The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics

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For eighteen years, Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith have been part of a team revolutionizing the study of politics by turning conventional wisdom on its head. They start from a single assertion: Leaders do whatever keeps them in power. They don't care about the “national interest”—or even their subjects—unless they have to.

This clever and accessible book shows that the difference between tyrants and democrats is just a convenient fiction. Governments do not differ in kind but only in the number of essential supporters, or backs that need scratching. The size of this group determines almost everything about politics: what leaders can get away with, and the quality of life or misery under them. The picture the authors paint is not pretty. But it just may be the truth, which is a good starting point for anyone seeking to improve human governance.

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About the author

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is the Julius Silver Professor of Politics and director of the Alexander Hamilton Center for Political Economy at New York University. He is the author of 16 books, including The Predictioneer’s GameAlastair Smith is professor of politics at New York University. The recipient of three grants from the National Science Foundation and author of three books, he was chosen as the 2005 Karl Deutsch Award winner, given biennially to the best international relations scholar under the age of 40.
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Published on
Sep 27, 2011
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Political Science / Political Ideologies / Fascism & Totalitarianism
Political Science / Political Ideologies / General
Political Science / Political Process / Leadership
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The authors demonstrate how and why Reagan and Yeltsin succeeded in their political aspirations, despite— or perhaps because of— their apparent “ policy extremism” : that is, their advocacy of policy positions far from the mainstream. The book analyzes the viability of policy extremism as a political strategy that enables candidates to forge new coalitions and outflank conventional political allegiances.

Kiron K. Skinner is Associate Professor of International Relations and Political Science at Carnegie Mellon University, a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and a member of the Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel and the National Security Education Board. Serhiy Kudelia is Lecturer of Politics at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, Ukraine and advisor to Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita is Julius Silver Professor and Director of the Alexander Hamilton Center for Political Economy at New York University and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Condoleezza Rice is on a leave of absence from Stanford University, where she was a Professor of Political Science and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. She is currently serving as U.S. Secretary of State.

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