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Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market Hardcover – December 1, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Using her expertise in Eastern European communist governments, author and public policy professor Wedel (Collision and Collusion) has pulled together a shocking expose of those dismantling U.S. democracy from the inside. Labeling the new breed of U.S. political operators "flexions," she finds individual roles as lobbyists, government insiders or elected officials converging into a single network "snaking through official and private organizations, creating a loop that is closed to democratic processes." Wedel shows how a core group of flexions (neo-conservative cold-warrior Richard Perle, retired four-star army general Barry R. McCaffrey, Obama financial advisor Larry Summers, etc.) have risen to power on an unprecedented confluence of four transformational 20th and 21st century developments: government outsourcing and deregulation, the end of the Cold War, the growth of information technologies, and "the embrace of 'truthiness.'" By wearing several hats simultaneously (think tanker, retired military or government official, corporate representative, "objective" expert), Wedel shows how a flexion can gain extraordinary insider knowledge and influence in order to custom-tailor a version of the "truth" benefitting the highest bidder. In this way, they not only "co-opt public policy agendas" but "craft policy with their benefactors' purposes in mind." This fascinating, authoritative wake-up call should satisfy any American who wants a handle on the republic's most successful agents of corruption.


Publishers Weekly, starred review, December 7, 2009
"This fascinating, authoritative wake-up call should satisfy any American who wants a handle on the republic’s most successful agents of corruption."

Financial Times, January 3, 2010
"A clarion call against some insidious threats to a healthy democracy."

Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post, January 6, 2010
"…a gripping, disquieting book that exposes and explains why it's been so hard to bring about any real change in our country. "

BuzzFlash, November 25, 2009
" What makes Wedel's book so valuable is that she doesn't indulge in conspiracy theories that can't be proven; she provides the facts and describes how this informal group of elitists is fluid in moving among the powerful institutions that control public policy, including government."

James K. Galbraith, Author of The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too
"Of huge value. With an eye that sweeps from Poland and Russia to Cambridge and Washington, Janine Wedel has reinvented the study of public administration for an era of blurred roles and secret networks. Shadow Elite is a must-read for all who care about the future of government—even the possibility of decent government—in the age of flexians and truthiness."

Peter Bergen, Author ofHoly War, Inc. and The Osama bin Laden I Know
"Janine Wedel has written a thought-provoking and interesting book that explores the rise of powerful, informal networks that often drive what governments actually do. Her account of the 1990s "reformers" in Russia and their allies in the United States, as well as her analysis of the interlocking relationships and effects on history of the American neoconservatives are especially persuasive.”

Charles Lewis, Bestselling author and founder of the Center for Public Integrity
"Shadow Elite is a powerful, searing work about how, over time, public and private have become blurred—three out of four people doing the work of the federal government today are actually private contractors. Self-dealing and corruption have become endemic, with those wielding political influence and getting rich at our expense becoming less and less accountable. With this book, Janine Wedel has provided a magnificent public service."

Robert Jervis, Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics, Columbia University
" We think of networks and flexibility as good and desirable, but Wedel shows their dark side. In a study as fascinating as it is disturbing, she delves into political actors and groupings where influence is not linked to accountability. This is a path-breaking exploration of a part of our world that we really need to understand.”

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (December 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465091067
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465091065
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #322,933 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gary Lyndaker on December 30, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Economists still don't know how the great recession could happen. Political scientists seem satisfied to analyze polls and use them to determine political strategies. Military leaders appear to be a political and purchasing arm of government that is unable to complete a military objective in today's environment. Can anyone untangle the complexity of how things really work and who is calling the shots? Janine R Wedel makes a strong case that it takes an Anthropologist - a scholar who studies people and cultures and networks - to see what is really going on.

In this groundbreaking book, Dr. Wedel has identified what she calls "flex networks" of individuals who share a common ideology and, by playing an array of related and interwoven roles, work together to manipulate the policies and actions of governments, corporations, and NGOs. She labels these individuals "flexians" for the way they use multiple simultaneous and sequential roles to pursue the goals of their flex net, often to the detriment of the companies and governments they represent or advise.

Dr. Wedel presents her thesis and then illustrates it using three detailed examples of flex nets, the individuals involved, and the global effects of their actions over time. She stresses that these are not conspiracies and often their actions are legal or at least not provably illegal.

The first example is a flex net operating in Poland and Eastern Europe after the fall of the communists in Poland. Another chapter describes the "Harvard-Chubais" flex net that oversaw and bungled the privatization efforts in Russia in the early 90's.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A man walking in the desert is not cognoscent of what this environment constitutes until a word conceptualizes this environment, namely a desert and all that it entails, and it changes the way he looks at his surroundings.

This is the beauty of words and language, because they define our understanding of our world. Without understanding our surroundings we remain ignorant and our responses to our environment are limited and in many cases such as the Iraq war disastrous.

Janine R. Wedel showed me that my experience with the organizational and enforcement tactics of street gangs in New York City slums was the best business education I could get. She explains how chaotic conditions are the best opportunities a resourceful person can get to break into the elite world controlled by monopolistic streaks in capitalism or the nomenclature/clan controlled world of post-communism. I have seen it, participated in it and benefited from it!

What I didn't realize was that this world I swam in was a recent social and political development. Janine R. Wedel in her masterful "Shadow Elites" has enlightened me to this nefarious world of greed, amorality and in the extreme cases, of traitorous behavior in the "Shadow Elite".

She has done what Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations did, namely describe to the unsuspecting public the obvious. She has named names and their odious supposedly saintly deeds, their methods and the evolution of today's political and business climate and their symbiosis.

She has given as an example the Trotskyist party in America in the forties and how it morphed into the Neo Cons of today. She describes their gaming of today's government, which led our Nation into a criminal enterprise, namely the second Iraq war.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I was surprised to find a one-star review of this book after hearing so much about it and reading a very thorough positive review on the product page for the print edition. After realizing the one-star review had been written by someone who had not read SHADOW ELITE and was simply irritated by the e-book edition's price point, I purchased the e-book, read the introduction and first chapter, and have now returned here to post a five-star review simply so a one-star rating is no longer applied to SHADOW ELITE. This book is indeed an important work that deserves widespread attention and acclaim. It does not deserve a low rating that may lead potential readers to dismiss it without further consideration of its author, her many years of work, and her book's remarkable, revealing findings.
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Format: Hardcover
The author, a social anthropologist, has finally identified what ails our culture, and our democratic way of life. Through intense research (much of it performed in the Eastern bloc), she has revealed why our political system has ceased to work - at least for ordinary citizens anyway; why it has devolved into little more than a pre-arranged, staged, symbolic set of primitive and now also obligatory set of rituals: "dog fights" between two meaningless political parties, and us their surrogates.

She has identified why it is that we continue to go through the empty motions of voting, while everything meaningful goes on well above (or is it well below?) our heads; and why we are forced to listen to the same ethnically incestuous family of narrators beaming constantly across the spectrum of our media as if they were operating a neighborhood megaphone with a circular soundtrack to a bad movie. But as we conspiracy-minded thinkers always knew, it is due to an identifiable cabal -- my word, not the author's (who is almost Catholic in the restraint she shows in failing to call a spade-a-spade) of "Shadow Elite," a hydra-headed ethnically identifiable monster with the tentacles and all the aggressiveness of a metastasized malignant cancer.
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