The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  542 ratings  ·  84 reviews
For eighteen years, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith have been part of a team revolutionizing the study of politics by turning conventional wisdom on its head. They start from a single assertion: Leaders do whatever keeps them in power. They don’t care about the “national interest”—or even their subjects—unless they have to. This clever and accessible book shows...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published September 27th 2011 by PublicAffairs (first published 2011)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Dictator's Handbook, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Dictator's Handbook

State of Wonder by Ann PatchettThe New Jim Crow by Michelle AlexanderIn the Night Kitchen by Maurice SendakTwilight of the Elites by Christopher L. HayesMoonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
Colbert Report Book List
53rd out of 65 books — 22 voters
The Dictator's Handbook by Bruce Bueno De MesquitaA Deadly Misunderstanding by Mark D. SiljanderHow to Cure a Fanatic by Amos OzTime for Outrage by Stéphane HesselA Secret History of the IRA by Ed Moloney
My Top Reads
1st out of 9 books — 1 voter

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,696)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
This was a very enjoyable book, full of what essentially amount to worked examples in the logic of political survival - going into detail about what behaviors occur under what political conditions, often furnishing multiple examples for each concept.

I will say that you can easily understand Bueno De Mesquita's basic thesis just by listening to the EconTalk podcasts on which he was a guest, particularly his 2006 and 2007 appearances, and in fact you may want to consider listening to these before...more
Just finished reading the book and I found it very interesting.
A competent primer on realpolitik, but most of the ideas in the book seem rather obvious to anyone that has read much history or studied politics for any amount of time...and isn't a Progressive.

Still, as suggested in the beginning, this is an adequate primer for realpolitik and for that reason it is valuable.

Please note, this is an abridged/popularized edition of 'The Logic of Political Survival'(also available as a Kindle). I've not read the original version and was more than a little upset...more
Ahmed Mohsen
كتاب السهل الممتنع !
الكاتب يقدم خلاصات لاهم الطرق والوسائل التى يصل بها الحكام الى الحكم ( سواء في النظم الديموقراطيه او الاستبدادية ) ، و كيف يمكن ان يستمر ؛واليات التعامل مع ثورات الشعوب وانتفاضاتها ؛و العلاقات الخارجية ....الخ
لا جديد بالنسبه لمن هم في السياسة بالفعل او لديهم خبرات ورؤى سابقه ؛لكن الاسلوب الذي يشبه اسلوب الملخصات واهم النقاط قبل الدخول في امتحان الحكم ؛و الكثير من الامثله الممتعه على كل فكرة او مبدا عام؛ بالاضافه الى الصراحه العاليه في العرض بعيدا عن التزويق او الشعارات المث...more
This is one of those books whose main thesis could be explained and extrapolated upon in about 10 pages, which means the rest of the book is pretty repetitive. Includes an interesting examination of political systems (autocracy vs democracy) and why politicians ultimately all work on the same incentives. Read the first few chapters and skim the rest.
Mahmoud Ahmed
الكتاب مهم جدا و الترجمة سيئة جدا جدا

Despite the name of book itself, one should not think of it as a Machiavellian manual printed in 2011 with all the latest in horrible political trickery. This book is more about the theoretical wielding of power from the point of view of the ruling elite. As it takes a very big picture and very abstracted approach to things if you wanted a contemporary “Prince”, you’re probably better off absorbing the lessons of the likes of Frank Luntz I think, or perhaps every corporate management doctrine pr...more
Moomen Sallam
الكتاب مشابهة لكتاب الأمير لمكيافللي في تقديم نصائح للحاكم لكفيفية الوصول للسلطة والبقاء فيها لأطول مدة ممكن. إلا أن هناك محاولة للكتاب بمحو الخطوط الفاصلة بين الاستبداد والديمقراطية، إلا أنهم فشلوا في ذلك ففي كل مرة يحاولون محو هذا الخط الفاصل تزيد الهوة بين الاستبداد وبين الديمقراطية. يستحق القراءة
Everybody understands that leaders reward the coalition that brought them to power, but I didn't understand all the implications of this. This book dispenses with

Here's a bald summary, but you should read the book. I can't do it justice in a few sentences:

Whether leaders act in enlightened or brutal ways depends entirely on the size of their winning coalition. In all cases, the members of the winning coalition must be paid for continued support. Failure to do so ends the leader's career and, i...more
Excellent book explaining how both autocrats and democracies must answer to the selectorate, the influentials (a smaller cohort), and the winning coalition (the true insiders). Dictators take great care to reward the insiders and repress their subjects, in particular denying them communication (mobile phones, internet) and the right to assemble. When dictators are unable to reward their coalition, they are vulnerable and there are ways for democracies to aid in their demise.

