Book reviews / Non fiction

Book review: The Narrow Corridor

I know you don’t often have sequels to non-fiction, but The Narrow Corridor feels like a sequel to Why Nations Fail. It expands on the themes in the first book, why nations do or don’t manage to have stable democracies. In this book, the narrow corridor, is the place where democracy happens. On the other sides you have dictatorships or completely absent governments that have very little state capacity.

It’s a very interesting book and I really enjoyed it. I imagine people who study the various historical periods that are used as evidence might disagree with the interpretations they take. Ultimately, the argument is that you need a balance between the state and society to create functioning democracies that lead toward greater inclusive institutions and services for citizens. Throughout the book they demonstrate how that tension between citizens and state lead to better outcomes, or if they are unbalanced lead to negative outcomes.

What was very enjoyable about the book was the absolutely massive array of historical and geographical examples they use to illustrate their points. It isn’t just a look at Western European countries, the USA or white commonwealth countries – it goes back and looks at the different indigenous empires in the Americas, various
African tribes and groups, the various Middle Eastern empires and the like. It’s just a huge variety of examples which make it a very impressive analysis.

In one way it made me relatively pessimistic about the progress towards democratic norms in the world. But on the other hand it made me less worried about the current political situation here and in the USA. Basically, there’s a lot of resilience in countries where these norms previously existed.

Also, I learned some sutff! My favourite being this excerpt:


My other favourite bit was where it talked about the ‘cage of norms’ where societal pressure does (mostly) bad things – for example caste systems. What is fascinating was where they related them back to the same sort of systems that existed in Western European countries (either in the distant or actually not that distant past). Things like blood feuds and the like come up a lot, which are still shockingly prevalent in places like Albania. There are just so many striking parallels where the same types of behaviours perpetuate across different cultures and different time periods. And then somehow they are broken, in different ways at different times. So interesting!

Anyway, if you really like some interesting political science, I recommend this and the previous book.

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