MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewThe author is at her best when describing the history of Mussolini’s rise, and the way that insouciant Italians and foreign powers facilitated it ... Unfortunately, Ben-Ghiat provides no conceptual framework for distinguishing between different types of strongmen, and gives us very little insight into Donald Trump beyond what is already widely known. What we get instead is an endless series of historical anecdotes about a heterogeneous collection of bad leaders ranging from democratically elected nationalists like Modi to genocidal fanatics like Hitler. What sense does it make to put Silvio Berlusconi in the same category as Muammar Qaddafi or Saddam Hussein? Berlusconi may have been sleazy, manipulative and corrupt, but he didn’t murder political opponents or support terrorism abroad, and he stepped down after losing an election...Wouldn’t it be nice to know why coups have largely vanished? ... Ben-Ghiat’s case selection seems quite arbitrary ... An analytical framework would allow us to understand how strongmen differ from one another, rather than lumping them into a single amorphous category ... This is too bad, because Trump really does deserve more careful comparison with other leaders ... Perhaps it might be more useful to understand the ways that Trump is sui generis, and how he could set a pattern for strongmen of the future, rather than reprising familiar precedents from the past.
PositiveThe Washington Post... superbly researched and written ... Klein has done his homework in reviewing the extensive academic literature on the subject and interviewing scores of actors immersed in practical politics ... provides a highly useful guide to this most central of political puzzles, digesting mountains of social science research and presenting it in an engaging form. There are two areas of weakness, however, in an overall outstanding volume...The first has to do with the central contention that our current polarization is fundamentally about race. Klein dismisses economic drivers of populism like globalization and the loss of working-class jobs, noting that if those were the fundamental issues, then left-wing populism rather than the nativist variety should have seen a big upsurge in support ... The book’s second weakness lies in suggested solutions, which Klein admits are not his strong point. Normatively and as a matter of practical politics, no reform is conceivable that disproportionately benefits one party over the other: His suggestions of congressional representation for Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, or abolition of the electoral college, may be desirable in themselves but will never pass until the Democrats take over all three branches of government (in which case our polarization problem will have been largely solved) ... Klein dismisses complaints about political correctness and identity politics on the left, but a politics built on the grievances of ever narrower identity groups breeds similar thinking on the right, and it cannot be the basis for a broader democratic, civic identity that is the ultimate answer to polarization.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...[a] fascinating and deeply felt book ... The story of the three older intellectuals is both poignant and frightening ... Gessen returns repeatedly to the question of what sort of regime exists in Russia today. As the subtitle of her book suggests, she believes that totalitarianism has reclaimed the country. Western political science associated totalitarianism with several features, including state terror, total absence of civil society outside the state, a centrally planned economy and domination by a single party. Gessen successfully shows how Putin’s Russia has gradually acquired these characteristics, though in muted and less extreme forms ... The one area where I wish Gessen had spent more time was in a deeper analysis of ordinary Putin backers.