The New York Times Book Review "Editor's Pick"
"A great virtue of Posner’s conceptual scheme is that it allows him to focus on those aspects of Trump’s presidency that are of lasting significance. Instead of condemning demagogues for any phrase or policy he happens to dislike, he zeros in on their dangerous habit of positing a conflict between the people and the very institutions that have historically enabled them to exert their power...It is difficult to argue with Posner’s conclusion."
Yascha Mounk, The New York Times Book Review
"Read this immensely important book."
Samantha Power, former US ambassador to the UN and Pulitzer-Prize winning author, on Twitter
"How do we recognize a demagogue when we see one? In this insightful book, Eric Posner shows us that although democracies are inherently vulnerable to demagogues, America has seen remarkably few of them. Until now. The Demagogue’s Playbook makes a compelling case that Donald Trump differs from nearly all other flawed, dishonest, or populist politicians that have passed through American politics. He is a true demagoguea living manifestation of one our Founders’ greatest fears. This is an important read for anyone concerned about the fate of American democracy."
Steven Levitsky, Harvard University, and New York Times bestselling co-author of How Democracies Die
"An almost novellike stroll through American history…An insightful analysis into what went wrong with the Founders’ dream."
"Professor Posner has made an outstanding, superbly written analysis of how Donald Trump has drawn on the 'demagogue’s playbook' to win a presidency that is severely testing our constitutional democracy. He provides crucial historical perspective on the demagogue as a distinctive and dangerous brand of leader in the American political experienceand on the erosion of the protections that the Founders hoped to have built against a full-fledged demagogue's capture of the White House. It is hard to imagine understanding the Trump presidency and its significance without reading this book.”
Bob Bauer, Former Chief Counsel to President Barack Obama
“[A] skillful survey of American political history. [Posner] delivers a powerful argument for the need to restore constitutional safeguards against demagoguery.”
"A brilliant and highly original discussion of one of the most important topics of the current era. Essential reading if you want to understand the world today."
Cass Sunstein, the Robert Walmsley Professor of Law, Harvard Law School, and co-author of the international bestseller, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
"In a calm tone and with careful research and keen reasoning, Eric Posner illuminates the interplay of elitism, demagoguery, and populism in American politics, past and present. With a refreshing, sensible clarity, he cuts through the hyperbole and hysteria that often distorts assessments of our republic, particularly at this time."
Alan Taylor, Pulitzer Prize winning historian of William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early Republic and The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia 1772–1832
"Moving through a series of political and historical events and personalities, including Andrew Jackson, Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy and Donald Trump, Posner illuminates the characteristics that make someone a “demagogue,” including vicious personal attacks on political opponents, divisive accusations against vulnerable groups, the intentional spreading of lies, and efforts to undermine such fundamental institutions as the press and the judiciary. This work is necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand the challenges we, as a nation, face in the era of Trump."
Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Professor of Law, The University of Chicago, and author of Perilous Times,winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize
“A magnificent book that traces the concepts of populism and demagoguery throughout American history. The book is hopeful in that the country has survived other demagogues and frightening in reminding us of how such a man can come to power.”
Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Jesse H. Choper Distinguished Professor of Law, University of California, Berkeley School of Law, and bestselling author of We the People: A Progressive Reading of the Constitution for the 21st Century
"Eric Posner is an incisive guide and a wise advisor as he leads us through the history and conditions that gave rise to two disruptive American demagogues, Andrew Jackson and the more dangerous Donald Trump. He takes us on this journey so that we may understand, with clear eyes, what we have done, and to recognize the scale of the attack we face against our own democratic institutions."
Tom Nichols, author of The Death of Expertise
"A fascinating political history...by reading Posner's survey, readers will see more clearly and starkly the historical context of Trump's rise to political power and how he appeals and holds on to his base."
How the Founding Fathers’ worst fear materialized.
Well-grounded in classical precedents, the founders were worried that their experiment in republican self-government could produce a demagogue, a charismatic leader who would gain and hold on to power by manipulating the public rather than by advancing the public good. Posner, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, contends two presidents have embodied that fear: Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump. However, this book is not all about Trump; it is an almost novellike stroll through American history beginning with the founders’ fear and ending with one chapter on Trump. Along the way, Posner charts the careers of such American demagogues as Huey Long, George Wallace, and Joe McCarthy and shows the similarities they share with Trump. The author argues that two things are necessary for a demagogue to rise: a propitious political condition and the right person. In Trump’s case, writes Posner, the condition was that rank-and-file Republicans were blaming “elites” for such failures as the Iraq War and stagnating wages, and they wanted something new. The necessary person not only had to be an outsider—because no one inside the party was showing any hint of anything new—but also someone with significant public recognition, great wealth, or, preferably, both. And he had to be shameless. What better person than Trump? Posner checks off the characteristics of a demagogue and details how deeply each one applies to Trump. For example, they attack anyone who opposes or criticizes them; they have contempt for the truth; they despise institutions, public and private; they blame and attack elite power. As the author writes, his goal was “to persuade the reader that in electing Donald Trump to the presidency, we Americans really did choose a demagogue.” He has succeeded.
An insightful analysis into what went wrong with the founders’ dream.