From one of the world's preeminent political historians, a magisterial study of political leadership around the world from the advent of parliamentary democracy to the age of Obama.
All too frequently, leadership is reduced to a simple dichotomy: the strong versus the weak. Yet, there are myriad ways to exercise effective political leadership -- as well as different ways to fail. We blame our leaders for economic downfalls and praise them for vital social reforms, but rarely do we question what makes some leaders successful while others falter. In this magisterial and wide-ranging survey of political leadership over the past hundred years, renowned Oxford politics professor Archie Brown challenges the widespread belief that strong leaders -- meaning those who dominate their colleagues and the policy-making process -- are the most successful and admirable.
In reality, only a minority of political leaders will truly make a lasting difference. Though we tend to dismiss more collegial styles of leadership as weak, it is often the most cooperative leaders who have the greatest impact. Drawing on extensive research and decades of political analysis and experience, Brown illuminates the achievements, failures and foibles of a broad array of twentieth century politicians. Whether speaking of redefining leaders like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, and Margaret Thatcher, who expanded the limits of what was politically possible during their time in power, or the even rarer transformational leaders who played a decisive role in bringing about systemic change -- Charles de Gaulle, Mikhail Gorbachev and Nelson Mandela, among them -- Brown challenges our commonly held beliefs about political efficacy and strength.
Overturning many of our assumptions about the twentieth century's most important figures, Brown's conclusions are both original and enlightening. The Myth of the Strong Leader compels us to reassess the leaders who have shaped our world - and to reconsider how we should choose and evaluate those who will lead us into the future.
Oxford University emeritus politics professor Brown (Rise and Fall of Communism) offers a panoramic view of global leadership mixed with a survey of 20th-century political systems. Brown weighs individuals and governing styles in brief, densely packed studies of Franklin Roosevelt, Charles de Gaulle, Josef Stalin, Fidel Castro, and others change-makers, examining Turkey and Atat rk, Russia and the Bolsheviks, and leaders in totalitarian regimes, including Adolph Hitler. While Brown's beau ideal of the transformational leader is the Soviet Union's Mikhail Gorbachev, he praises Nelson Mandela for the relatively peaceful transition from apartheid in South Africa, and Deng Xiaoping for decisive changes in Chinese communism. Rich in historical detail and insight, Brown's volume reminds us that face-to-face meetings of world leaders were rare before 1945 and that Neville Chamberlain was the first prime minister to use an airplane in international diplomacy. British politics animate much of the book, with Brown expressing disdain for "strong leaders" with "foreign-policy illusions," and pointing the finger at Chamberlain, Anthony Eden, and more recently, Tony Blair, whom he accuses of "Napoleonic ambitions." Brown argues that no American president can be transformational and no president has been so since Abraham Lincoln, a proposition that many U.S. historians will contest. In addition, he sidesteps appraisal of Barack Obama on the premise it's too early to tell, a caution that will leave some readers unfulfilled.