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The Dictator's Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracyby William J. Dobson
Synopses & Reviews
In this riveting portrait of authoritarianism in peril, acclaimed journalist William Dobson takes us inside the relentless battle between dictators and the people challenging their rule.
We are witnessing an incredible moment in the war between dictators and democracy—waves of protests are sweeping Syria and Yemen, and despots have fallen in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. But the Arab Spring is only the latest front in a worldwide battle between freedom and repression, a battle that also rages in a dozen other countries from Venezuela to China, Russia to Malaysia. It is a struggle that, until recently, dictators have been winning hands-down. The reason is that today’s authoritarian regimes are nothing like the frozen-in-time government of North Korea. They are ever-morphing, technologically savvy, and internationally connected, and they have replaced more brutal forms of intimidation with seemingly “free” elections and talk of human rights. Facing off against modern dictators is an unlikely army of democracy advocates—students, bloggers, environmentalists, lawyers, activists, and millionaires—who are growing increasingly savvy themselves. The result is a global game of cat-and-mouse, where the future of freedom hangs in the balance. Dobson takes us behind the scenes in both camps, and reveals how each side is honing its strategies for the war that will define our age.
"Totalitarian dictatorships are as obsolete as North Korean propaganda posters, but authoritarian regimes remain plentiful and powerful. In this deft, incisive book, Dobson, the politics and foreign editor for Slate, shows how the rulers of Russia, China, and Venezuela 'have gone to great lengths to turn disinterest in political life into a public virtue' by promoting economic prosperity and relying on widespread political apathy. This battle is being joined by highly adaptable and technologically savvy democracy activists, many of them taking their cues from the political philosopher Gene Sharp (author of the nonviolent activist treatise From Dictatorship to Democracy) and veterans of Otpor, the Serbian youth movement that toppled Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. In one colorful passage, Dobson describes visiting a jailed opponent of President Hugo ChÃ¡vez, then being tailed by Venezuelan security forces, a comic and chilling incident that encapsulates that regime's nominal openness and its relentless paranoia, fueled 'by a siege mentality that saw enemies lurking everywhere.' Dobson also examines the techniques used by dictatorships to hang on to power, from the mix of sanctioned dissent and centralized control of state television in Putin's Russia to former Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak's brutal methods. The mix of perspectives results in an impressive overview of the global struggle between authoritarian power and determined advocates of political freedom. Agent: Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
In this riveting anatomy of authoritarianism, acclaimed journalist William Dobson takes us inside the stubborn battle between dictators and those who would challenge their rule.
We are witnessing an incredible moment in the war between dictators and democracy—waves of protests are sweeping Syria and Yemen and despots have fallen in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. But the Arab Spring is only the latest front in a global battle between freedom and repression, a battle that, until recently, dictators have been winning hands-down. The problem is that today's authoritarians are not like the frozen-in-time, ready-to-crack regimes of Burma and North Korea. They are ever-morphing, technologically savvy, and internationally connected, and have replaced more brutal forms of intimidation with subtle coercion. They run "free" elections and allow opposition parties. Their speeches make reference to human rights. They concede ground in order to maintain it. And even as a growing global army of democracy advocates have challenged their power, the dictators have honed new strategies to preserve it. The Dictator's Learning Curve explains this historic moment and provides crucial insight into the fight for democracy.
About the Author
WILLIAM J. DOBSON is politics and foreign affairs editor for Slate. He has been an editor at Foreign Affairs, Newsweek International, and Foreign Policy. During his tenure at Foreign Policy, the magazine was nominated for the coveted National Magazine Award for General Excellence each year and won top honors in 2007 and 2009. His articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, and he has provided analysis for ABC, CNN, CBS, MSNBC, and NPR. He lives in Washington, DC.
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