Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age” as Want to Read:
The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  602 ratings  ·  55 reviews
Archie Brown challenges the widespread belief that 'strong leaders', dominate individual wielders of power, are the most successful and admirable.

Within authoritarian regimes, a collective leadership is a lesser evil compared with a personal dictatorship. Within democracies, although ‘strong leaders’ are seldom as strong or independent as they purport to be, the idea that
Paperback, 496 pages
Published April 16th 2015 by Vintage (first published April 10th 2014)
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 The Myth of the Strong Leader, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Myth of the Strong Leader

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

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.64  · 
Rating details
 ·  602 ratings  ·  55 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age
In this book, Archie Brown destroys the myth of a strong political leaders in both democracies and authoritarian states and says that these leaders - with some notable exceptions - do rather more harm than good. Don’t let it fool you: the best political leaders are those who are modest, can listen to experts and unite groups with opposing views. Societies in duress are particularly vulnerable to being taken in by “strong” personalities, but this can cause major problems both at home and abroad.

Wissam Raji
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: leadership
The book is one of the excellent books about leadership and its qualities. The title basically defines what the book is about. The author believes that a strong leader is not necessarily the one who concentrates power in his/her hand but rather the one who knows how to delegate and distribute power in a way that helps to build sustainable systems. He put leaders into two categories; Redefining leaders and transformational leaders. Redefining leaders are those who know how to dramatically shift t ...more
Davis Parker
Would recommend in paper vs. audiobook. Wide-ranging and filled with dozens of interesting anecdotes. Written by a Brit, so very UK-centric compared to something you might read from USA.

The gist of his argument is that the best leaders are willing to listen to a wide-range of stake holders and are effective at balancing power vs. using it to serve ideological ends. Balance, normalcy, and humility may not be sexy, but they seem to have a better track record than their counterparts.
Ross Blocher
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Archie Brown has an impressive level of knowledge about world politics, and I learned a lot from this book about the history of various leaders and regimes around the world. The central thesis is that attributes typically ascribed to a "strong" leader don't necessarily make for a good leader. Those who follow their own singular visions and exert power over others tend to produce the great failures (and often atrocities) of history. Rather, it is the leaders who stay connected with their people a ...more
Bonnie Samuel
This book is much easier to read than I originally thought it might be. The language is accessible rather than overly academic. It is interesting to read the analyses of various world leaders of the last century and how they were able to affect change within the structures of their own governments. In light of the current situation in Russia, it was especially interesting to read about Gorbachev and how he was able to revolutionize a firmly established Communist regime almost without his ministe ...more
"Bill Gates says the author of this book ‘could not have predicted how resonant’ it would be in 2016"

Peter Geyer
Not that long ago, the incumbent Prime Minister of Australia, for some time under duress from within and without his own party , proclaimed himself a "strong" leader, proceeding to distinguish between what weak and strong leaders (such as he) might do. In so doing, he appeared to create a mixture of perplexity and amusement amongst those who comment ion these issues, some quietly and bemusedly stating that if you were actually a strong leader you wouldn't need to say it, and that the facts of th ...more
Suraj Patil
Mar 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Throughout centuries, humanity has lived under leaders, great and small. In the stone age times, when we used to live in caves, the "leadership" qualities would have amounted to who had the fastest reflexes, who was huge among other things, there was little point in appointing a leader who was a great orator but poor in reflexes and who wasn't huge in size and powerful in strength.

Over the millennia, our lives have substantially changed. But sadly, we have the notion of our leader in the old arc
Debunks the myth that individual leaders are personally and alone important for what they achieve. Builds on work by Barbara Kellerman and others that leadership takes a coalition to be effective. Leaders that rule mainly alone, eg Hitler, Stalin, Trump, make lots of mistakes and often don't achieve what they promise or hope for. This principle also applies to democratic leaders in foreign policy, with examples from Chamberlain (trusted Hitler), Eden (Egypt) and blair (Iraq} where they made huge ...more
Jan 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great analysis of the political leaders of the 20th century. I learned more about the most prominent US presidents, UK's Prime Ministers, Germany's Chancellors and (a) their achievements, (b) reasons they were successful, (c) interesting historical comparisons within contexts. Read this book if you're interested in history, leadership and/or politics. Archie Brown put 50 years of top-level academic experience into it. ...more
Bob Duke
Dec 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the era of Trump anyone who is interested in politics should read this book. Pertinent is his analysis of Tony Blair. Blair was afraid of appearing weak and this was a motivating factor in his decision to support George W. Bush with the invasion of Iraq. The US now has a president elect who values appearing strong. Whilst Trump presents himself as an isolationist the temptation to act the strong man will over ride this. The American presidents powers are limited in domestic affairs but in for ...more
Matt Hooper
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu once said that "a leader is best when men barely know that he is there, not so good when men obey and acclaim him."

