The first and most important thing to understand about this book is that it is NOT a political psychology book. Anyone looking for that will be sorely disappointed. This is a book dealing primarily with the manipulation of voting rights and practices to achieve a given result. It is difficult to imagine the average reader getting excited about the subtle implications of what order certain proposals, etc. are voted on in. However, the author is obviously enthusiastic, and to an extent, it is catching. If you read carefully enough (and it should be noted that it is a dry subject, so it can be slow going), the games played become clear, and it can be exciting-- up to a point. This book is organized as a series of case studies, beginning all the way back in Classical Greece, moving up through the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, and on to modern-day club voting and Congressional vote-trading. This last example is probably the most useful to the modern reader, as it does provide a useful explanation of the utility and even necessity of what is commonly seen as "sleazy politics". This book is lacking in the explanation of theory or conclusion, either in the realm of the morality of the sort of manipulation presented or in the theory of practice. Riker's one stab at theory comes in the form of coining a new word to cover the art of voting effectively. The examples given, however, are well-explained, and can be useful to anyone involved in parliamentary procedure. It should be noted that this IS an important subject, and provided an important impetus toward the development of modern parliamentary procedure.
Riker's work has become a classic in political science. His "heresthetic art" essentially means that politicians structure the choices available to suit their desires and preffered outcomes. While this should not shock anyone, Riker does provide examples where politicians did this that may surprise those unfamiliar with the legislative process.
This book has limited applicability, however, due to its rational-choice assumptions. Riker assumed that people will react rationally to the choices they are presented with; however, knowing that some politicians are trying to manipulate the system, won't others try and do the same thing? What prevents them from succeeding; or, in other words, why do some people win while others lose?
Riker can't explain many political outcomes in which both sides act strategically to suit their own goals. He leaves out the crucial role that institutions play in shaping political outcomes, and thus his analysis is incomplete.