This is one of those few and far between books that really challenges our understanding of modern society. It speaks what most fear to say: democracyThis is one of those few and far between books that really challenges our understanding of modern society. It speaks what most fear to say: democracy is failing. This is not to say that it is bad. In Mr. Zakaria's words, "democracy, with all its flaws, represents the 'last best hope' for people around the world." However, it has become an ugly and inefficient organization and is frankly becoming discredited here at home in the United States.
The book initially presents its premise as a critique of democratizing forces and countries throughout the world. However, the real thesis is that it is constitutional liberalism, not democracy, that causes nations to flourish. The author backs this claim up with historical facts and examples that prove that the Western, and more specifically Anglo-Saxon, traditions of separation of powers and a responsible elite that have made Western democracies so successful in the world today. He also details factors such as high per capita incomes, independent judiciaries, and respect for law and authority as reasons that some democracies tend to succeed while others fail.
What resonates most with this reader, however, is the critique of the twin forces that have made government in the United States so unsuccessful in recent years: democratization and marketization. Mr. Zakaria argues that nearly every effort in the last century to make our political system more open, from the direct election of Senators to campaign finance reform, has had a detrimental effect on the way government operates. The road to Hell is paved with good intentions essentially, because despite honorable goals the democratization of the Republic has led to disenchantment with the legislative process, reactionary politicians that follow instead of lead, a lack of long term vision for the country, and the dominance of special interest groups.
The author lauds Founding Fathers such as James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and George Washington for their foresight on issues such as the delegation of authority, an independent banking system, and the importance of a responsible elite respectively. He shows that America has lost its ability to shelter its leaders from popular opinion and that the the principle of service to the country has quickly been eroded by marketization trends in industries such as law, medicine, and accounting. The death of authority and of responsibility in society is wholly apparent to the observant eye.
In the end Mr. Zakaria argues that the way out is through an increase in independent institutions like the Federal Reserve system and the Supreme Court. Government officials need to be able to do whats best for the country, instead of what the masses clamor for. It would appear, he argues, that the solution to inefficiencies in the system is less democracy and more liberty, constitutional governance and independent decision making instead of referendums and popular governance.
The Future of Freedom is a book that every citizen should read. This is not a partisan book and it is not just about democracy's effects on the world, it is about its legacy at home. Fareed Zakaria has once again written a seminal piece that should read by generations to come. ...more
An excellent book of geopolitical problems facing the United States and potential solutions that future Presidents will have to implement. Anyone invoAn excellent book of geopolitical problems facing the United States and potential solutions that future Presidents will have to implement. Anyone involved in National Security, Foreign Policy, or the Executive Branch should read this book.
"Four things are needed. First, a nation that has an unsentimental understanding of the situation it is in. Second, leaders who are prepare to bear the burden of reconciling that reality with American Values. Third, presidents who understand power and principles and know the place of each. But above all, what is needed is a mature American public that recognizes what is at stake and how little time there is to develop the culture and institutions needed to manage the republic cast in an imperial role. WIthout this, nothing else is possible. The situation is far from hopeless, but it requires an enormous act of will for the country to grow up."...more
About national and international power in the "modern" or Post Renaissance period. Explains how the various powers have risen and fallen over the 5 ceAbout national and international power in the "modern" or Post Renaissance period. Explains how the various powers have risen and fallen over the 5 centuries since the formation of the "new monarchies" in Western Europe....more
This book is a stunning account of a little known battle of the American Civil War. It was of the same level as the Battle of Shiloh and far more devaThis book is a stunning account of a little known battle of the American Civil War. It was of the same level as the Battle of Shiloh and far more devastating than the conflicts at Fort Donelson, Chattanooga, and Nashville. The casualty ratio was higher than those of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. In the predawn hours of December 31, 1862 two great armies, the Armies of the Cumberland and the Tennessee, clashed in the woods and fields near Stone's River with implications that spanned halfway around the world.
The extremely readable book is a combination of tactical and personal narratives that draws the reader in. The author examines strategy at the same time he shares the heart wrenching stories of the men at arms, both Union and Confederate.
