p. 105).
"Democracy" it turns out is a remarkably plastic label, in fact so protean that it may serve as only a vague description of a political system in operation in Ancient Greece (or today, for that matter). Political systems in Ancient Greece varied as both internal and external forces buffeted the "citizen-states." As the author points out, the Athenians experienced four distinct "democratic" regimes (p. 185) between the fading years of Archaic Greece (c. 500 BCE) and Macedonian domination (c. 330 BCE). The "democratic" regimes varied by who was considered a citizen and what responsibilities they could exercise (voting, jury duty, officeholding, etc.). 'Democracy: A Life' is at its best when focused upon this complicated history.
The political system a "citizen-state" adopted was influenced by internal forces (who could control power) and external forces such as shifting alliances between "citizen-states," as well as threats from Persia or Macedonia. "Dynamism" might best describe the Ancient Greek political experience as "citizen-states" could, diachronically, range from a form of democracy, to an oligarchy, or to a tyranny, and back again (classification may reflect one's perspective … one person's democracy may be another person's oligarchy, and it all might be tyranny to a slave).
Along the way there are interesting sidebars related to the exposition of "democracy" on subjects like ostracism and the trial of Socrates, as well as references to Greek literature (Aristophanes seems to be a favorite). Illustrations (including the obligatory photograph of 'ostraca') and maps are helpful and well-executed.
Cartledge, whose academic pedigree appears to be sterling, maintains a professional perspective throughout the book, recognizing the limitations of labels (Archaic Greece v. Classical Greece was a transition not easily demarcated) and often presents alternative interpretations of the record proposed by others. He admits to the inevitable skewed expression of written history when he writes, "Objectivity may be a noble dream, but it is a dream all the same" (p. 13). The lack of smugness is appreciated and refreshing.
Second, the caveat: If the book had ended after chapter 14, with an appropriate conclusion summarizing the Ancient Hellenistic Greek experience with "democracy" it would rate five stars. Unfortunately, in his brief (and suggested in the book's title) Cartledge includes the aim of "tracking" democratic thought post-Ancient Greece (i.e., Imperial Rome, European Middle Ages and Renaissance, England, America, and France). This is a tall order, of course, and the book makes what seems like a half-hearted attempt to come to grips with the complete arc of "democracy" (see James T. Kloppenberg's Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought for an excellent effort). The result is a sense of disappointment. One can imagine that chapters 15-20 were an afterthought intended to make the book more appealing to a general reader (perhaps tacked-on a result of an editorial suggestion?).
Read this book and enjoy this book … it is a fascinating read and perhaps a necessary read. "Democracy" is still under development (or more aptly, dynamic change) and the consequences to all of us will depend upon how that change is managed.
Cartledge writes, "In the year 2000, 120 out of the 192 members of the United Nations were labelled as democracies" (p. 305), but the nature of those democracies range widely and our own "democracy" shifts and sways under the burden of various pressures. Outcomes are neither assured nor obvious. We may nostalgically link our "democracy" to the miraculous and noble antecedents of the Ancient Greeks, but we should also see in those antecedents a cautionary tale.
For Tocqueville (who obtains only one brief mention in 'Democracy'), "democracy" was a means to an end: human greatness. He wrote not just of the version of "democracy" he found in America (c. 1830), but of his reservations for its future as well. It could indeed foster human greatness or it could privilege other outcomes. It may be wise to remember his words, "Placed in the middle of a rapid river, we obstinately fix our eyes on some debris we still perceive on the bank we have left, while the current carries us away and takes us back toward the abyss." That's a caveat of a different order.