3 out of 4 stars
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Despite being in my mid-30s I only recently became interested in politics. In the last couple years I've read several political books, and it was with that recent interest that I picked up The Secret to Political Happiness by Angus Ramsey. This is a nonfiction book based on the author's years of self-study and interest in politics that was sparked by a truth he discovered in Politics by Aristotle (in the author's words):
In addition to this simple but powerful truth, the author is also inspired by the governing system of Attica (in ancient Greece) from 512BC-198BC. This system allowed all males of legal age to vote on all matters, not just during elections like current democracies. In this era politics were one of the most important subjects in school; the author writes "the day after a young man became a citizen at the age of eighteen he was expected to be able to run the citizens' assembly." Compare this to our schooling today, where students are more apt to memorize historical names and places than the importance of voting and recent politics and you'll quickly see the contrast in priorities. Of course Angus is quick to say that the system of Attica could easily be improved upon by allowing ALL people the ability to vote, not just men.All men want to be able to go about their business (lives) without interference. When people go about their business they interfere with each other. This interference in the absence of law ultimately leads to war, murder, rape and pillage. Politics has the power to stop the harm done from this interference by making laws.
In addition to these two main points woven throughout the 125-ish pages of this book, Angus makes a bunch of excellent points. He explains the difference between a representative democracy (one in which we vote for representatives who then vote on matters and create laws) and a participative democracy (one in which we actually participate on a regular basis). He goes into different forms of government and their issues throughout history - single rulers (kings, queens, dictators, emperors, etc.), monotheistic governing (a society based on a single religion such as the dark ages with Roman Catholicism) and representative government (such as the US voting for presidents and other government leaders). He also makes some great recommendations on improving things. The book has a total of 25 chapters and each covers a different topic, although some of the same basic topics are brought up frequently in many of them.
There are about as many opinions about how to make the government better as there are people on the planet, but very few people actually come up with anything people can do about it. Angus actually makes some good recommendations, although some of them aren't exactly things just anyone can do. My favorite was his concept of how everyone can retain their POPA (piece of political authority, essentially their own vote) through a website that would allow everyone to place their singular vote with their choice of elected officials. Then, when votes are cast by the elected officials, your POPA is much more likely to be what you'd personally vote for without having to send out a poll every time a law or ruling was brought up, which would slow down the government. This POPA could be moved freely at any time when people see how politicians vote, so that if someone you truly believed in originally ends up breaking their promises down the line you can merely change it to someone else. One of the biggest jokes in politics is that a politician will bust their butt to win an election, do whatever they want for half the term and then spend the last bit working to be re-elected where the cycle continues. This would not only allow us to be more invested in government, it would put an end to those kinds of politicians.
Unfortunately, the book never really grabbed me and fully held my attention. I found myself frequently distracted and sometimes chapters would go by without more than a sentence or two of notes worth writing down. I counted a good 15-20 errors altogether, and some things are repeated frequently. I can understand some repetition in a nonfiction book, especially a longer one with stand alone chapters, but in a book that's just over 100 pages it felt like the same story of Attica was brought up frequently. Finally, the author mentions early in the book that "This is not an academic work. My list of references is incomplete...". While this worried me at first that he would throw around all sorts of statistics and facts without any references, this was hardly the case. This isn't a thesis, it's a collection of information from a lifetime of research and curiosity, and while there is a list of references in the back of the book they aren't presented as footnotes or marked in the text itself.
The book wasn't perfect, sure, but the author did make some great points. He also successfully raised my interest in politics and taught me quite a bit. Angus had quite a way with comparing things in an easy-to-understand way and I never really felt confused. Like a Catholic who only goes to church for Easter and Christmas, most of us vote only during presidential elections. Instead, Angus says that not only would retaining our POPA allow us a better voice and representation, it would make us feel more passionate about politics and feel valued in our communities. My official rating of The Secret to Political Happiness is 3 out of 4 stars, and I'd recommend it to anyone who's interested in politics regardless of your knowledge level.
To close this review, I'd like to point out my favorite comparison in the book. Angus says that when his kids turned 16 they got their permits and eventually their licenses. When they borrowed their parents’ cars they didn’t pay attention to the oil or tire pressure and often didn’t even pay much attention to the gas. However, once his son bought a car he took better care of it - he cleaned it, checked the tires and fluids, even checked the brakes. The author says this is how we should act as adults with our voice in making laws. It also makes a great point about feeling ownership for our decisions - when we merely use someone else's car now and then we never really feel like we own it, but when we buy a car with our own money we feel proud to take care of it, make it look as good as possible and keep it running well.
The Secret to Political Happiness
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