As a whole this book sheds a new light on the significance of an otherwise forgotten battle where 81,000 troops would fight and over 23,500 of them would be wounded or die. They deserve to be remembered. ...more
This book is a shocking look at medical conditions during the American Civil War. The author traces Walt Whitman's actions during the war and how he sThis book is a shocking look at medical conditions during the American Civil War. The author traces Walt Whitman's actions during the war and how he served the injured soldiers. In doing this he exposes the true horror of the war, the fact that many more died in hospitals or in camps of wounds and disease than did from battle. The methods and lack of sanitary conditions would shock even the most familiar reader. This is a book every Civil War buff should read....more
**spoiler alert** The topic of the book is Martha Ballard and how she represented women in late 18th century America. It focuses on the role of midwiv**spoiler alert** The topic of the book is Martha Ballard and how she represented women in late 18th century America. It focuses on the role of midwives, women in the home, in a market economy, sexual relations of the time period, family hierarchy and structure, a women’s place in society as a whole. The book is an analysis of her life and her work. It is represented as a true eulogy to early American women and their often unrecorded lives.
The story takes place in the town of Hallowell along the Kennebec River in Massachusetts, what is now Augusta, Maine. It covers the time period from 1785-1812 with an epilogue detailing Martha’s descendants’ actions pertaining to her diary. This time period was from when Martha Ballard moved to Hallowell from Oxford, MA until her death in 1812.
The central argument is that women in late 18th century America, while often over looked, played a major role in all aspects of society. In fact each chapter of the book focuses on a different aspect of Martha Ballard’s impact on her surroundings. These individual themes include women’s impact on the local economy, the definition of women’s work, women’s influence on local politics, the nature of sexual relations at the time, the nature of childbirth, the nature of marriage and family interdependence, how women coped with local and often intimate scandals, and how the role of women was changing during the time period. The author concludes that women had significant influence in several areas of local life including the market economy, medicine, and childbirth. These different aspects of the diary combine to tell the tale of the American women at the turn of the 19th century.
The primary source for the analysis was the diary of Martha Ballard. However, the author, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, cross-references the diary with documents from the time period. These documents include court transcripts, prison logs, land records, wills and testimonies, newspapers, sermons, census records, town records, maps, and other diaries. This detailed work of scholarship let Ulrich piece together much more of the story about the surrounding area than the diary alone would have allowed her.
The thesis is very well constructed. I believe that Ulrich’s argument is foolproof. Women most certainly had a crucial, if often unrecorded effect on society and daily life. The close look at the experiences of Martha Ballard was extremely enlightening. I especially found the nature of the market economy of the time to be captivating. Women often had an entire economic structure all their own. The author’s separation of topics and themes by chapter also was useful as it allowed a segmented and detailed study of the different topics. Her cross referencing of the diary with other sources paints a broader picture of the time period and allows certain of Martha’s sometimes mundane or unnoticed comments to stand out. The book was informative as to the nature of family and sexual relationships and also neighbor and town associations. As a whole it explained the role of women during the time period extremely well.
The book itself is rather boring but for anyone interested in the topic it is an excellent piece of scholarship....more
**spoiler alert** The topic of this book is how Pocahontas, and other Native Americans like her, responded to the English invasion of their ancestral**spoiler alert** The topic of this book is how Pocahontas, and other Native Americans like her, responded to the English invasion of their ancestral homeland. Faced with powerful adversaries like the English, this book goes into detail how she, her father Powhatan, and her people deftly embraced, engaged, resisted, or manipulated the English to try and protect their way of life. Specifically it attempts to explain Pocahontas’s actions through other’s eyes since she left no written record herself. It is a biography not just of her but a tale of her people and their struggle for independence in a rapidly changing world.
