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

4.28 of 5 stars 4.28  ·  rating details  ·  126 ratings  ·  12 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
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Published October 22nd 2012 by Liveright Publishing Corporation
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Justin Evans
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
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
Margaret Sankey
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.
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).

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.
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.
Nikolai Lang
Fantastisk. Især kapitlerne om Aristoteles, Augustin, republikanisme, Hobbes og John Stuart Mill rockede min verden
Schuyler Vanvalkenburg
A great intro primer on western political thought.
Shauna Tevels
I could not seem to get into this book at all.
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  • Lectures on the History of Political Philosophy: 0
  • The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters
  • The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution
  • The Opium of the Intellectuals
  • Thinking the Twentieth Century
  • Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United
  • The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics
  • Knowledge and Human Interests
  • 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)
  • The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe
  • A History of Histories: Epics, Chronicles, Romances and Inquiries from Herodotus and Thucydides to the Twentieth Century
  • Responsibility and Judgment
  • The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France
  • Blood of Tyrants: George Washington & the Forging of the Presidency
  • The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History
  • Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration
  • Stalin's Curse: Battling for Communism in War and Cold War
  • After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire Since 1405
The Making of Modern Liberalism John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism Bertrand Russell: A Political Life On Aristotle: Saving Politics from Philosophy (Liveright Classics) The Philosophy of The Social Sciences

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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.” 2 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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