Letting the rest of the world go by
The author starts his story with the return of the POWs from Vietnam and ends it with the nomination of Gerald Ford at the Republican Convention. As we're living life and experiencing it as it's happening we don't have the time to put the events into proper context and give it a narrative to tie the pieces together. This is were the author excels. He gives the listener the context and a narrative to tie the story together in a coherent way and enables the listener to understand what was really going on in a big picture kind of way.
The author is expert at not missing any detail or major pop cultural event and weaving it into his framework. "Happy Days", "The Exorcist", "Nashville" the movie, as well as "Convey" the song are all tied into his story and almost any other event those of us who lived through this time period might remember. Often, as we were living the events during the time period, only part of the story was fully told (e.g. "The Mayaguez" ship, Richard Welch, CIA agent killed, Patty Hearst, and so on) and the author gives us "the rest of the story" as Paul Harvey would say and does in the book. The author doesn't miss a story that shaped who we are and how they lead to the rise of Reagan.
Reagan's worldview and how the world was changing is at the heart of the book. The author is always aware of his narrative that Reagan is always optimistic, believes if America has done it, by definition it can't be wrong, and "God put America here because we are exceptional", seeing the world in two parts: good and evil, and so on. This is why the book works so well. Every event is seen through the central narrative on how Reagan sees the world.
I loved relearning these events and putting them into their proper historical context after all of these years and with the perspective of history and hindsight.
The author does a definitive survey of political development through out the world while avoiding the ODTAA ("one dang thing after another") trap survey books of this kind can often fall into. This kind of information often pops up in many of the books I read, but is never covered as a primary topic nor as definitively as this author covers this topic. Usually, it's hard to get a good description of the political history of Islam, India and China, and most authors force the story into their comic book characterization narrative of those societies so that it will fit into their narrative so that they can show the supposed superiority of the West. This book doesn't do that whatsoever and gives each region it's full due respect.
The author not only looks at each major civilization and parts thereof as an end in itself but will contrast it with the familiar when needed.
Political systems need three things in order to prosper fully: accountability, transparency, and "rule of law". All three aren't necessary, but each sure do help. The earliest systems start with a "kin and friend" system and develops from there. The author steps the reader through the process and how it differs depending on the civilization.
The author shows that Rousseau (man is perfect until government corrupts him) is wrong about everything, Hobbes (government is only to protect against violent acts) only gives a barely adequate government, and Locke (live, liberty and pursuit of property) gives the most responsive government, and the author shows how these stages can develop or never existed in this first place as in the worldview of Rousseau for the different societies studied in this book.
The author speaks with authority on the topic and this book filled in a lot of holes on the topic that I got from reading other books which never fully developed the topic.
The last ten years of China is told by mostly telling the stories through second person accounts of people the author has interviewed. He tells the story with three different perspectives at play, China's phenomena growth, the corruption and intimidation the government uses, and the third perspective of what the author refers to as faith, by that he means a belief in tradition and a distrust in the system working fairly for the individual.
At first, I thought the author was giving too many second person accounts, but then I started to realize he really did have a central overriding narrative tying all the stories together in a cohesive whole. The concept of freethinking never seems to enter in his stories. Respect for authority and tradition usually seems to permeate all the stories.
The book does seem very up to date and it seems that China (as represented by its Politburo) is trying to transition from an autocracy to an aristocracy. They are doing everything in their power to shut down free speech on the internet (e.g. banning the search on the word "The Truth"), sometimes their corrupt official defense is "they were sisters not twins", and a young child can grow up saying "I want to become a corrupt official".
The second volume of "Political Order and Political Decay" made me realize how different China is from the rest of the world and how little I knew about what was going on today in China. I would recommend reading Fukuyama's book before reading this one.
The book does a lot in bringing me up to speed on where China is today. I'm anxious to see what steps China takes in the future and because of this book I'll be able to put future articles in to their proper context.