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How Democracies Die  By  cover art

How Democracies Die

By: Steven Levitsky,Daniel Ziblatt
Narrated by: Fred Sanders
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Publisher's summary

Two Harvard professors explain the dangerous world we face today

Democracies can die with a coup d'état - or they can die slowly. This happens most deceptively when in piecemeal fashion, with the election of an authoritarian leader, the abuse of governmental power and the complete repression of opposition. All three steps are being taken around the world - not least with the election of Donald Trump - and we must all understand how we can stop them.

In How Democracies Die, Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt draw insightful lessons from across history - from the rule of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile to the quiet undermining of Turkey's constitutional system by President Recip Erdogan - to shine a light on regime breakdown across the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Notably they point to the dangers of an authoritarian leader faced with a major crisis.

Based on years of research, they present a deep understanding of how and why democracies die; an alarming analysis of how democracy is being subverted today in the US and beyond; and a guide for maintaining and repairing a threatened democracy, for governments, political parties and individuals.

History doesn't repeat itself. But we can protect our democracy by learning its lessons, before it's too late.

©2018 Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (P)2018 Random House Audio
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

Critic reviews

“Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies have collapsed elsewhere—not just through violent coups, but more commonly (and insidiously) through a gradual slide into authoritarianism. . . . How Democracies Die is a lucid and essential guide to what can happen here.”The New York Times

“The most important book of the Trump era was not Bob Woodward’s Fear or Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury or any of the other bestselling exposes of the White House circus. Arguably it was a wonkish tome by two Harvard political scientists, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, published a year into Donald Trump’s presidency and entitled How Democracies Die.The Economist

“If you want to understand what’s happening to our country, the book you really need to read is How Democracies Die.”—Paul Krugman

What listeners say about How Democracies Die

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Connecting the Dots

This scholarly work connects the dots of increased partisanism, anti-immigrant prejudice and Trump’s electoral victory. Citing many historical examples, the authors synthesize more than 100 years of U.S. and World history to persuasively examine trends and tendencies in our domestic politics. Written in a nonpartisan way, the authors cite anti-democratic actions by Republicans and Democrats alike. Don’t waste another evening on Fox News or MSNBC - listen to this book and gain some real insights into current events and the future of our democracy.

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60 people found this helpful

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Insightful, thoughtful, and gutless.

On one hand this book is very thorough by being historically minded and considerate of how authoritarian governments are formed in nations outside America. It's list of authoritarian tendency warning signs is probably the biggest highlight though it's analysis of the Maduro and Chavez governments and their gradual right-ward leaning into totalitarianism are also quite good. On the other hand it's also extremely centrist. It's adrift in political consensus thinking about the importance of swing voters, that the Left and Right are essentially morally equivalent, that Trump voters are apparently not really motivated by anything -nor bigotry nor status anxiety nor economic concerns are much explored- and it's ultimate lesson is to -in very appropriately centrist tones- the Democrats to "play nice." And it makes me a little sick and frustrated. There is a lot of mooning over "political guardrails" and "political norms" and that is frustrating -oh, but have no doubt this is accurate mooning. The case is clearly and effectively made that a tit-for-tat escalation between Republicans and Democrats starting (in modern times; a >great deal< is made of FDR's court-packing attempt and his choice run for a 3rd and 4th term) with the Gringrich Revolution being the effective initiator. There is Democratic obstruction of George Bush jr, there is filibuster abuse and gerrymandering, there Is political hackery galore. "Yes Virginia both sides do it" is the message of this book. But that's a false equivalence. Barack Obama isn't GWB. FDR isn't Nixon. The genius of Newt Gingrich was the realization that civility is for suckers and this book belongs to those suckers. There is very little interest in stakes -this is a book for detached technocrats who fundamentally understand that ideas don't matter, not citizens looking for a path forward. Is money in politics corrupting? Is the GOP in suicide pact with reckless authoritarianism? This book doesn't care. That's not it's thesis, we're not here to find answers we're here to get dreamy-eyed about when neighbors were polite to each other because it was easier to abandon Reconstruction than to upset the South by honoring promises to support universal voting rights. FDR's the villain, national financial catastrophe and bloody NAZIS don't count it's the principle of the matter how dare he sir how dare he. This is a book about nothing. It has a great deal to teach us but ultimately nothing useful to say. It is terrified of Donald Trump and for reasons thoroughly thought out and explained, but no answers beyond "play nice." It's the mating cry of the political dinosaur class echoing lonely over the primeval marsh wondering where everybody went while rats eat it's eggs.

