Max Nova's Reviews > The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics

The Dictator's Handbook by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 2018-focus, government, politics

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I expected "The Dictator's Handbook" to belong to the genre of "bathroom readers" along with the likes of "The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook" and "The Dangerous Book for Boys." I was expecting colorful portraits of dastardly dictators and their evil escapades (like Robert Greene's "48 Laws of Power"). Instead, I found a very serious scholarly work written by fellows of Stanford's Hoover Institution. The authors are the founders of a branch of political science called "selectorate theory" which contends that dictators stay in power by keeping their winning coalition small and by paying them off with private goods at the expense of the general public. They remind us that "States don’t have interests. People do," and keep us focused on the political power calculus of the ruling elites. Sardonically, they categorize dictators into the "Hall of Fame," "Hall of Shame," and the "Haul of Fame."

Through the lens of selectorate theory, the authors explore corruption in resource-rich African states (hitting many of the same points as "The Looting Machine"), International Olympic Committee and Fifa scandals (also see "The Fall of the House of Fifa"), and how foreign aid often perpetuates problems rather than solving them. They even venture a bit outside of politics to apply selectorate theory to Carly Fiorina's HP/Compaq merger.

Jaunty and highly readable, "The Dictator's Handbook" gives us a new way of seeing the world. Written in a sort of "Freakonomics" style, the book manages to cover a lot of ground without getting too bogged down in technical details. An excellent addition to my 2018 reading theme on "Crime and Punishment."
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Reading Progress

February 15, 2017 – Shelved
February 15, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
May 1, 2018 – Started Reading
May 19, 2018 – Finished Reading
August 7, 2018 – Shelved as: 2018-focus
August 7, 2018 – Shelved as: government
August 7, 2018 – Shelved as: politics

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