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  • Published: 30 January 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241992753
  • Imprint: Penguin General UK
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $24.99

Why Politics Fails

The Five Traps of the Modern World & How to Escape Them




An award-winning Oxford professor explains why the revolving doors of power always leave us disappointed - and how to fix it

When it comes to politics, there are five goals that voters generally agree upon. We all want a say in how we're governed, to be treated equally, a safety net when times are hard, protection from harm and to be richer in the future. So, why does politics not deliver that?

The problem is each of these five goals results in a political trap. For example, we all want a say in how we're governed, but it's impossible to have any true 'will of the people'. And we want to be richer tomorrow, but what makes us richer in the short run makes us poorer over the long haul.

In Why Politics Fails, award-winning Oxford professor Ben Ansell draws on examples from Ancient Greece through Brexit to vividly illustrate how we can escape these traps, overcome self-interest and deliver on our collective goals. Politics seems to be broken, but this book shows how it can work for everyone.

  • Published: 30 January 2024
  • ISBN: 9780241992753
  • Imprint: Penguin General UK
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 352
  • RRP: $24.99

Praise for Why Politics Fails

Ben Ansell is one of the world's leading experts on the dilemmas facing modern democracies. This book is an incisive and gripping account of the political issues that matter most to all of us

Daniel Ziblatt, co-author of How Democracies Die

Since social science disentangled itself from religion in the 17th century, scholars and intellectuals have been grappling with the best way to organize government and cope with the problems and conflicts that inevitably arise when humans live together in societies. Ben Ansell's book brings together the wisdom of what we have learned and how it can help us organize ourselves better. Salutary reading for the world we live in now

James A. Robinson, co-author of Why Nations Fail

I think the book is beautifully written and engaging. Ben has the rare gift of writing like he talks, and even when he gets out of storytelling mode into "here's the facts" it's an engaging read. I also think book-readers are ready for a message that isn't telling us that we are marching steadily towards a better world. Nor does hopeless disaster - endless polarization, climate apocalypse - await humanity. The truth, as usual, is in the middle. Politics is hard. There are trade-offs. If we want to build a better society, let's put aside naive optimism and pessimism and get more sophisticated

Chris Blattman, author of Why We Fight

Salutary reading for the world we live in now

James A. Robinson, co-author of Why Nations Fail

Why do the revolving doors of power always leave us disappointed? In this, one of Viking's lead non-fiction titles for 2023, award-winning Oxford professor Ansell shows the politicians ar enot the problem. It's that our colleactive goals, from democracy to equality, result in five political "traps" by which our self-interest undermines our ability to deliver on them. Drawing on exmaples from Ancient Greece through to Brexit and wilding his own research, he aims to show how we can escape the political traps of our imperfect world.

Caroline Sanderson, Bookseller, 'One to watch'

Democracy (collective decision-making by citizens) and the idea of equality (of the economic and political sort) are some of the most complex constructs humans have developed. It is in their nature to be constantly challenged, and even aspiring for democracy and equality is hard work. But in these troubled times, we need these ideals even more than ever, and Ben Ansell's brilliant book explains why they are so vital and how we can try to turn them into reality. This is a must-read book.

Daron Acemoglu, co-author of Why Nations Fail

Brilliant ... a must-read

Daron Acemoglu, co-author of Why Nations Fail

Ansell is one of the very few scholars who can so quickly and concisely identify the core concepts of politics, the traps these concepts present to the practice of politics, and propose a series of policy adjustments to alleviate these traps. In an era of great challenges to the world, the urgency of what Ansell shows us, practical ways to overcoming political obstacles to collective decision making, is all the more timely. It is a must-read for experts, practitioners, and students of politics

Victor Shih, UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy 

A must-read ... In an era of great challenges to the world, the urgency of what Ansell shows us, practical ways to overcoming political obstacles to collective decision making, is all the more timely

Victor Shih, UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy 

A meticulous study of how different societies find it so difficult to achieve widely shared goals, like democracy, equality, a decent welfare state, security from crime and sustainable prosperity

Nick Pearce, Financial Times

Ansell's deep thinking is balanced by his crisp prose and accessible examples, giving the book the feel of a stimulating college lecture. It's a stellar exposition of a subject that often feels too big to grasp

Publishers Weekly