Safe to say that Lao-tzu would not be impressed by our modern-day definition of leadership.

Not even four years old (as of this writing), Archie Brown's "The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age" is now somehow both prescient and out-of-date. Brown reaches back into near-history -- 20th and 21st centuries, primarily -- to
Ethan Hulbert
I was disappointed by this book. The author repeats his point over and over and over again. I don't feel as though it was ever really developed upon. The anecdotes are interesting sometimes but somehow it just felt like I was reading the same chapter copy-pasted a dozen times. ...more
Nov 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics
Kind of a weird implementation for this text. The premise is, basically, that the role of leadership is not as direct or positive as is often assumed, and that such a reading of history (and current events) is essentially erroneous. It's a more nuanced argument than that, of course. There are a lot of particulars the author addresses throughout, and he names names, defines his terms like "transformational leaders" and presents his evidence like a good scholar, even if that evidence is often anec ...more
Senthil Kumaran
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book covers a great deal on political leadership and helps the reader to understand the political landscape of multiple nations. The crux of this, it is not a strong leader that brings a net positive change, but a leader who is flexible, who understands the situation well, goes into the details, establishes that the processes, and follows it through that will bring the net positive change. The way, the different leaders have accomplished is quite varied, and depends on the situation and the ...more
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lots of books and films have been acclaimed as foreshadowing the success of people like Donald Trump, and this could be another.

It sets out why so-called strong leaders are attractive, the conditions for their success (including in democracies) and makes a pretty convincing historical argument that they make bad decisions. And by the by, UK-centric co-reading would be The Blunders Of Our Governments.

I think the basic point is that popular view of strength as single-minded purpose, success of you
Scott Martin
Jul 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(Audiobook) A good and enlightening read on political leadership, a writing that it very timely and relevant to today's headlines. Primarily concerned with the 20th century (and into the 21st), Brown looks at various political leaders over multiple countries and eras, comparing and contrasting the perception that they are strong or week with their actual accomplishments. For Brown, demonstration of strength is relative and what appears to be a strong leader does not always equal effective. For B ...more
Mohammad Al-ubaydli
Fascinating review of 20th century history

The book starts with a simple statement which to me was only obvious after I had read it: concentrating power in a “strong leader” means allocating it arbitrarily to the leader’s personal assistants.

Because no single human can cope with the increased volume of information and decisions - despite the myths these “strong leaders” like to perpetuate about themselves - the decisions get made by the close staff of these leaders.

This leaves out the other peop
Feb 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I saw the title of this staring out at me from a second hand book shop and bought it to see if it overturned my views on the value of leadership. Despite it containing a large number of stories about mistakes made by a single leader who overruled and ignored advice, I found it more of a "Yes, but..." to leadership itself. I have come to value leadership to provide consistency and to ensure that _something_ gets done, and I see nothing here to challenge this. I _do_ see advice that leaders should ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely a must read. The book chronicles the so called strong leaders across different types of governing systems and showcases with examples how the so called strong leaders and products of self driven propaganda.

Additionally given the current political scenario in India it is almost scary to realize that some of the tactics being employed by the current powers to be have been deployed by regimes in other parts of the world with almost universally disastrous results.