Democracies are not...more
Luke Sayese
This book has a number of good qualities. First, it gives you a better understanding of why dictators do the mind-boggingly things they do: everything they do is geared towards keeping their supporters (that maintain the dictator's power) happy enough to ensure his continued survival. Second, foreign aid doesn't work because it only relies on superficial economic and political reforms without addressing bad governance styles. And third, despite the cynicism of the book they surprisingly give you...more
While this book is easy to read and never gets boring, its authors oversimplify a number of issues and don't seem to realize when they have contradicted themselves. More often than not, I could come up with a counterexample to whatever idea they were pushing. Save your time and pick a better book.
Nasr Hussein
الكتاب ما بين تاريخ و سياسة وجهة نظر الكاتب ان فرص التحول للديمقراطية قليلة فى الدول العربية و الافريقية لان حكامها مبيهمهمش الشعب قد ما يهمهم الثروات الطبيعية اللى اللى بتخليه يملك لكن فى نفس الوقت مقياس الحرية الىل عندنا يساعدنا على قيادة تمردات و ثورات
Two NYU political scientists have a theory: Politics is the self-interested management of the individuals required to maintain and benefit from power. In The Dictator's Handbook they argue, with ample support, that this thesis applies to democratic and autocratic national regimes, as well as other political entities from local councils to multinational businesses. Although the argument seems sometimes to be stretched (their discussion on the conduct of war in relation to the thesis I found uncom...more
Byron Wright
If you are already depressed about the state of politics, you might want to skip this book. Not because it's untrue, but you will possibly lose hope for politics and politicians by the time you are done reading it.

This book revolves around the idea that all leaders are basically self interested and end up working primarily to stay in power. To do this they need to do all the distasteful things in politics such as rewarding friends rather than doing what's right. The chapter on foreign aid was pa...more
Oct 05, 2013 Jesse marked it as to-read
Shelves: _reserve
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Peter Kahn
Excellent book with a simple yet powerful theory coupled with a great deal of evidence. However, small scale carefully designed experiments would determine the nature of the relationship between the well documented correlation and causation.

According to the authors, leaders focus on getting in and staying in power before all other goals. If you cease to lead, your philosophy never gets to guide the power of the state. Leaders achieve power by creating a winning coalition from essential societal...more
Brilliant theory about how, regardless of the size or nature of an organization, the way people gain and maintain power is the same. The rules that apply to a dictator, a faith leader, a democratic president or head of FIFA are all the same, they are simply tweaked based on how many people you need to keep happy in order to maintain their support for your leadership. They seem to conclude that a liberal democracy is the most effective at keeping a leader reined but still points out there are man...more
When I glanced the title, my first thought was that it is another concoction of superficial factoids drawn from a few banal cases. It was anything but. Continuing the line of an honest and impartial researcher, much in the vein of Ecologic by David Clegg and Origin of Wealth by Eric Beinhocker, the authors allow you to see a number of significant events from an unexpectedly curious, yet still very convincing point of view. They don’t hide their democratic leanings, but these aspirations and idea...more
Alex Bowman
The book The Dictators Handbook, written by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, is an explanation in how governing bodies, such as dictatorships and democracies respectively, function. The book also questions as to why totalitarian regimes work as they do when pertaining to taxes and electing people to take positions and keep them. The book lists reasons as to why those in power try to stay in power the longest and how they do it. Many examples of governmental structures are given in examples that show how...more
Much liked this book, which is a sort-of modern version of Machiavelli's The Prince. Don't get fooled by its silly title, this book is the general-audience version of Bueno De Mesquita et al's selectorate theory, which describes any kind of power structure in terms of which groups leaders need to please (or can ignore!) in order to stay in power. It's a rather cynical theory, with leaders having staying-in-power as more or less their only goal, and they give a great many example; leaders in demo...more
Do you wonder about why it seems authoritarian figures can get so much aid still from governments that are democracies? Why it is so hard to change political situations in countries? Perhaps wondered something as simple as the main differences between democracies and dictatorships?
This book is a great crash course into De Mesquita's ideas in Political Science.
This book is great for anyone interested in international affairs, be it diplomacy, development, defense, or business. It is also great fo...more
Robert Chapman
This is one of those books that is both interesting yet depressing. I'd like to believe that heads of state and leaders of governments stay in power because of their relentless commitment to service, but that would be very naive of me…

