Saturday, July 16, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

FilibusteringFilibustering by Gregory Koger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The filibuster in the Senate has become, especially in the last decade or so, a major feature of the institutional structure of US politics. Indeed, I am of the opinion that it is far more significant than most people realize and is a topic in need of discussion and debate.

Koger’s book is an excellent overview of the development of this mechanism as well as an analysis of its significance within the the functioning of the Senate, as well as the Congress writ large. In fact, he deals with filibustering tactics in the House over time as well.

The book functions as both a history and an analysis of contemporary politics. While written for an academic audience, the style of the book is such that it could easily be consumed by a general audience as well.

The book should be of interest to both those focused on American politics but also to comparativists interested in institutional design.

View all my reviews

Filed under: Academia,Books,US Politics | Comments Off|
Tuesday, June 7, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Showing Teeth to the Dragons: State-building by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez 2024-2006Showing Teeth to the Dragons: State-building by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez 2024-2006 by Harvey Kline

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part of Kline’s ongoing analysis of state-building in Colombia (this being the third in a series of books). This volume focuses on the first Uribe administration (2002-2006). The text provides a very useful and succinct overview of Colombia’s predicament going into the Uribe years. Further, moreso than the previous works in the series, Kline offers a more complete framework for his approach to state-building in the Colombian context.

The book has a great deal of detail on Uribe’s “Democratic Security” policies and the “Law of Justice and Peace.”

There is a great deal of detail on the administration’s dealings with the AUC, FARC and ELN.

This book seems, at first reading at least, to be more substantive than the previous entry in the series (that which dealt with the Pastrana peace initiative with the FARC). However, that may be because there is more to work with in this case. Regardless of one’s position on Uribe’s policies, it is clear that there is a good deal of material there for discussion.

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Filed under: Academia,Books,Colombia | Comments Off|
Thursday, September 9, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Below is my review of:  Blair, Tom. Poorer Richard’s America: What Would Ben Say? Skyhorse Publishing.

I am dubious about books or essays that purport to write in the style, tone, or intellectual point of view of someone other than the author, especially when the given tome allegedly speaks for a major historical figure. Indeed, this is one of several reasons why I am not a fan of historical fiction. As such, it is fair to note these biases when evaluating my review of Tom Blair’s Poorer Richard’s America: What Would Ben Say?

The books is basically a series a brief essays and vignettes that are a combination of biographical anecdotes and critiques of contemporary American politics and society all written from the POV of Benjamin Franklin, who has been been drifting about the planet watching since his demise in 1790).

I will grant that my expertise in Franklin’s writings is limited, but something about the tone of the book, which was more scolding than anything, made me think of Franklin’s Silence Dogood, rather than Poor Richard. Perhaps part of the problem is that while the book’s conceit is that it supposed to be a modern day version of Poor Richard’s Almanac with  its commentary on the politics and society of its day, it is supposedly written in Franklin’s voice, including biographical anecdotes.

Something else that bothered me: the book pretends that Franklin has pretty much been observing America from the Beyond since his passing (“I have observed America with keen and curious interest these past centuries…” (XIX) and yet it also takes the approach that Ben is comparing 2024 to the 1780s (e.g., when he talks about Congress he talks about “your Congress” not just “Congress” thus making an explicit comparison between “his”  and “ours”). It seems to me that if he had been watching for two centuries plus, he would be a bit more up to speed and write more like a contemporary rather than like a time traveling observer who recently arrived to be wowed and disgusted by television, the state of the Congress, or the size of the national debt. Yes, there are various other observations over time that flesh out, to a degree, the length of Ben’s observations, but it still reads like it is supposed to be from 18th Century Franklin’s POV rather than from a Franklin with roughly three centuries of observations under his belt. Granted, I am likely being overly critical, if not pedantic, on this point. And, further, one could argue that I am missing the point. Still, I found the anachronistic nature of it all to be more annoying than charming.

There are, I will say, some decent new aphorisms written in the Poor Richard style sprinkled throughout the text along with many of the genuine article.

I would note that the criticisms are fairly broad spectrum. There are critiques of conservative, liberal, neoconservative and other ideas throughout the text. Perhaps the most dominant theme is that which taps into the current zeitgeist: i.e., debt (public and private) and deficit spending. The essays on taxes, and especially that on flag burning, do have a far more conservative slant than anything else, I must say.

Ultimately it was passable:  at times making legitimate observations at others being a bit obtuse.  Mostly it amounts to a fairly clever way for the author to pontificate on the current state of affairs, even if I didn’t think he really pulled it off.