Though the book does not
Iang95ify .
It comes across as a history lesson analysing different world leaders from De Gaulle to Deng Xiaoping on their leadership style, identify who were the transformational ones. Nonetheless, the book explains the characteristics of Fascism and the dangers of having 'strong' leaders who appear to be decisive but misguided like Tony Blair during Iraq War. The author prefers a consensus-based leadership approach and one that keeps leaders accountable for decisions made. It may seem dry at times but sti ...more
Artur Upton Renault
This book purports to prove that good leadership is not necessarily "strong," and that the idea of "strong" leadership is itself flawed. However, the text is less an argument for its title and more a deep, broad survey of the history of the 20th and 21st century. It has detailed, riveting accounts of every important leader from Lenin to Gordon Brown; it's a fantastic place to start if you want to learn more about modern history and politics, especially in the UK. The structure is dense as this i ...more
Jeroen Van der Veen
In The Myth of the Strong Leader Archie Brown unfortunately only devotes a couple of pages on the actual myth regarding strong leaders. Almost all of them in the introduction and last few pages. In the remainder of the book, Archie Brown describes leaders on both 'good' and 'bad' spectrums.
This is done in an interesting and diligent way, which attributes to my 3-star rating of the book. This book however should not have been named the way it is as it doesn't do a lot to bust the myth it is suppo
Manish Sinha
3.5 stars

An incredibly long book. The author could have easily cut out around 30% of the book (without touching the references). While I completely understand that the topic being discussed cannot be rushed, there are times when I felt adrift, feeling that I had lost the point.

Maybe this book is not meant for people like me, but I did not lose hope and took two whole months to finish reading it!

Check out the highlights which I meticulously kept track of, though this ordeal.
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I listened to the audio book and really enjoyed this in depth look at global political leadership. Archie Browns knowledge and research is very impressive. At a time when people are seeking the "strong leader", this book serves great purpose. The author could of written it from a bit more centrist point of view at times as his biases showed.

I learned many things on world events in this book but not for everyone.
John Howland
A difficult read. As someone who enjoys political history and who has a passing knowledge of political science I was often out of my element on this book. If you know British, American, Russian, Asian, and Middle Eastern history this would certainly be a fun read that ties it all together. Otherwise, it is easy to become lost in the minutia. Brown clearly knows his stuff but unlike some of his contemporaries, does not effectively convey this knowledge to the layman.
Susan Love
Mar 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was a dense, academic read, and I'm surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Strange to say, but there is something comforting in reading about authoritarian regimes from the past and realizing that we really have it pretty good by comparison. I also learned a lot more modern political history, and it's always refreshing to read a (well-researched) critique of political regimes, especially in the U.S., from an outside perspective. ...more
Greg Cobcroft
Jul 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
A brilliant analysis of leadership. Leadership is not necessarily about being a strong leader - a smart collaborative leader can achieve a lot more. The author backs up his arguments with mini biographies of many many leaders from across the world - not just the Anglo American leaders. Well written and well argued. I liked the comparison between strong leaders and leaders who want to be seen to be strong, e.g. Tony Blair and Neville Chamberlain and Anthony Eden.
Sep 07, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is definitely one to have and keep in your bookshelves. While a bit heavy with historical data at times, it was highly instructive and enlightening to learn about countries, leaders and types of governments with a perspective I hadn't had before. At times I rapidly flicked through sections that interested me less, and read intensely over sections that were more relevant to me. I do which that he had included a more personal opinion segment in which he describes what type of leader he i ...more
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy
  • How Asia Works: Success and Failure in the World's Most Dynamic Region
  • The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties
  • The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness
  • Capital and Ideology
  • The Extended Phenotype: The Long Reach of the Gene
  • On Immunity: An Inoculation
  • Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions
  • Origin Story: A Big History of Everything
  • Should We Eat Meat?: Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory
  • The Grid: Electrical Infrastructure for a New Era
  • The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger
  • The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook
  • History of the Breast
  • The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else
  • The Warren Buffett Portfolio
  • Good Economics for Hard Times: Better Answers to Our Biggest Problems
  • The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True
See similar books…
Archibald Haworth Brown, commonly known as Archie Brown, is a British political scientist and historian. In 2005, he became an emeritus professor of politics at the University of Oxford and an emeritus fellow of St Antony's College, Oxford, where he served as a professor of politics and director of St Antony's Russian and East European Centre. He has written widely on Soviet and Russian politics, ...more

News & Interviews

The idea for The Gilded Ones came to author Namina Forna in a dream. The recurring image was one of a young girl in armor walking up a...
78 likes · 8 comments