Even rarer than this is a book whose significance is enhanced by unpredictable events. But this is unquestionably the case with Gideon Rachman’s latest work, The Age of the Strongman, which goes some distance in explaining the bigger picture behind all this. Rachman is chief foreign policy commentator at the Financial Times. As such, not only has he studied many of the strongmen in this book, he knows most of them as well. This is one of the main reasons why the book hasn’t lost any relevance despite being finished before the Russian invasion ... provides a useful list of characteristics that strongmen share whether democratically elected or not ... To begin working out what we do about this, you could do worse than by reading this pithy and forceful book.
... a comprehensive survey, written with pace, clarity, and a superb, page-turning narrative fluency, of the gradual collapse of that fragile post-Cold War consensus into a new age of authoritarian dictatorship, mainly characterised by the historically familiar spectacle of ageing male leaders pumping up up a rhetoric of war, threat, national destiny and 'traditional values' to the point where actual armed conflict becomes difficult to avoid ... Rachman therefore takes us on an unforgettable global tour of resurgent authoritarianism ... Rachman’s book was completed before the Russian invasion of Ukraine; but his analysis is so powerful that it all but predicts Putin’s next move, made inevitable by his own retro-imperialist rhetoric.
... could not be more geopolitically relevant ... is essentially a polemic, warning that the difference between liberal democracy and authoritarianism is at risk of being eroded by the ego-driven antics of the strongman. It contains a who’s who of the modern autocrat, from Vladimir Putin to Xi Jinping, Rodrigo Duterte to Jair Bolsonaro ... I began the book with a concern that lumping together such a broad spectrum of leaders was a real stretch — Britain’s current prime minister will no doubt be aggrieved to make the pick. The focus on democratic autocrats risks, ironically, making it easier for liberalism’s critics to claim the very moral equivalence between value systems that the author seeks to forestall. I have met the majority of the strongmen in this book and sparred directly or vicariously with a number of them, and so was alert to oversimplification ... My concerns were misplaced. Not only were the portraits solidly constructed, engaging and factually sound, but they built on each other as well. The result is a penetrating distillation of the essential ingredients of the strongman that effectively demonstrates a worrying commonality between wildly different personalities and circumstances. This lends weight to the author’s call for vigilance. We would be wise to heed it.