The Shortest History of Democracy by John Keane | Black Inc.

The Shortest History of Democracy

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About the author

John Keane

John Keane is professor of politics at the University of Sydney and the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin and founded London’s Centre for the Study of Democracy and the Sydney Democracy Network. Among his many books, The Life and Death of Democracy

More about John Keane

Praise for The Shortest History of Democracy

‘For a brief shining moment, democracy seemed ascendent. Yet as distinguished political theorist John Keane demonstrates, democracy has a history but not necessarily a future. In concise and imaginative analysis, The Shortest History of Democracy outlines key variants of democracy and the many attempts to justify this messy, imperfect way of governing ourselves. Professor Keane argues for an ethic in which our very imperfections are reason to hold each other to account. An urgent, important book for a troubled time.’ —Glyn Davis AC, emeritus professor of political science, University of Melbourne

‘In this jaded age, where democracy appears under attack from all sides – and especially from within – this rich little volume reads like a tonic. John Keane takes the ideals, practices, triumphs and failures of democracies and braids them together into something timely, lyrical and fresh. For cynics and idealists alike, this couldn’t have come at a better time.’ —Scott Ludlam, former deputy leader of the Australian Greens

‘A pragmatic, shining light to readers on radical democratic potential. This is the best, most readable book on the history of democracy published in the third millennium.’ —Takashi Inoguchi, professor emeritus, University of Tokyo; eminent scholar professor and J.F. Oberlin professor (Tokyo); former assistant secretary general of the UN 

‘In this enlightening book, John Keane traces the history of democratic ideas and practices, from the classical assembly democracy in Athens, through Modern Age electoral democracy to contemporary monitory democracy. He gives us new reasons why democracy is a global set of ideals and realities, adapted to different cultures and times.’ —Armando Chaguaceda, political scientist and historian, El Colegio de Veracruz, Mexico

‘Shortest – and best! John Keane knows more about the history of democracy globally than one can imagine. Provocative, passionate, fun, and even a bit hopeful. Don't miss it!’ —Michael Schudson, professor of journalism and sociology, Columbia University

'Rowing against the tide of pessimism about the future of democracy, the pre-eminent scholar of the history of democratic ideas and practices mesmerises us once again with formidable knowledge and stylistic panache. A gem of a book.' —Paul 't Hart, professor of public administration, Utrecht University

‘The most engaging, accurate, witty, well-referenced, short and well-structured book on democracy you will ever find.’ —Pedro Aibéo, Architectural Democracy

‘An accessible and inspiring presentation of democracy through the ages. John Keane offers us a short, concentrated but deep analysis. Those who do not know will learn in a lucid manner; those who know will also learn, thanks to numerous details and examination of true misconceptions about democracy.’ — Xavier Philippe, professor, University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

‘This is a remarkable book. It covers a vast historical landscape while also delivering intellectual depth. It draws on research and scholarship while remaining accessible and engaging. But most of all, it offers a hopeful history without being naive. Modest in size, incredibly ambitious in content.’ —Matthew Flinders, professor of politics, University of Sheffield; vice-president of the Political Studies Association of the United Kingdom

‘At a time when democracy is challenged from within by deep social inequality and from without by an ascendant China, we could do with accounts that are free of the rhetoric that many in the West use to justify their flawed systems, honest about the complexities of living democratically, and uncompromising in intellectual and moral clarity. This is such a book.’ —Cherian George, author of Hate Spin: The Manufacture of Religious Offense and its Threat to Democracy

‘An insightful history of democracy, a perceptive reflection on its fragility and an intelligent and original analysis of its present problems.’ —Enrique Krauze, historian

‘John Keane takes us on a whirlwind history of democracy through three acts in his book.’ —Kurt Johnson, The Saturday Age

‘an illuminating read, which packs a lot into its 200 pages.’ —Law Society Journal

‘Here’s hoping his thought-provoking short history spurs some of the conversations we need.’ —Jeff Sparrow, The Saturday Paper

‘This is a provocative and enlightening survey of democracy’s ever-shifting nature.’ —Publishers Weekly

‘This slim book sets out to reawaken a sense of wonder about democracy.’ —PS News

‘Keane writes eloquently of democracy’s beginnings.’ —Robyn Ferrell, Sydney Review of Books

'Democracy itself, the essential foundation of America, is in serious trouble. To the rescue comes this wonderfully comforting and beautifully written long-view historical narrative… This slim volume is a fine read from a gifted author.' —Booklist

‘My favourite book this year was The Shortest History of Democracy by John Keane … it actually really stimulated me to think about what we all take for granted in Oz’ —Robyn Ferrell, The Canberra Times ‘Reviewers picks: Best books of 2022’