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On Politics: A History of Political Thought: From Herodotus to the Present

4.23  ·  Rating Details ·  275 Ratings  ·  26 Reviews
Three decades in the making, one of the most ambitious and comprehensive histories of political philosophy in nearly a century.

Both a history and an examination of human thought and behavior spanning three thousand years, On Politics thrillingly traces the origins of political philosophy from the ancient Greeks to Machiavelli in Book I and from Hobbes to the present age in
Kindle Edition
Published October 22nd 2012 by Liveright Publishing Corporation
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Flora I found it very helpful in the way it weaves connections between all these great political writers and thinkers. It offers a degree of interpretation…moreI found it very helpful in the way it weaves connections between all these great political writers and thinkers. It offers a degree of interpretation and criticism, but is most valuable in its piecing together of an ongoing dialogue about politics throughout the ages. I would strongly recommend it.(less)
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Justin Evans
Sep 13, 2013 Justin Evans rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
Talk about bad timing: Ryan has obviously been writing this book for years now, and had it been released in, say, 2007, it would have seemed perfectly sensible. It's important to discuss political ideas, to think about how we rule and are ruled, and from where we get our assumptions.

But with the world economy in a never-ending tailspin, massive unemployment in most developed economies and faltering investment rates in developing ones, a very real resurgence of class warfare and ludicrous ideolo
Jan 09, 2013 Marks54 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A long time ago when I first took a class in political theory, we used George Sabine's magnificent history. This book is a successor to Sabine (although I have heard that the Sabine book is being updated). It is a rich and wonderful book that I heartily recommend to anyone interest in classical approaches to political theory. The book is organized to chapters that focus on a particular author and all the real classics are represented from Herodotus and Thucydides through Marx. There is also a se ...more
An extremely well-composed survey of western political theory, written by an accomplished political theorist. Early in volume I, Ryan posits that the question of how men are best able to govern themselves has been one of the central refrains in the history of political thought. His survey is written from the perspective of a proponent, albeit a cautious one, of modern liberalism. One should not expect perfect objectivity or a full fleshing out of the theoretical nuances of each of the many figur ...more
Steven Peterson
Jul 19, 2015 Steven Peterson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a major work—and a welcome one. Once upon a time, I thought that Sabine’s history of political philosophy was the apogee in this arena. But I think that the author, Alan Ryan, has actually surpassed Sabine. He does a nice job of introducing us to the variety of political thinkers over time. But his analysis of the works—going beyond just description—is the real contribution of this two volume set. Ryan notes that (page xxiii): “This is a book about the answers that historians, philosophe ...more
Jun 03, 2016 Kåre rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: filosofi, historie
Fokus er på filosofi mindre end historie, men begge dele indgår. Der tages udgangspunkt i en række berømte filosofiske tekster om politik, og disse tekster indrammes gennem diskussioner af de historiske forhold for de samfund, hvori teksterne er skrevet.

Hermed udelades meget interessant, og måske meget af det, som jeg synes er interessant. Udeladt er således alle politiske forhold fra før, der blev skrevet interessante tekster om politik. Jeg kender naturligvis en del til dette gennem diverse a
Jan 22, 2016 Jim marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jim by: The History Book Club (Good Reads)
-on hold-
This book is being read by the Good Reads History Book Club for over a year and they are finishing shortly. .

I became interested in checking out the book club upon reading that Neal Stephenson has been a member of a history only book club for twenty plus years.
(Perhaps this? )

Book One & Two is available at the Nashua Public Library. I am giving Book One a shot which is
Cary Kostka
Mar 18, 2015 Cary Kostka rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
The author accomplished something that I have not encountered yet; a very in depth detailed account of political history. He does a wonderful job of taking you through the political climes and thoughts of all ages from Socrates and Aristotle into today's very divisive political arenas. The read is very long and information dense, so it will take some time to get through the material. Also, plan on devoting some time to diving deeper into certain topics and newly introduced political theorists. Y ...more
Feb 02, 2014 Jacqui rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed learning about so many great thinkers through the ages, and how they examined previous ideas and were inspired by or rejected them. I loved to see how the thread of ideas from as early as Athens echo forward into the present day.

The question "How should human societies best be governed?" has been answered so many different ways and it was very interesting to read through the history.

Michael A
I've been struggling with this book for some time and simply gave up the other night. It was around about the time I was reading about Hegel, so about 700 pages into the book.

I got much the same feeling I did as when I tried reading Bertrand Russell's "History of Western Philosophy" in college -- while this is well written, I questioned how seriously I could take his viewpoint when he evaluated all the material himself and never gave the reader any access to the texts themselves. In some subject
Greg Talbot
May 24, 2015 Greg Talbot rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review is strictly for Part II.

Oh the breadth Ryan spans, from Hobbes to Rawls, a look into the thinkers, the ideas and the events that shaped modern government.

The story is of writers and thinkers that built ideas off each other. A theory of sharp minds and difficult realities. One realizes just how precarious liberal democracy is today, and the humble beginnings that turned it to a reality.