I will conclude with the fact that I found it problematic that there were no references provided whatsoever. I understand that this is, in part, my own academic expectations which do not extend to popular works such as this. Still, it would have been nice to have some sort of appendix with a “for further reading” or somesuch.

Filed under: Books | Comments Off|
By Steven L. Taylor

It has just come to my attention that historian David Bushnell, who studied and wrote about Colombia.  Indeed, as an obituary in El Tiempo notes, he could be called the “Father of Colomianists” as he was one of first Americans to study Colombia.

His 1993 book, Colombia:  A Nation in Spite of Itself is arguably the definitive political history of Colombia.

Bushnell died due to complications from cancer, according to press reports.

Bushnell’s significance to Colombia (which he first visited in 1948) is underscored by the fact that El Tiempo (Colombia’s most important daily) and El Espectador (another major Bogotá daily) and El Heraldo (a major regional paper) have all run obituaries on Bushnell.  I cannot, however, find one in English.

Filed under: Academia,Books,Colombia,in memoriam | Comments Off|
Friday, September 3, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Former presidential candidate and FARC hostage, Ingird Betancourt will publish a book about her captivity later this month.  Via CNN:  Former hostage Betancourt’s book to be published this month

"Meme le Silence a une Fin," or "Even Silence Has an End," will go on sale around the world September 21, the publishing house Gallimard said.

Filed under: Books,Colombia | Comments Off|
Wednesday, July 28, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

I occasionally check the page for Voting Amid Violence:  Electoral Democracy in Colombia, just to see how it is selling (mostly to see if it is selling at all).

Normally the book is ranked between 1,000,000 and 2,000,000 (not surprising for an academic text,).  It has shot up between 100K and 200K once or twice (like during the elections).  I happened to look today and it has cracked the 5-digit mark:


Granted, it won’t last, but cool enough nonetheless.  No doubt Hollywood will be calling for the movie rights at any moment.

I am unaware, btw, of how the book is classifiable for the “Activism” section, but I’ll take it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Federalism and Democracy in Latin America Federalism and Democracy in Latin America by Edward L. Gibson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars A useful contribution to the literature both of Latin American democratic development, but also to the growing lit on comparative federalism. Case specifically covered in the text are as follows: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela. There are also several topical chapters that are more broadly comparative. Alfred Stepan’s article “Electorally Generated Veto Players in Unitary and Federal Systems” which builds off of Stepan’s recent work on federalism along with George Tsebelis’ work on veto players is especially interesting. Stepan’s essay “Toward a New Comparative Politics of Federalism, Multinationalism, and Democracy: Beyond Rikerian Federalism” is also noteworthy, although it is just a reprint of the same piece that appeared in his 2024 book Arguing Comparative Politics and appeared in an earlier form in 1999 in The Journal of Democracy. View all my reviews >>

By Steven L. Taylor

Democracy and Diversity: Comparing India and the United States Democracy and Diversity: Comparing India and the United States by Shankar Bajpai

My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is an excellent collection of essays including work by such major contributors to the field of comparative politics as Arend Lijphart, Alfred Stepan, and Juan Linz. One of the approaches of the book was to take prominent scholars of comparative politics and introduce them to the Indian case, including field research in country. The book also includes work by Indian scholars who, in turn, more thoroughly studies the US case. The intro essay by the project’s coordinator (Bajpai) rightly notes the following: 1. India is a major case that deserves greater attention within comparative politics if anything because of its size. Its remarkable ability to develop and sustain a democracy with such a diverse population especially underscores its desirability as a case for study. 2. The United States is underrepresented as a case in comparative politics (something the project I am currently working on seeks to help rectify!) and therefore there is value in placing the US in the center of a comparative work. 3. There are key reasons to specifically compare the US and India. Both are large democracies. Indeed, they are the two largest in population (India, #1 and the US #2) and two of three largest in land area (#2 the US and #3 India–Canada is #1). The book is interesting for a variety of reasons beyond those noted above. It provides information relevant to democratic development and to the study of federalism. View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, May 11, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

The Endurance of National Constitutions The Endurance of National Constitutions by Zachary Elkins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Elkins, et al. produces a rather remarkable study that examines the history of national constitutions from the 1780s to the present.  The text presents both a theory of constitutions as well as one of constitutional endurance.  The book is one that ought to be in the library of anyone interested in comparative democracy or institutional design.  The text is clearly written and is accessible even to non-political scientists interested in the topic. View all my reviews >>

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