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The Myth of the Strong Leader
Political Leadership in the Modern Age
CHOSEN BY BILL GATES AS A BOOK OF THE YEAR 2016
Archie Brown challenges the widespread belief that 'strong leaders', dominant 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 just one person is entitled to take the big decisions is harmful and should be resisted.
Examining Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mikhail Gorbachev, Deng Xiaoping and Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair amongst many others, this landmark study pinpoints different types and qualities of leadership. Overturning the popular notion of the strong leader, it makes us rethink preconceptions about what it means to lead.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
"An important and unusual read... Brown does a wonderful job of showing how the same qualities that can seem so appealing in strong leaders can lead, in the mildest cases, to bad decisions - and, in the most extreme cases, to death and suffering on a massive scale.... Though The Myth of the Strong Leader is about political leadership, you come away from Brown's book with a deeper understanding of leadership in general" -- Bill Gates "A profound, and wise, book - one of the most important works on politics for a long time. On the basis of penetrating, wide-ranging analysis, traversing democratic and authoritarian systems, Archie Brown clearly demonstrates the commonly held belief in strong leadership as the answer to political problems to be completely, often disastrously, misplaced." -- Sir Ian Kershaw "A brilliant exploration of political leaders in democratic, authoritarian and totalitarian regimes... Brown's excellent book stresses the importance of the context for the appearance of effective leaders and, when dealing with democratic regimes, the importance of the institutions" * Political Quarterly * "The best analysis of the nature of true leadership I have read." -- Gary Hart, Former United States Senator "This book badly needed to be written, and only Archie Brown - with his unique breadth of scholarly knowledge combined with a finger-tip feel for real-world politics - could possibly have written it. It turns out that there are fewer strong leaders in the world than is often supposed and that many of them, far from being desirable, are positively dangerous. Perhaps the best political systems are those that are effectively "leader-proofed"." -- Anthony King, Professor of Government at the University of Essex and co-author of The Blunders of Our Governments "The Myth of the Strong Leader makes an argument that needs making ...[and] provides an original approach to the international political history of the past century" * Political Studies Review * "A brilliant analysis of leadership in democratic, authoritarian, and totalitarian states, Archie Brown's The Myth of the Strong Leader draws on a remarkably wide range of examples and is distinguished by the relevance of its insights and by the precision and clarity of their exposition. It is an absorbing read that deserves to become a modern classic of political thinking." -- Jack F. Matlock, Jr., author of Autopsy on an Empire, Reagan and Gorbachev, and Superpower Illusions "A magnificent achievement, The Myth of the Strong Leader combines bold conceptual analysis with vivid descriptions of leaders ranging from Stalin and Hitler to Roosevelt and Churchill, from Mao Zedong and Fidel Castro to LBJ and Nelson Mandela... This is a book which will be read with sheer pleasure by the general reader for its riveting insights and by students throughout the world as a lucid and witty guide to distinctive kinds of political leadership." -- Wm. Roger Louis, former President of the American Historical Association "Hallelujah! For those of us in Leadership Studies the dry spells can be long long periods of time without sensational additional contributions to the field. Brown's is such a book, a gift to serious students of leadership, equally a gift to thoughtful practitioners. As befits a historian and political scientist of international eminence, Brown has crafted a sweeping survey of the field... This, finally, is a book that belongs on the shelf of anyone, everyone, who is remotely interested in the political dynamics of dominance and deference." -- Barbara Kellerman, Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government "The main thesis in Archie Brown's compendious and fascinating book on modern political leaders is that "strength" is an overrated virtue... This is a book that is the fruit of half a century of scholarship. There cannot be anyone who will not come out of this long encounter with the fertile mind of Archie Brown wiser and better informed" -- Philip Collins * The Times * "For nearly a half century, Archie Brown has been one of our most perceptive observers of world leaders and their contexts, from Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union to Margaret Thatcher's Britain and beyond. His message is that our virtues are in fact our vices. Being decisive, staying the course, and having a clear vision are lauded as the core requirements of good leadership - yet they have just as often blinded those in authority to the folly of their own choices. Established leaders as well as aspiring ones should heed the lessons in Brown's timely book." -- Charles King, Professor of International Affairs and Government, Georgetown University "This is a real triumph of scholarship and intellect - and brilliantly written. Archie Brown demonstrates how dangerous is the myth of the strong leader and he pinpoints the disservice it does to society. The book is awesome in the depth of its analysis and in providing truly indispensable insights." -- Lilia Shevtsova, Chair, Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center "A major comparative and revisionist history about political leadership in the modern world... Political leaders, commentators, professors and students looking for what good leadership requires, and does not require, can read this book with great profit and pleasure." -- Alfred Stepan, Professor of Government, Columbia University "A sure-handed historical review with an engaging viewpoint" * Kirkus Review * "Brown succeeds admirably in defining the acceptable limits of modern leadership" -- Richard Overy * Literary Review * "[A] persuasive analysis of political leadership... It could be read with profit - and perhaps even some relief - by any politician aiming for the top job" -- Donald MacIntyre * Independent * "A lively and probing scholarly reflection on the interplay of power and high politics... [Brown] applies his thesis as persuasively to totalitarian and authoritarian regimes as to democracies" -- Gordon M. Goldstein * Washington Post Sunday * "Brown has somehow succeeded in writing about all those people in a manner never superficial, often persuasively insightful, and even compellingly original" -- Edward N. Luttak * Times Literary Supplement * "Counter-intuitive but splendidly argued... This is an ambitious work made more compelling by its breadth" * Washington Post * "It is a pleasure to find a book on political leadership that imposes no theories or models but studies actual political leaders, dozens of them from many countries, in a historical survey from the beginning of the 20th century" * Wall Street Journal *