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The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age Hardcover – April 8, 2014
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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
"...an important and unusual read ... Brown does a wonderful job of showing how the same qualities that can seem so appealing in strong leaders can lead, in the mildest cases, to bad decision-- and, in the most extreme cases, to death and suffering on a massive scale ... Though The Myth of the Strong Leader is about political leadership, you come away from Brown's book with a deeper understanding of leadership in general."―Bill Gates' Favorite Books of 2016
"Counter-intuitive but splendidly argued ... This is an ambitious work made more compelling by its breadth."―Washington Post
"Rich and multidimensional."―Foreign Affairs
"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."―Wall Street Journal
"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."―Guardian (UK)
"Persuasive analysis of politically leadership."―Independent (UK)
"A sure-handed historical review with an engaging viewpoint."―Kirkus
"Rich in historical detail and insight."―
"Brown raises important questions about the nature of leadership and the expectations we have for our leaders."―Booklist
Top customer reviews
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.