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The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Citizenship, the Economy, and the Role of Government

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  491 ratings  ·  83 reviews
Understand income inequality, middle-out economics and other realities of modern America as authors Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer argue that fundamental American assumptions about citizenship, society, economics, and government need updating for the 21st century.

For many years the dominant metaphor for understanding markets and government has been the machine. Liu and Hanauer
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published November 8th 2011 by Sasquatch Books (first published January 1st 2011)
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Apr 03, 2013 rated it liked it
This was a thoughtful but flawed book. The authors argue--compellingly--that rather than using the metaphor of a machine for the economy, and for democracy, we are better served by thinking of it as a garden. I like that idea, and found it to be a useful frame for considering the modern nation in which we live. Transparency and clear rules are the soil, for instance. Education, infrastructure, health and healthcare, a social safety net, are the fertilizer. Rather than planting a monoculture (Too ...more
May 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In a couple of months, the presidential election will be over; the winners will be celebrating, the losers will be looking forward to the collapse of our economy/nation/way-of life or planning for the next election and the country will pretty much be back where we were before the election. It will be “business (government) as usual.”

I have read a book that proposes that this is the greater part of our problem: Government as usual. The book is The Gardens of Democracy: A New American Story of Cit
John Kaufmann
May 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
A little gem of a book, totally unexpected. The author tries to lay out the framework for a new economic and political order beyond the partisanship and polarization that currently dominate. The book book is critical of both laissez-faire and top-down state-centric approaches. It distinguishes between what it calls the outdated "machine-brain" approach the structuring our economics and politics, and the "garden-brain" approach dictated by recent advances in science and technology, such as comple ...more
KJ Grow
Jan 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sasquatch
A concise and intelligent book I expect I will return to again and again. The authors make the case for changing our mode of thinking of government as a machine that self-corrects and achieves equilibrium when everyone is pursuing their own self-interest, to thinking of government as a garden, where there is conscious cultivation in order to promote the health and wealth of all. A great case for nonpartisan civic engagement and a clear, thoughtful refutation of free-market economics.

I hope this
Max Nova
May 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: government, to-review
Gardens of democracy is a great evaluation of what's currently wrong with the concept of American citizenship on both the left and right. They point out that our political system is based on Enlightenment scientific ideals like linearity and predictability, but we science now tells us that our highly networked, independent, and non-linear society can't be described by those old assumptions and theories.

Liu and Hanauer advocate for a much more pragmatic approach to politics and the rebirth of loc
bianca guerrero
Sep 25, 2017 rated it liked it
The basic premise of this book -- that democracy requires active care and involved citizens -- is clear by the end of the book. The book is too short, though, and left me feeling unsatisfied. I finished this a week ago and can't really remember much else besides the basic premise because there wasn't enough examples or discussion for the subsidiary points.
Jul 28, 2012 added it
If you're interested at all in the question of what the proper role of government is, run don't walk to read this book. It doesn't matter if you're Occupier, liberal, libertarian, Tea Partier, whatever--there's a lot to chew on here. I've been increasingly troubled by certain aspects of old-school liberalism in recent years (and in fact in some ways I've become small-c conservative), but hard-core libertarianism seems divorced from reality to me, and I'm frankly horrified by modern-day Movement ...more
Aug 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
I have to admit that I didn't like every idea for reform within the book. However, the authors presented some very salient points with regard to our current state and approaches to address them. I found myself nodding along to the ideas of "Big What, Small How." The approach for regulations to level the playing field and allow for true competition also rang true. In proper and intelligent doses governments and regulations allow for business to thrive, not impede it. If we operate Education, Poli ...more
Nov 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-read
Heard the author speak this year and wanted to learn more.
Jul 18, 2012 rated it liked it
It's hard to give this book a single rating... my reaction to it is kind of all over the map. With some parts I agreed, with some parts I (strongly) disagreed, and some parts I just couldn't tell where the authors were coming from or what they were saying. However, this book is interesting and thought-provoking, and the authors acknowledge differing opinions and even encourage the reader to come up with their own ideas about American citizenship, economy, and government. The authors' argument is ...more
Chris Jordan
Sep 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: want-to-buy
Gardens of Democracy gets a 5 star rating from me for its creativity, originality, and thoughtfulness in busting through the conventional wisdom of our stale left vs. right debate over the role of government.

The book is quite lean which makes it less comprehensive than it could be. For example, some of the book's conclusions are based on what the authors claim are the fresh insights of a "new scientific revolution" that is apparently changing the way we think about the nature of humans, society,
Steve Bedford
Feb 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everybody
Very interesting book. Highly recommended to every body. It is short and accessible, but contains some very powerful ideas. I love the idea of society as a garden that needs tending, not as a machine that should be left to run of its own accord. Much of our current political and economic theory is based in 19th and 20th century Newtonian/deterministic science and philosophy. Well, our science has moved on, and we now know the world is much more complex, and inherently unpredictable (in some rega ...more
Anirudh Mangipudi
Apr 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book largely reiterates the point it began with - We're all better off when we're all better off.

Two points which make this book an interesting one are the argument that Wealth is not individuals accumulating money but Wealth is society creating solutions. Another interesting argument is it emphasize how ill suited the conservative, libertarian & liberal views of governance are which were models created in a time where change happened incrementally. In a world where changes happen before o
Feb 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
I saw a Nick Hanauer TED Talk ( ), and when I found out he had a book, of course I was interested... especially with "Garden" in the title.

Well, I really got more than I bargained for, not only was the book by NH and based loosely on gardening, with organic principles of ecology woven in, it also references physics, complexity and emergence. What an unexpected confluence of topics that I am interested in! Basically, the idea that the oversimplified math
Andrew Gentile
Jun 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Gardens of Democracy provides a digestible overview of topics often too hard to even chew on. The clarity of writing i s matched in the small pages, large font, and approachable look and feel of the cover and layout. I never thought such heavy content could be such an easy read, but these guys achieved it!

