Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “On Democracy” as Want to Read:
On Democracy
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

On Democracy

3.7  ·  Rating Details ·  426 Ratings  ·  31 Reviews
The last half of the 20th century has been an era of democratic triumph. The main anti-democratic regimes - communist, fascist, Nazi - have disappeared, and new democracies are emerging vigorously or tentatively throughout the world. In this book, one of the most prominent political theorists of our time provides a primer on democracy that clarifies what it is, why it is ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published August 11th 2000 by Yale University Press (first published December 1998)
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 On Democracy, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about On Democracy

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Brief summary of democratic theory. Differences between the ideal and what we get in reality.

In Dahl's view, no government in the world has lived up to the Platonic ideal of Democracy, but some have made significant progress in both the number of democracies and the expansion of the electorate in the latter half of the 20th century. Talks about the legal and philosophical justifications of equality, of course given the fact that no two people are identical nor equal.

What factors constitute an ac
Grace Danback
Oct 09, 2015 Grace Danback rated it did not like it
Like all history books we're forced to read, this was very dry, boring, and fact heavy. Don't tell my teacher but I really only read about 4 chapters before giving up.
Aug 10, 2014 K rated it liked it
Shelves: political-theory
A good, if not short, recap of democratic theory. Robert A. Dahl is a prominent political scientist and this is very evident throughout his books so stay away if your interests lie in radical political theories. Democracy is a very well thought out concept and most scholars acknowledge its weaknesses. Every time I thought that his analysis was superficial he would come up with a counter argument for my position. This was very evident in his critique of direct-democracy which is rarely criticized ...more
Adam Šimice
Oct 29, 2014 Adam Šimice rated it really liked it
Dahl se nam ctenarum ve sve knize snazi vysvetlit, co to demokracie vlastne je, jeji vyhody a nevyhody, porovnava ji s jinymi rezimi atd. Samozrejme kazdy z nas ma jiz nejakou predstavu o demokracii. Tato kniha je urcena jak pro ty z nas, kteri o demokracii vedi malo, tak i pro ty, kteri toho vedi hodne. V kazde kapitole se Dahl obraci ke ctenari s ruznymi otazkami, ktery vetsinou zpochybni to, co si ctenar na predchozich stranach precetl, ale nasledne vse krasne vysvetli. Myslim, ze kniha ...more
Natali Kasabri
Nov 08, 2015 Natali Kasabri rated it really liked it
comprehensive book
Steven Peterson
Dec 19, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it really liked it
Robert Dahl is one of the most respected figures in the study of politics. He has authored some of the most important works in political science, such as "Who Governs?" This little volume is meant as an accessible work that informed nonacademics can profit by reading. In that endeavor, he is pretty successful.

This volume explores a number of key issues: the origins and development of democracy, the nature of ideal democracy, the nature of actual democracies in practice, and conditions that are
Jan 26, 2012 Lester rated it really liked it
In 2011, every citizen of every country involved in the Arab Spring should have received a free copy of this book. Although I found it difficult to get into in the beginning, where the history of democracy was described, I found the book incredibly enlightning and easy to read. The reader does need to concentrate, though. Although it is not a purely academic book with long references and many political words with specific meaning, it is also complex to understand the intricacies of the subject ...more
Sergei Moska
Aug 09, 2011 Sergei Moska rated it did not like it
From my perspective, awful. It's overly simplistic and condescendingly written. I understand that it was written for a lay audience - a sort of "here's a taste of what democratic studies look like", and was going to give it two stars because I figured it might have some value for beginners. But then I thought about it, and I can't. His conclusions are at times misleading. At other times, he draws sweeping generalizations with very, very little argumentation. That's the main problem. The tone of ...more
Marti Martinson
Sep 10, 2013 Marti Martinson rated it liked it
Yes, M.K. Elmo, this is the one you gave me LAST year! Sorry.....At only 199 pages of text, the book is, as reviewers here and on the cover have noted, concise, accessible, understandable, general, and elegant. One person thought it was condescending but I did not find it so. The ascription of "authoritative", however, is lacking. Yes, Dahl admits to America's sins in foreign policy and slavery, but they sound more like pecadillos than the atrocities that they really were -- and still are. Dahl ...more
Nov 16, 2014 Hoang rated it it was amazing
I am taking a class named "Comparative Politics", and this book was used as our textbooks. Obviously we studied about democracy. Even if you have no knowledge at all about democracy since your country's government is nondemocratic (like I do) or you are living under democratic system and think you understood democracy to the core, I think this book will be very helpful to you. It taught me everything about democracy in a simple and easy to understand language, first make me want so desperate to ...more
Paul D.  Miller
Dec 05, 2014 Paul D. Miller rated it really liked it
Shelves: ir
An excellent, concise, and occasionally eloquent overview of democracy: what it is, why it's good, and challenges it faces. This is a simple, down-to-earth, undergraduate-level text. Dahl falters slightly in his chapter about why market-capitalism favors democracy: he omits any mention of the importance of economic freedom as a corollary to political freedom, and underemphasizes the significance of the market as a check and balance against overweening government. Overall, however, Dahl gets just ...more
Sep 19, 2016 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of political science's best little books on democratic political theory. Anyone embarking on a career or education in poli-sci should consider this book mandatory reading. It's foundational so don't expect a tremendous amount of detail--historical or otherwise--but do expect basic theory which you will surely revisit time and time again as you delve deeper into subject matter that relates to past, modern, and future democratic polities.
Mar 22, 2016 Sharon rated it liked it
While no means the be-all and end-all of political writing, On Democracy is considered an essential reading for beginners in the study of political science. While Dahl is concise and clear, he only skims the surface of democratic theory. Of note: this book reads like a textbook, it provides the very basics of democracy (or at least one definition of it) -- don't look for in-depth analyses from Dahl here.
Jan 14, 2013 Ipung rated it it was ok
"...popular governments have sometimes acted unjustly or cruelly toward people outside their borders, people living in other states-foreigners, colonials, and so on. In this respect popular governments have behaved no worse toward outsiders than nondemocratic governments, and often they have behaved better." [P,47]

