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The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  882 ratings  ·  146 reviews
In the words of economist and scholar Arnold Kling, Martin Gurri saw it coming.

Technology has categorically reversed the information balance of power between the public and the elites who manage the great hierarchical institutions of the industrial age government, political parties, the media.

The Revolt of the Public tells the story of how insurgencies, enabled by digital
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Kindle Edition, 362 pages
Published June 2nd 2014
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Murtaza
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most important achievements of a writer is to accomplish the deceptively challenging task of accurately describing present conditions. It is almost impossible to do this satisfactorily from all angles and anyone who tries is inevitably limited by the aperture of their own worldview and experience. I disagree with some of the conclusions in this book, particularly its estimation of the present level of public nihilism. That said, I feel that Martin Gurri has done perhaps the best job o ...more
Book Clubbed,
Apr 18, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The first thing I liked about this book was its voice, which is a strange thing to say about a nonfiction book. These authors are supposed to be authoritative truth-tellers, no? Relying solely on data and accepted theories to persuade the reader. Well, not exactly. Despite their use of academic jargon or expertise, any nonfiction author can fall prey to data manipulation, lies of omission, confirmation bias, shortsightedness, professional pride, and any number of other pitfalls.

Gurri, at least,
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Mehrsa
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book was very prescient and seemed to foretell the rise of Trump and populism abroad. I don't agree with the thesis, but that doesn't make it a bad book. I read it knowing I would not agree, but still learned a lot. He blames Obama for a lot of the partisan split. Obama and the rise of the information economy. I agree with the latter, but I think politically, it started much earlier. During the Nixon and Reagan eras, there was already a hatred of the elites. Neil Postman writes about how TV ...more
Sten Tamkivi
This is the must-read book for anyone trying to find patterns in the increasingly online, rapidly shifting and seemingly irreparably polarizing world of modern politics. (Including every concerned Estonian ahead of the March elections). While I was listening to the book still, I found myself bringing it as an example, and recommending to a friend EVERY SINGLE DAY.

The basic construct of Gurri thesis stems from the etymology of the term "authority" from "author" - and explains the dissolution of r
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Max Nova
"The Revolt of the Public" is what Tyler Cowen refers to as a "quake book" - I can't see the world the same after reading it. This book is criminally underappreciated, as I write this review it only has 11 ratings on Amazon. Writing in 2014, former CIA analyst Martin Gurri looks out at the world and sees Occupy Wall Street, Brexit, and the Arab Spring and wonders if these populist uprisings are isolated incidents or part of a larger trend (the 2019 edition has an afterword on Trump). The one-lin ...more
Annie
Positives first. Gurri presents a thesis that stood the test of time between 2014 and now: the internet gave us access to more information than ever, destroying the authority of the governing elite and encouraging nihilism. Nihilism in this book is the mindset "everything is fucked up so I might as well destroy it all." Gun violence, both the Obama and Trump elections, and the rise of the far right and Antifa are all nihilism in action according to Gurri.

I mostly agree with Gurri's thesis, but G
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jasmine sun
Nov 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
there are three kinds of great books. there are those that resonate emotionally, usually fiction; books that inform or illuminate complex issues; and those that provoke, producing ideas i can't stop thinking about, even i'm not totally convinced.

the revolt of the public is firmly in the third category. i came into this book skeptical: gurri, after all, is a retired cia analyst and mercatus center affiliate. ideologically, i do not trust him. but as i read on, he lays out an unintuitive but fasci
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Rachel
Jan 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I finished this book the night before protestors stormed the US Capitol. I've seen people on twitter deride those who compared these riots to the protests in Egypt or BLM, but what they don't see is that it's not about the specific circumstances or conditions here, it's about the pattern. And I can't stop seeing it.

This book describes the fraught political circumstances of the last decade, the series of uprisings and continuous outrage that never bring actual change. The leadership vacuums. What
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Joseph
Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Stop me if you've heard this before: "The internet is changing everything, the old institutions can't keep up, they'll soon be swept away and replaced by a new order of liberté, égalité, fraternité."

