B. de Mesquita and Smith: The Dictator’s Handbook

For most of my life, I was not really interested in politics. I think, perhaps, this disinterest originated in my affinity for mechanistic and abstract theories that reflect the real world, and politics always seemed everything but mechanistic and abstract – just a huge mess of opinions and empty talk. I changed my view on politics, however, when I read The Dictator’s Handbook, by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith.

Central to the author’s thesis is the realization that leaders (benevolent or not) must first and foremost ensure that they get into (and stay) in power, because without power, they cannot affect anything. They also introduce a more refined view of political systems than “democracy” vs “dictatorship”, discuss how seemingly poor decisions of various leaders throughout history make perfect sense when viewed through the lens of their political theory, and under what circumstances authoritarian regimes can transition into democracies and vice versa. If you ever want to understand politics, this is a must-read (or at least watch the summary video above)!

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