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Democracy in Retreat?

Recent trends — from the ‘Tea Party’ movement in the U.S. to anti-election protests in Thailand — call into question the standard assumption that, as nations develop economically, they will necessarily become more democratic. In his book ‘Democracy in Retreat’, Joshua Kurlantzick describes what he sees as the revolts of the global middle classes, which have led to a worldwide decline of representative government. Writing from Bangkok only days before a highly contested national election, BRB reviewer Soraj Hongladarom calls for a ‘Fifth Wave’ of democratization, one which would offer the current disillusioned middle class an incentive to return to the fold of democracy.

How “Inferno” Fails to Set the World on Fire

Looking forward to a Dan Brown novel is a curious psychological phenomenon, writes reviewer Matthew Dentith: Brown has never gathered accolades with respect to clever prose or complex characters. Indeed, until the publication of his third book, “The Da Vinci Code”, a Dan Brown book was merely something you wouldn’t feel guilty reading in an airport lounge. His new novel, “Inferno”, has all the stock Dan Brown features. Characters with distinguishing but unnatural traits (pustulant sores for one, female baldness for another), a daring damsel (with exceptional talents and, crucially, the ability to fall instantly in love with the protagonist), a conspiratorial cartel with no ethical compass and, finally, a hero in Robert Langdon, an academic who is more obsessed by the suits he wears than the courses he teaches at Harvard. So, how is “Inferno” as a novel? Well, it has all the standard set pieces you would expect: chase scenes, a succession of daring escapes and the obligatory chapter-long pieces of exposition. People swap sides and the sinister organisation, which is made out to be very powerful, also turns out to be comprised of very, very stupid people. And it has a protagonist who seems to have lost interest in the plots of his author.

Truth Troubles: A Review of ‘Homeland’

Starring Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison, a CIA officer, and Damian Lewis as U.S. Marine Nicholas Brody, who may or may not be an Al-Qaeda double agent, American TV series ‘Homeland’, which premiered on CBS’s Showtime cable TV channel in 2011, taps into the anxieties and paranoia that have been cultivated by a decade of what has been called ‘the war on terror’. As reviewers Gloria Origgi and Ariel Colonomos see it, what makes ‘Homeland’ significant is that, for the first time, a U.S. television show is staging the duplicity of truth — as if discriminating between good and evil were a long bygone endeavour. Indeed, so pervasive is the superposition of identity of the self and political identity in the series’ characters, and the resulting state of permanent moral ambivalence, that it drives the viewer to the point of mental exhaustion.

The Narcissism of the Plagiarist

German defence minister Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg finds himself embroiled in a plagiarism scandal. Suspicious passages have now been documented on two thirds of the pages of his PhD dissertation, and at least 19 authors and several institutions have been identified as sources. Why did a successful politician think he could get away with such blatant cheating? The answer, writes The Berlin Review’s editor Axel Gelfert, is a simple as it is worrying: it is a classic case of narcissism.

Letter from the Editor

Dear Readers, It is with great pleasure that I welcome to you the website of The Berlin Review of Books. The goal of the BRB is to publish essays and reviews of the highest quality, in an effort to promote intellectual curiosity and intelligent debate. In pursuing this goal, we are open to global perspectives […]