The reality is that political power, whether viewed as diplomatic or tyrannical in nature, is a tool which has to be wielded to gain the desired results. Achieving those results is done by managing three key groups of people; the influentials, the interchangeables,...more
After I saw the interview with one of the authors on The Daily Show, I had to read this book. As a former political science major, I enjoy reading about the dynamics of governing, the uses of power, etc. The authors examine the challenges of establishing and maintaining a power base in a variety of situations, whether that be a dictatorship, republican, corporate, etc. The crux of the argument seems to be that the basis of power is dependent of how broad or narrow your selectorate is. The author...more
Osama Mohamed
مرجع كامل عن الأستبداد السياسي بنماذج تاريخية ومعاصرة .
يطرح الكتاب في بساطة العديد من الأفكار المهمة جدا عن طرق وصول المستبدين للسلطة ، وكيفية البقاء فيها ، وكيف يمكنك الحصول علي الأموال التي تحتاجها للوصول للحكم عن طريق سرقة الفقراء وإعطاء الأغنياء ، ماهو دور المعونات الخارجية التي تعطيها الدول الكبري ؟
في المجمل كتاب اكثر من ممتاز واتمني ان اجد مؤلفات أخري للكاتبين
Anour Mostapha
كتاب رائع وحيادي إلى حد كبير
لكنه حصر تبريرات افعال الحكام المستبدين و منظومات الفساد ف "إرضاء الإئتلاف الداعم " وخلى الحاكم عبد ليهم
والترجمة بتاعته شيعت نص متعة الكتاب بسبب استخدام تعبير واحد اكتر من 5 مرات ف الصفحة الواحدة "بيد ان " لكنه ف النهاية الكتاب رائع ويعتبر مرجع
I enjoyed the thesis of the book, especially the first chapter. The remaining chapters get a bit repetitive, and the examples cited are not always well researched. You can jump to the Acknowledgements section if you are looking for better references and notes.
Mohamad Hamdy
كتاب مرعب يفتح عيونكم على ما يفعله بنا المستبدون على كل المستويات من أول رئيس الشركة وشركات مضاربة الاسهم حتى رؤساء الجمهوريات و الوساءل المتبعة لفعل ذلك وتأمين ملكهم
Funny and educating

some of the best books in that subject. the research is intensive. the conclusions, somehow familiar, still impresses the reader
Tiago Etiene
Bueno de Mesquita and Smith take on a very challenging task: to explain why governments do what they do.
While the authors present some intuitive concepts related to political survival, others are not so easy to grasp: similarities between democracies and dictatorship (from the point of view of their theory); how/why sometimes democracy acts as the "bad guy"; and why bad behavior is good politics (the book subtitle).
It surely brings a different perspective of why political parties act the way th...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 56 57 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • How to Rule the World: A Handbook for the Aspiring Dictator
  • The Dictator's Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy
  • The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution
  • The Ayatollahs' Democracy: An Iranian Challenge
  • Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power
  • How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians
  • On Politics: A History of Political Thought From Herodotus to the Present
  • Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?
  • الذرة الاجتماعية: لماذا يزداد الأثرياء ثراءً والفقراء فقرًا ؟
  • Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America's House in Order
  • Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World
  • The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century
  • Arms and Influence
  • The Benefit and The Burden: Tax Reform-Why We Need It and What It Will Take
  • Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
  • Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age
  • Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates
  • The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn't What It Used to Be
Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is a political scientist, professor at New York University, and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. He specializes in international relations, foreign policy, and nation building. He is also one of the authors of the selectorate theory.

He has founded a company, Mesquita & Roundell, that specializes in making political and foreign-policy forecasts using a computer m...more
More about Bruce Bueno De Mesquita...
The Predictioneer's Game: Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future The Logic of Political Survival Predictioneer: one who uses maths, science and the logic of brazen self-interest to see and shape the future Principles of International Politics Predicting Politics

Share This Book