As an author myself writing about emotional healing as an aspect of societal healing, this book provides a great basic framework to illustrate where our society is stuck and where we need to go
Apr 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a thoughtful little book, and I wish every American would read it. It has made think a lot about my role as a citizen and as part of a community. The authors' argument that true self-interest is mutual interest (we're all better off when we're all better off) makes a lot of sense to me. And I think that if these ideas were actually applied to personal behavior and to policy, America would be a better, stronger country.
Ken Poirier
Feb 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
GoD is a vast improvement on their previous work, True Patriot. However it still lacks supporting evidence and is far too left focused to appeal to conservatives. the authors also lump libertarianism in to conservatives which is a shame because what it is really describing is progressive/social libertarianism. Other than that, the authors lay out a very nice hypothesis as to future trends in politics. despite its problems, I would still consider it a must read for political thinkers.
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A short book full of big ideas that articulated what I've been feeling - the need for an engaged citizenship and roles for government and capitalism that assume we're all better off when we're all better off.

The old perception of the economy being like a machine when it's really more like a garden that needs to be tended resonated with me.

I read it twice - thought provoking!

Katherine Collins
May 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
What a quirky, awesome little book! Liu and Hanauer reframe democracy as a garden, not a machine (parallel to much of our Honeybee work, trying to reframe investing as a natural system, not an engineered one). “True self interest is mutual interest”! And their list of inspiring books is, well, inspiring.
Aug 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
Charting a course between Traditional Left and Traditional Right, Liu and Hanauer try to assert the need for a rejuvenated American political system. They're capitalists, so it's not "BURN THE RICH FOR HEAT", but they believe in a strong role for the state. I think they fall down where most non-politicians fall down: it's easy to say, in generalities, what should happen, but the problem with politics is that specifics of implementation are where things go wrong. After all, the current American s ...more
Steve Bivans
Jul 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: be-a-hobbit
Co-written by an ex-presidential speech writer (Liu) and a billionaire (Hanauer), Gardens of Democracy lays out their plan for a new, or revised, form of American democracy, that promises to solve the crises that now face the United States, if not the world at large.
Hanauer and Liu argue that the system of government as it has devolved in the U.S., has allowed the upper 1% to accrue the lion’s share of wealth, while gutting the middle class to the point of extinction. This, they argue,
Charles Loflin
Apr 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Basic Common Sense

In an era where left vs. right political debates have nowhere left to go, the simple truth of a book like this is so hard to lose in the noise. The fundamental argument is that the time has come to move beyond the metaphor of machine used to describe our economy, government and society and replace it with the metaphor of a garden. Rather than view the world through a mechanistic lens of cogs and efficiency, the garden metaphor of careful and intentional seeding and weeding offe
James A
Mar 16, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Very disappointing

I always seek intelligent fact based analysis and intellect on addressing our challenges on this planet. There was none to be found. The Authors make frankly ridiculous hasty generalizations and assumptions about most everything in this book. Multiple times inferring that everyone in our country is selfish and that is what teach our children, most perturbing is taking the far far right and left views as the ideology of all Americans and then berating everyone for these views.
Elizabeth Horton
I'm always wary of books I agree with too much, and this is certainly one. They lay out the groundwork for different way for our lives and our government to function, and it makes a whole lot of sense. It's slim on concrete details, but the point of the books does seem to be a quick and understandable overview of a society where we all accepted the fact that we all follow and lead in our daily lives, an economy focused on breaking down the unequal barriers to competition that results from luck/p ...more
Aug 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a thoughtful and well laid out read.

While it's a small book, it works as a guide to have real conversations about government and policy and identifies key ways to organize and communicate around tense issues. It's the kind of book that sounds idealistic but offers real suggestions on how to bring people together and govern sanely.

It's a fascinating read that is inspiring and timely.
Jill Blevins
Oct 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great book if you’re interested in becoming an elected official, or you’re Pierre Trudeau who is reading it, apparently. But I just can’t deal with this stuff anymore. I’m too old, too tired, too sick of my relatives saying the stupidest things and trying to combat that. The world will be the world and I’m not making a difference and I know that.
Daniel B-G
Apr 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: socsci, socsci-pol
A brief survey of much of the current thinking on complexity thinking and how it applies to the social sciences. As such, this was familiar ground for me, though it was good to get it in an easy to read format with a good central metaphor. What I really appreciate from this is the list of references, It put a lot of new books on my hit list.
Jan 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
I could try to break down my feelings about this book, but to sum it is I'll just ask: ever agree with most of what a person said but you still want to throttle them because the message was delivered in a way that was both smug and obnoxious?
Gustaf Strengell
Nov 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Highly recommended, especially given the current political climate in the West. Don’t miss the TED talks and interviews with Nick Hanauer, or his podcast Pitchfork Economics. Some truly enlightening discussion in all.
Aug 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
We're all better off when we're all better off.

Democracy is all about including all voices, not just the elites of society.
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17 likes · 8 comments
“oo many people are profoundly illiterate in power (TED Talk: Why ordinary people need to understand power). As a result, it’s become ever easier for those who do understand how power operates in civic life to wield a disproportionate influence and fill the void created by the ignorance of the majority.” 1 likes
“the “etiquette of freedom,” to use poet Gary Snyder’s phrase. It encompasses small acts like teaching your children to be honest in their dealings with others. It includes serving on community councils and as soccer coaches. It means leaving a place in better shape than you found it. It means helping others during hard times and being able to ask for help. It means resisting the temptation to call a problem someone else’s.  ” 1 likes
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