When Democracy Breaks: Studies in Democratic Erosion and Collapse, From Ancient Athens to the Present Day

Archon Fung, Winthrop Laflin McCormack Professor of Citizenship and Self-Government; David Moss, Harvard Business School; and Odd Arne Westad, Yale University

Cover of the book When Democracy Breaks

THIS EDITED VOLUME EXAMINES 11 historical and modern examples of democratic breakdown in societies around the world—from ancient Athens to contemporary Venezuela. Editors Archon Fung, David Moss, and Odd Arne Westad consider “what separates democratic resilience from democratic fragility,” with a particular interest in the latter.

In their introduction they write, “We will see, in graphic detail, just how far society can descend, into chaos or even madness, when this sentiment supporting a common commitment to democratic process and values breaks down.” Although democratic breakdown is often due to a collection of factors, the book draws together common themes, including political polarization, anti-democratic political actors, and political violence.

“Throughout the volume, we see again and again that the written rules of democracy are insufficient to protect against tyranny,” the editors write. “They are mere ‘parchment barriers,’ as James Madison once put it, unless embedded within a strong culture of democracy, which itself embraces and gives life not only to the written rules themselves but to the essential democratic values that underlie them.”


A Life in the American Century

Joseph S. Nye Jr., University Distinguished Service Professor, Emeritus; Harvard Kennedy School Dean, Emeritus

Cover of the book A Life in the American CenturyJOSEPH NYE’S WORK AS A LEADING international relations expert has shaped the way governments and scholars have thought about questions ranging from nuclear arsenals to great power rivalry. And the concept of “soft power” that he developed has allowed us to see a different dimension of a country’s international influence beyond its balance of trade or army divisions. In this autobiographical book, Nye reflects in a more personal way on a life lived “through the American century,” as an academic, a public servant, and a public intellectual. “Our mental maps of the world have changed dramatically over my lifetime,” Nye writes. Those maps are not only those that charted the movements of armies across Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, or those that saw the decline of empires, not least the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. They also include societal changes—acceptance of religious diversity, new social mores and freedoms, and the explosion of technological change. “The story I am telling is personal, but I hope it helps historians to look back, and our children to look forward,” Nye writes.


Build the Life You Want: The Art and Science of Getting Happier

Arthur Brooks, Parker Gilbert Montgomery Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership; Oprah Winfrey

Cover of the book Build the Life You Want

DON’T FOCUS ON BECOMING HAPPY; work to become happier. That is the lesson at the heart of the new book by Arthur Brooks, who directs the Leadership and Happiness Laboratory at HKS, and media executive Oprah Winfrey. Build the Life You Want shares insights based on social science evidence, as well as examples from philosophical traditions, to back up the premise that “happiness is not a destination—happiness is a direction.” The coauthors provide suggestions and practices to move in that direction, concentrating on family, friends, work, and faith. 

According to Brooks and Winfrey, three key factors contribute to happiness: enjoyment, satisfaction, and purpose. They argue that the pursuit of happiness can exist even when situations are hard. “You can learn to choose how you react to negative circumstances and select emotions that make you happier even when you get a bad hand,” the authors write. “You can focus your energy not on trivial distractions, but on the basic pillars of happiness that bring enduring satisfaction and meaning.”

Defending Democracy in an Age of Sharp Power

Tarek Masoud, Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Governance; William Dobson; Christopher Walker

Cover of the book Defending Democracy in an Age of Sharp Power

MORE THAN 30 YEARS AGO, Professor Emeritus Joseph Nye coined the term “soft power” to describe how states use subtle moral and cultural suasion to exert influence over other states. In this new volume, Masoud and his coeditors identify a different, less benign kind of power—“sharp power”—which they define as authoritarian regimes’ manipulation of democracies’ openness to weaken them from within. By penetrating popular media, the entertainment industry, tech companies, universities, and even political institutions, countries such as Russia and China spread disinformation, sow discord, and weaken democratic accountability. This collection of analytical essays brings together some of the finest thinkers on the dangers of sharp power to offer their collective responses to the challenge. The editors note that rather than gradually and peacefully transforming to democracy, authoritative political systems like Russia and China are devising “new ways of waging war on freedom.” This book is divided into two parts—the first records how the world’s autocracies are deploying sharp power, and the second identifies how the world’s democrats can fight back. According to the editors, the book is intended to be both an exploration of a formidable new challenge to democracy and a call to action to scholars, practitioners, and concerned citizens.


Writing for Busy Readers: Communicate More Effectively in the Real World

Todd Rogers, Weatherhead Professor of Public Policy; Jessica Lasky-Fink, Research Director, The People Lab

Cover of the book Writing for Busy Readers

MANY BOOKS ON WRITING EXIST. What sets apart Writing for Busy Readers is its foundation in behavioral science and its focus on optimizing messages for action with the understanding that readers’ time is precious. Todd Rogers and Jessica Lasky-Fink lay out six fundamental principles of effective writing: less is more; make reading easy; design for easy navigation; use enough formatting but no more; tell readers why they should care; make responding easy. 

Rogers and Lasky-Fink write, “Today we know what goes on inside a busy reader’s brain. We know how a reader’s eyes move as they respond to different stimuli. We know why certain types of writing draw a reader’s focus while others tend to get lost in the fog of distraction and competition for attention. We wrote this book to share these important, potentially life-changing insights. It is a guide to the science of writing so busy people read and respond.”