Denial and one both side opinion from the "popular governments" side of view.
Young Kim
Sep 27, 2015 Young Kim rated it liked it
Shelves: politics, library
This book can be a good overview if you haven't already read a lot on democracy. However, if you are familiar with the idea and the issues with it, there isn't much to gain from the book. The book is very broad but also very shallow in its analysis. I was often dissatisfied with the amount of analysis.
Jessica Bensinger
Oct 08, 2015 Jessica Bensinger rated it really liked it
I was afraid when starting this that it was going to be very hard to understand but Dahl actually made what I thought were going to be complex topics into easy to understand ideas. This was a great book to help me first learn about democracy and if it hadn't been for my political science course then I might not have ever read this.
Jul 31, 2011 Mike added it
a fascinating look at the roots of democracy- what led to it, how it became cemented in certain societies and not others, what the factors are in the societies that make them unstable and likely to revert away from democracy, and finally the strange relationship between market capitalism and democracy- definitely worth your time, a fast read that is still comprehensive and very very informative.
Mar 27, 2014 Abd-Elhamid rated it it was amazing
A necessary and elemental read. Covers the what is, the why, the how and the when of democracy, all in a clear and no none-sense dialogue. The section on electoral systems and the democracy-free market dynamic were especially enlighting.
Frank Sloth Aaskov
Nov 03, 2012 Frank Sloth Aaskov rated it really liked it
A very classic review of Democracy. Dahl breaks modern democracy down to its core pieces and goes through every aspect. Very interesting book if one is interested in the concept of democracy and its challenges and wish to clarify what makes a democracy.
Confusing at times-- The discussion about the different forms of democracy throughout the universe is extremely interesting. Although democracy is chaotic, there are many valid points on how it should be adopted everywhere. I enjoyed the historical nature of how democracy has evolved.
Alexandra Chauran
Apr 22, 2015 Alexandra Chauran rated it it was amazing
If you're the tyrannical overlord of a small nation looking for a sort of "Democracy for Dummies" style book, look no further. This book makes cogent arguments that will make you feel bad and stupid for even considering another leadership style. I read this book for my dissertation.
Jul 27, 2011 Npsopa rated it really liked it
Brief, on point booklet on the hugely misunderstood and unclear concept of democracy. I personally agreeded on Dahl´s view of polyarchy (representative democracy with universal suffrage) and its ambivalent nature in market economies. The book is also vividly written which makes it cool to read.
Brian Coffman
Feb 06, 2008 Brian Coffman rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Robert Dahl is a professor of Political Science at Yale. This book is a great book for anyone who wants to understand the fundamentals of Democracy in America.
Andy Janes
Jun 13, 2015 Andy Janes rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, non-fiction
A really good, quick and fun read about some of the basics of democracy. A great starter for the study of our governments.
Benjamin Gaiser
Aug 21, 2012 Benjamin Gaiser rated it really liked it
Good book for an outlook of political theory, although his coinage of polyarchy has never managed it into standard colloquium, the concept is worth the reader's attention.
Oct 31, 2007 Joshua rated it really liked it
Clear, precise, a very good overview. Perhaps slightly out of date, since it was written during the Clinton presidency.
Rachel Snow
Rachel Snow rated it really liked it
May 17, 2014
trivialchemy rated it liked it
Sep 13, 2007
Noémi rated it really liked it
Dec 15, 2011
Astgh rated it it was amazing
Nov 21, 2012
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries
  • States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China
  • Political Order in Changing Societies
  • The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World
  • Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress
  • Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age
  • Peace & War: A Theory of International Relations
  • Understanding the European Union: A Concise Introduction (European Union)
  • Models of Democracy
  • Power: A Radical View
  • Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competition and the Logic of Money-Driven Political Systems
  • The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad
  • Theory of the Partisan
  • The Sexual Contract
  • The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics
  • Hypermodern Times
  • The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy
  • Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy
Robert Alan Dahl is the Sterling Professor emeritus of political science at Yale University, where he earned his Ph.D. in political science in 1940. He is past president of the American Political Science Association and an honorary member of Manuscript Society. He received an honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) degree from Harvard University in 1998.
More about Robert A. Dahl...

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »