John Keane’s book contains a wealth of interesting information on the past, writes Robert Rowthorne but it is of scant use to those seeking enlightenment about the future

The subject matter of this long book is the history and future of democracy. Despite the word “death” in its title, the author is an optimist. Democracy may be changing but it is not in its death throes.

This is a timely book. Democracy in Europe may be flagging, but on a global scale it is on the march. The recent election in the United States has revitalised American politics and the new president is seeking to unify a divided nation. In India, over 400 million people recently voted in an election which returned the reformist Manmohan Singh as prime minister for a second term. In the Middle East, there have been peaceful elections in Iraq, Kuwait and the Lebanon. In a good omen for future stability of Iraq, the party of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki performed well in the provincial elections, suggesting that he may win a second term in next year’s national elections. In Iran, the huge turn-out in the recent election indicated the degree of popular enthusiasm for democracy, but the outcome has been marred by fraud and violent repression on the streets. Despite this and other setbacks, 2009 has in general been a good year for democracy.

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