So many of the ideas: republicanism, property rights, veil of ignorance, social equality are embedded in
Tony Gualtieri
Oct 11, 2015 Tony Gualtieri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a strangely targeted book. On the one hand, it presents a fascinating history of basic political thought by excising the metaphysical and ethical content from the philosophers it considers. Along with the usual suspects, there are interesting discussions of such unexpected writers as Polybius, Marsilius, and Sorel. On the other hand, it reads like an undergraduate college textbook, running off a series of facts and summaries without an overarching conceptual thesis. One almost expects a ...more
Oct 22, 2012 D. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A truly interesting and informative book. It's only major shortcoming is that Ryan's use of the framework of modern liberalism unduly determines what he focuses on and how he does so. That focus can be especially problematic, at times, when he discusses pre-17th century politics. Nevertheless, Ryan's book deserves to be read by any student of politics and/or the history of Western culture(s).

Margaret Sankey
Feb 04, 2013 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very friendly, thorough survey of western political thought in historical context with a good review of the thought itself and the ways in which each philosopher and work draw from and are built upon by others. I particularly liked the chapter on Polybius and Cicero. Although there are no huge revelations here for anyone familiar with Western Civ, it makes for a comfortable rather than a pedantic reunion.
Howard Mansfield
A smart introduction (or reintroduction) to political thought. In short space, Alan Ryan brings into focus Locke, Rousseau, Tocqueville, Marx and company. Each chapter can be read on its own. Ryan is concise and engaging.
Jan 22, 2013 Benjamin rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's like a an undergraduate copy-pasted together a dissertation using Wikipedia and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Would have worked out fine if it had been written 25 years ago and if he had some of Russell's personality.
Two stars for effort. Read it to build your willpower muscle.
Phillip Welshans
Aug 31, 2015 Phillip Welshans rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
1,000+ pages of political thought and philosophy covering Hobbes to modern American democracy. Super dense, but a great way to survey modern western political thought.
George Hodgson
Mar 25, 2016 George Hodgson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the best reads so far. A very broad subject handled masterfully. In order to fully appreciate though it will require many readings and considerable additional reading of source material.
Dec 21, 2016 T rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
on western politics
Richard Anderson
Superb book. I learned a great deal from it.
Shauna Tevels
Jan 02, 2014 Shauna Tevels rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I could not seem to get into this book at all.
Samuel Smith
Dec 22, 2014 Samuel Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very Vast.
Aug 24, 2016 Faraz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-patches
A detail outlook on the history of Political Thought///
Sep 27, 2015 Cheryl rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, not-finished
finished ch. 5 but it was putting me to sleep so I'm giving up.
Nikolai Lang
Oct 23, 2013 Nikolai Lang rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fantastisk. Især kapitlerne om Aristoteles, Augustin, republikanisme, Hobbes og John Stuart Mill rockede min verden
Aivis rated it really liked it
May 13, 2014
Dragan rated it really liked it
Jun 10, 2014
Jules Frakes
Jules Frakes rated it it was amazing
Dec 21, 2013
Jacob rated it it was amazing
May 26, 2013
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  • The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters
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  • The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics
  • The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition
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  • Sincerity: How a Moral Ideal Born Five Hundred Years Ago Inspired Religious Wars, Modern Art, Hipster Chic, and the Curious Notion That We All Have Something to Say (No Matter How Dull)
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“There was no politics in Persia because the great king was the master of slaves, not rulers of citizens. The point is beautifully made by Herodotus, the father of history and our own starting point. The exiled Spartan king, Demaratus, had taken refuge at the court of the great king of Persia, Darius I, in 491 BCE. Darius made him the ruler of Pergamum and some other cities. In 480 Darius's son and successor, Xerxes, took him to see the enormous army he had assembled to avenge his father's humiliation by the Athenians in an earlier attempt to conquer Greece. 'Surely,' he said to Demaratus, "the Greeks will not fight against such odds.' He was displeased when Demaratus assured him that they certainly would. 'How is it possible that a thousand men-- or ten thousand, or fifty thousand should stand up to an army as big as mine, especially if they were not under a single master but all perfectly free to do as they pleased?' He could understand that they might feign courage if they were whipped into battle as his Persian troops would be, but it was absurd to suppose that they would fight against such odds. Not a bit of it, said Demaratus. THey would fight and die to preserve their freedom. He added, 'They are free--yes--but they are not wholly free; for they have a master, and that master is Law, which they fear much more than your subjects fear you. Whatever this master commands they do; and his command never varies: it is never to retreat in battle, however great the odds, but always to remain in formation and to conquer or die.' They were Citizens, not subjects, and free men, not slaves; they were disciplined but self-disciplined. Free men were not whipped into battle.” 4 likes
“There were two views of how a polis was formed. The first was military: a scattered group of people came to live in one city behind a set of protective walls. The other was political: a group of people agreed to live under one authority, with or whithout the protection of a walled city. Synoikismos, or 'Living together', embraces both. Any political entity implies a population that recognizes a common authority, but the first 'city-states' were not always based on a city. Sparta makes the point. We think of Sparta as a city, but the Spartans were proud of the fact that they lived in villages without protective walls: their army was their wall and 'every man a brick.” 2 likes
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