Well that's not Martin Gurri's thesis, but on a first pass it smells a lot like it. Gurri doesn't really view himself as a prophet or a futurist - he's a lot more concerned with attempting to diagnose trends that are happening now vs. the result of those trends. And what are those trends? A breakdow
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Carl Rannaberg
Feb 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Carl by: Sten Tamkivi
A good book which explains the effect technology and especially internet as communication medium has had on our societies and politics. Martin Gurri explains that public unrests and political turmoil in recent years are caused by the fundamental differences between the networked nature of public and hierarchical nature of authority.
Public has always been a mesh of people, ideas and agendas but before the internet it has been on a local scale. Internet has enabled these local level networks of p
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Csaba
Jun 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a purely amazing book, which everyone should at least once read. Especially if someone wants to understand the reasons behind our current political phenomena: why they happened, and why are happening. The author gives remarkable insights, actually very logical insights, which were in front of us all along, but we haven't noticed.
The only reason I gave 4/5, is because its structure: the author analyzes the current political situation from several different angles, but at the end of each a
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Victor Wu
This is an unconventional but deeply incisive analysis of our contemporary social epoch, dominated by information technology and institutional decay. Gurri's thesis is essentially that these two trends are intimately connected, with the digital proliferation of information undermining traditional bases of authority and legitimacy claimed by mediating institutions from government to news to science. Written by a former CIA analyst, The Revolt of the Public is refreshingly free of academic jargon ...more
Adam S. Rust
Nov 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Martin Gurri's "Revolt of the Public" is a timely book reflecting on the impact of the internet on political culture. The book argues that the concept of political and intellectual authority is an artifact of information scarcity. With the rise of the internet and information abundance, authority as source of political and institutional power has taken a beating and has led to the rise of a variety of movements rejecting the current state of affairs.

These movements are described by Gurri as nihi
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Sebastian
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I was confused by the Occupy protestors in 2011. There were tens or maybe hundreds of groups camping in different cities through cold winter months, but I never could quite figure out the specific policy changes they wanted to see. I remember having similar thoughts when the Tea Partiers were popular in 2009, and with the Women's March in 2017. There are a lot of these ill-defined popular movements. The Yellow Vests in France might be another good example.

In The Revolt of the Public, Gurri argu
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Lee Barry
Nov 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I was reading "William S. Burroughs And The Cult of Rock 'n' Roll" contemporaneously, I realized we now actually live in a Burroughsian dystopia (Blade Runner: a movie), but much more realistically nihilistic. There's an odd circularity between radicalism in the avant-garde and rock 'n' roll which emerged in the 50s and the current shades of political anarchy. A walk through any affluent city is now like dystopian cinema. Over time, comments such as "it was like something I saw in a movie" ha ...more
John
Weird book. The general thesis feels right to me. The universal loss of authority/legitimacy definitely feels real, and I think it's a fantastic insight. The latter part of the book really fell apart. His critiques of Obama seemed out of place and really forced. His assertion that democracy failed because it overpromised and under-delivered felt like more a libertarian thesis than an objective analysis. The Trump addition was the worst part by far and I don't understand why it was even written. ...more
David Wunderlich
I found this book somewhat frustrating. I think the overarching thesis about people been disillusioned with elites and using social media to organize various kinds of protest against them is broadly correct.

However, there were a thousand details in the book that were either wrong, misleading, incomplete, or otherwise less than completely accurate. A lot of ground the book covers is outside my area of expertise, but when it did get into places where I have some knowledge, there were enough error
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Eryn
May 03, 2020 rated it liked it
Do yourself a favor - if you read this, just avoid the reconsiderations chapter. While the rest of the book has maybe a few errors and is a bit harsh on Obama, the overall thesis struck me as spot on. However, when Gurri attempts to apply his thesis to post-2016 issues, he could not be more off-base. My opinion is almost certainly colored in part by knowledge of events more recent than the publication of the addendum, but even with a consideration of the facts available when Gurri wrote the adde ...more
Michael Kraitsberg
Jul 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Nice and well intended description of certain current global trends.
Still, the analysis lucks historical, philosophical or any other depth, when everything is assumed to be caused by a certain IT advances. And about the future the author confesses to be as clueless as anybody else.
Daniel Erspamer
Jun 18, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it's at least 100 pages too long. I really struggled to get through it at many points. Which is a shame because I think the content is pretty important. I had the chance to visit with Gurri recently, and I think his insights are fascinating. ...more
Shawn
Nov 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a fascinating and important book. Gurri’s thesis is worth examining and reexamining. While he probably overstates its explanatory power; it goes far in explaining and tying together many of the events in the last decade.