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Must-read for anyone interested in fundamental political science in the context of current day western world

Must-read for anyone interested in fundamental political science in the context of current day western world

Well-written and conveyed in layman terms by scholars. Sometimes a rare quality.


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So important

Such a well thought out and argued book. Very moderate but with such good proposals. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately about what’s been happening in this country and this was one of the most concise and well argued

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Scholarly, fresh, and compelling.

What made the experience of listening to How Democracies Die the most enjoyable?

The relevance of the content, the clarity of the writing, and the satisfying narration

What did you like best about this story?

The revelation that autocrats acquire power by weaponizing words. Violence often comes later.

Have you listened to any of Fred Sanders’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No. His performance is outstanding.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The authors' statement that democracy is at risk of dying when political opponents become enemies and go to war.

Any additional comments?

Loved this book for presenting its disturbing content in a fresh and especially coherent manner. To the dismay of my wife, I will be listening to this audiobook several times in the weeks to come -- a task made easy by Fred Sander's gentle and perfectly paced performance.

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Entertaining but Biased

I am no fan of Trump, but this book seems to have been written primarily to paint the decline of US democracy as all his doing. It starts out very strong and well researched but quickly slips into a 8 hour long critique of Trump. If you are looking for a several hour long trump-bashing extravaganza, this is your book. But if you are wanting a political science or political history book to learn about How Democracies Die, I cannot recommend this particular title.

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16 people found this helpful

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A Must Read

I found this book fascinating. Ziblatt and Levitsky are respected scholars in the field of democracy studies. They teach at Harvard University.

The book is well written and researched. It is written in an easy to read style that is easy for the lay person to follow. The first part of the book reviewed how democracies around the world have fallen to authoritarian regimes over the years. The authors explain three key important elements vital to a democracy and then go into detail about each country and whether one or all elements were involved in its demise. The authors also have revealed in detail how some countries have over thrown the authoritarian regime and returned to a democracy even stronger than before. I found the method used in Chile to return to a democracy most interesting. The last part of the book examines the United States and examines attacks on our democracy and how they were successfully repelled. The authors examine in-depth the first year of Trump’s administration. Levitsky and Ziblatt show how a democracy fails and most important what can be done to protect the democracy. From reading this book one thing that I was struck with is how critical it is to maintaining our democracy to solve our race problem. The book is written in a neutral academic method. This book is a must read for everyone living in a democracy.

It is such an important reference book I am going to purchase a hardback edition. The book is almost eight and a half hours. Fred Sanders does an excellent job narrating the book. Sanders is an actor and well-known audiobook narrator. He has a smooth reading style that is easy to listen too.

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A Must-Read for All Americans

This book recounts the history of democracies, their strengths and particularly their weaknesses. It describes in detail the insidiousness of the many different political and social circumstances that have threatened our own fragile democracy and how we can attempt to counteract polarization.

Perhaps the most important point of the authors’ thesis is that we are held together by a collection of unwritten standards of political discourse and behavior which, have broken down and cannot be rescued by recourse to our Constitution.

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Glad to read, but very partisan.

The book laid out an interesting framework for thinking about the fall of democracies into authoritarianism. Unfortunately it also was very partisan and everything was framed from the perspective of the modern American Democrat.

This might not have been a problem but unfortunately it led to some sloppy thinking in looking at some of the causes for support of the Trump presidency as well as ignoring other issues which complicate the Democrat Party world view. While there are plenty examples of this... a few include:
1) Framing Democratic abuses of power as responsive to Republican abuses
2) Spending a tremendous amount of time discussing the faults of trump without giving any mention as to why Hillary was so unpopular nor spending a moment to think why Trump may be popular aside from White nationalism. (Some of the reason would be frustration with the establishment which the authors endorse)
3) Casually mentioning that Republicans give up free market ideas to return to the center.

All of that said I'm certainly not a Republican nor do I care for Trump in the tiniest amount. While I found this a very interesting perspective that changed the ways I thought about the fall into authoritarianism, I would caution not to expect a balanced perspective from this book.

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A chilling and important book



As someone wi
This book is riveting. It is a look at democracies around the world and through history. It discusses which ones succeeded and which ones failed, and why. There are so many important lessons contained here. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

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