The author's argument is that Pocahontas, and by association her people, were not acquiescent admirers of English culture or helpless victims of English imperialism. The author argues that Pocahontas was a brave and intelligent woman who sacrificed and dared to protect her people. The author also shows how the Powhatans and the other Native American peoples were not ignorant savages but were a sophisticated and wise people using their own subtle cunning to fight against the English’s vast technological advantage. She shows how through engagement, manipulation, and resistance the Native American’s were able to resist English domination and maintain their independence. She disputes the common stereotype that Pocahontas was a supplicant admirer and convert to European ways but instead made a choice for her people to serve and protect them. Overall the author meant to rewrite the understanding of early colonial relations with Native Americans and give Pocahontas the respect she deserves.
The premise of the book is highly probably and her argument is very convincing. It is completely unrealistic to believe the Native Americans were only supplicant admirers of English culture and technology. Far more likely is the view that they were only trying to maintain their independence from the English and resisted serf-like servitude. The author’s depiction of Pocahontas is the only area that I truly have questions about. Since she left no writings or letters and the only written historical record of her is what the English wrote or saw it is extremely difficult to determine what she thought or felt. It is highly likely that the author is correct about Pocahontas motives and goals about protecting her people. However, I do wish there was more proof. As a whole the tale was compelling and extremely readable. The light the author shed on Pocahontas and her life makes her more a real person and less like the fairy tale rendition that has traditionally been told. I wish the last chapter had been a little longer and told more of the tale of what happened after the Powhatan and other tribes were defeated and put on reservations rather than just jumping to the present. However, it was a satisfying ending and a very enjoyable book....more
This book was really a gem in my semester reading list. The California Gold Rush was an area I just was not terribly familiar with, nor did I link itThis book was really a gem in my semester reading list. The California Gold Rush was an area I just was not terribly familiar with, nor did I link it specifically with causes of the Civil War. Richard's book is a fantastic collection of biographies, stories, and political fights that seamlessly flow into a climax that was the secession of the South and the fight for the Union. Its a book of pure adventure mixing wars of words, duels, and cunning politics. Not only do the readers get a first hand look at the Gold Rush, they have a front row seat to the fights over California statehood, the Compromise of 1850, the transcontinental railroad, Manifest Destiny, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the darkening clouds of war. This book is a must read for any Civil War enthusiast. ...more
**spoiler alert** King Leopold's Ghost is a very interesting piece of scholarship. The author goes to great lengths to expose a very brutal colonial r**spoiler alert** King Leopold's Ghost is a very interesting piece of scholarship. The author goes to great lengths to expose a very brutal colonial regime ruled by an authoritarian, greedy, and heartless dictator. Due to this regime an estimated 10 million Congolese people were killed between 1885 and 1909. This is an event that is seldom spoken of and the perpetrators went to great lengths to hide the crimes committed. The author's mission is to shed light on this scandal and give remembrance to the victims.
The details paid to the actors involved were quite impressive. These people include King Leopold II, Henry Morton Stanley, E.D. Morel, and Sir Roger Casement, among others. The author's main point is that the cruelty and brutality associated with Leopold's regime was an inherent side effect of European Imperialism. King Leopold's extraordinary greed made the situation worse, but even British colonies experienced extreme repression. The story is also one about the blind spots and biases of Europeans, especially in their colonial ventures. The author shows how budding Nationalism blinded many of the actors from seeing how their own nations were guilty of the same crimes that Leopold had committed in the Congo.
As a whole this book is very readable and captivating. Its a stunning tale of one of the seldom known tragedies of the 20th century. ...more
Robert Kagan's book is a challenging one to read. However, it is very fascinating and captivating. It reinforces the notion that the 19th century wasRobert Kagan's book is a challenging one to read. However, it is very fascinating and captivating. It reinforces the notion that the 19th century was the crucial in the development of the American national heritage and ideological perspective. It is a "tour de force" of historical knowledge and implications. Kagan shows how America, from its founding days, was not an isolationist power, but one with a unique ideology. Its messianic and martial character led it to be viewed as dangerous by other powers. This is a must read for any student of history or foreign policy wonk. It provides an excellent background for 20th and 21st century policies and actions. ...more