The essential idea is that the digital revolution has swept away the authority of traditional institutions leading to a public that is more and more negating and rejecting these institutions. In so doing he links together Egypt’s Tahrir square, the Arab Spring, the Indign
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Ben Peyton
Mar 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a super interesting book and I'm afraid a lot of people this book is targeted at are not going to care or its message. The basic premise is that starting sometime in the early 2000s we entered a new era driven by the ever-growing influence of information and communication provided by the internet. The internet makes so much more information and allows individuals to communicate so much easier now than ever before that people are losing faith in past institutions and authority figures. W ...more
Andrew Carr
There's much to appreciate about this book, but ultimately it left me unsatisfied.

Perhaps it's a question of timing. Gurri wrote the book in 2014, well before Trump and Brexit, with the Arab Spring fresh, and even Facebook and Twitter seemed far more innocuous back then. As an attempt to grab the readers attention and say 'The changes in how we get our information really matter', this book succeeds.

Gurri argues we're seeing a 5th wave, built on digital technology, which is destroying the accrued
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Evan
Mar 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this after Matt Clifford cited the book in one of his "Thoughts in Between" blog posts. It is a very dense book and just listening to it I could tell that I would need to reread it just to grasp all of its concepts.

I think the first edition was published in 2014 and sourced many of the failures of the Elites at that time in fueling a revolt of the public. I can't do it justice in a review of an audiobook, but he is very precise in his terms. For instance, the public doesn't represent the
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Chad
Apr 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
I try and avoid books that rant about a problem, but offer no possible solutions.

"The public opposes, but does not propose."

Thankfully, this book wasn't one of them. In fact, Martin seems to see the world quite clearly, and offers up a few paths forward, away from nihilism and decay, and towards a future where we accept the very human limitations of government and authority, but trust that the people we elect will make a sincere effort all the same.

I didn't give this a perfect score because, sim
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Peter
Oct 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: annual-faborites
It's shocking to me that this book isn't more popular. It's a necessary book for anyone trying to understand the failure of authority in the modern world. Weirdly published by the Stripe Press, the book has a simple thesis: modern government claims too much authority, and it can't achieve that ambition. Worse, as the elites lose their monopoly on information, these overreaching promises become trivially falsifiable. This leads to a vortex, making it harder and harder to build positive visions fo ...more
Taylor Barkley
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book. Lots to think about and offers a compelling reasoning for why we are where we are as a society, at least politically. It’s up there with Coming Apart and The Righteous Mind in terms of offering a lens for world events. His conclusions seem to flow directly to McCloskey’s work.
Nelson Rosario
Sep 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reason
Stop everything and go read this book.
Michael Shaw
Oct 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
I didn’t expect to be able to get through this but it was so well written that it made for an extremely interesting read for what is rather a dry subject.
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18 likes · 5 comments
“Following the horrors of 9/11, Fukuyama and his ideas were derided as triumphalist nonsense. But he was only half wrong. Fukuyama, a Hegelian, argued that Western democracy had run out of “contradictions”: that is, of ideological alternatives. That was true in 1989 and remains true today. Fukuyama’s mistake was to infer that the absence of contradictions meant the end of history. There was another possibility he failed to consider. History could well be driven by negation rather than contradiction. It could ride on the nihilistic rejection of the established order, regardless of alternatives or consequences. That would not be without precedent. The Roman Empire wasn’t overthrown by something called “feudalism”—it collapsed of its own dead weight, to the astonishment of friend and foe alike. The centuries after the calamity lacked ideological form. Similarly, a history built on negation would be formless and nameless: a shadowy moment, however long, between one true age and another.” 5 likes
“Uncertainty is an acid, corrosive to authority. Once the monopoly on information is lost, so too is our trust. Every presidential statement, every CIA assessment, every investigative report by a great newspaper, suddenly acquired an arbitrary aspect, and seemed grounded in moral predilection rather than intellectual rigor. When proof for and against approaches infinity, a cloud of suspicion about cherry-picking data will hang over every authoritative judgment.” 1 likes
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