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December 28th, 2013

Reading List: Most-Read Politics Book Reviews of 2013

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Blog Admin

December 28th, 2013

Reading List: Most-Read Politics Book Reviews of 2013

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Since launching in April 2012, LSE Review of Books has published reviews of over 900 books from across the social sciences. Here are the top five most-read politics reviews from 2013, covering power, policy-making, and political action. Thank you to all of our generous reviewers for their time and enthusiasm.
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Evidence-Based Policy: A Practical Guide to Doing It Better by Nancy Cartwright and Jeremy Hardie

Over the last twenty or so years, it has become standard to require policy makers to base their recommendations on evidence. That is now uncontroversial to the point of triviality – of course, policy should be based on the facts. But are the methods that policy makers rely on to gather and analyse evidence the right ones? Evidence-Based Policy contends that the dominant methods which are in use now – methods that imitate standard practices in medicine like randomised control trials – do not work. Michael Bassey believes policymakers should engage in the kind of critical and analytical processes advocated by this book before rolling out social changes.

In March this year the UK government announced the launch of a network of six “What Works” centres aimed at providing robust evidence to inform policy making. The rationale was given as “It is a fundamental principle of good public services that decisions are made on the basis of strong evidence and what we know works. Yet all too often evidence is not presented in a simple, relevant format that enables it to be used to its maximum potential by service providers, commissioners and policymakers.” Read the full review…

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The End of Power: From Boardrooms to Battlefields and Churches to States, Why Being In Charge Isn’t What It Used to Be by Moisés Naím

ainsley

Power is shifting from large, stable armies to loose bands of insurgents, from corporate leviathans to nimble start-ups, and from presidential palaces to public squares. As a result, writes Moisés Naím, all leaders have less power than their predecessors, and the potential for upheaval is unprecedented. The author’s insights into the halls of power from China to Sweden make this a fascinating read, finds Ainsley Elbra.

Moisés Naím is well placed to discuss global power, having served as Editor-in-Chief of Foreign Policy, an Executive Director of the World Bank, and currently at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In his latest contribution, The End of Power, he asserts that “being in charge isn’t what it used to be”, principally due to the “decay of power”. While dispersion of power might be a more accurate reflection, his point is clear: power is no longer located in traditional settings. The aim of the book is to ask readers to question the way we think about, talk about, and ultimately understand, power. His work is timely, and parallels the emergence of powerful fringe parties throughout the Western world and the increasingly powerful role being played by non-traditional military actors as recently seen in North Africa. Read the full review….

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The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South by Vijay Prashad 

lorenzo

Since the 1970s, the countries of the Global South have sometimes struggled to express themselves politically. In The Poorer NationsVijay Prashad analyses the failures of neoliberalism, as well as the rise of the BRIC countries, and all the efforts to create alternatives to the neoliberal project advanced militarily by the US and its allies. Lorenzo Ferrari finds value in the book’s accessible tone and content, as well as its interviews with leading players including senior UN officials.

A history of the Global South told by a historian of the Global South: that is largely what makes The Poorer Nations a particularly interesting book. A thorough history of the Global South has been much needed up until this point in order to enrich the relatively scarce literature on the history of North-South relations. Many feel that this literature also desperately needs to be enriched by voices from the South. Now teaching at Trinity College, Hartford, Vijay Prashad is a decidedly left-wing scholar, and in his latest book he aims at providing “a possible history” of the Global South – one which might be partial indeed, but which is made more engaging thanks to the author’s passionate involvement. Read the full review….

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The Year of Dreaming Dangerously by Slavoj Žižek

2011 caught the world off guard with a series of shattering political and economic events, and in this book Slavoj Žižek looks back on how protesters in New York, Cairo, London, and Athens took to the streets in pursuit of emancipation. Žižek feels that the subterranean work of dissatisfaction continues, and that a new political reality will soon emerge. Although this is a bracing read, Luke McDonagh writes that Žižek is seemingly unable to realise the dangerous ‘dream’ of an alternative way of life in any kind of coherent sense.

When the current Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, retired from being a member of the Irish Parliament (the Dáil) in 2011, he gave a memorable farewell speech where he castigated the state of Ireland’s political culture. Notably, he referenced advice given to him by Slavoj Žižek:

“Frequently, people such as Slavoj Žižek have said to me that if things are as I describe them then what is needed is a form of terror that would sweep everything away and to start all over again.”

This is very much the starting point of this highly stimulating book, in which Žižek analyses the underlying causes and results, thus far, of the mass popular uprisings and protests of 2011 in the Arab world, in Greece, in Spain, as well as the US and other countries. Read the full review…

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Think Tanks In America by Thomas Medvetz

Over the past half-century, think tanks have become fixtures of American politics, supplying advice to presidents and policymakers, expert testimony on Capitol Hill, and convenient facts and figures to journalists and media specialists. But what are think tanks? Who funds them? And just how influential have they become? In Think Tanks in America, Thomas Medvetz argues that the unsettling ambiguity of the think tank is less an accidental feature of its existence than the very key to its impact. Mark Carrigan finds that the book is an important contribution to the academic literature on both think tanks and intellectuals. 

Given the ubiquity of think tanks within contemporary politics, it is easy to forget that their current influence is a relatively recent phenomenon. Yet without an understanding of their history, it is difficult to understand either their role within public life or its broader significance. Think Tanks In America is a sophisticated and impressive work of historical sociology which charts their emergence over half a century, offering a distinctive and compelling explanation of how such organizations came to exist and to enjoy the influence which they now do. Read the full review… 

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This work by LSE Review of Books is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales.