ON POLITICS is an enormous two-volume compilation covering two and a half thousand years of Western political thought. The first volume, spanning 399 pages, starts with ancient Greek historian Herodotus and ends with Renaissance thinker Machiavelli. The second, spanning 711 pages, begins with English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes and continues into the present. And yet, despite the intimidating size, the work has been consistently praised as "highly readable" (Publishers Weekly), as well as "lucid, precise, and accessible" (Steven Lukes, author of Power: A Radical View).
The publisher has packaged the two volumes into a beautiful, hardcover boxed set (see below). Splashed across the box and the book spines is an image of a mosaic depicting philosophers from the School of Athens deep in discussion; the mosaic itself can be found in Pompeii, Italy. Eye-catching and elegant, the cover packaging clearly and immediately sets the book apart as a treatise that is bound to become a classic. Cleverly, the packaging creates a mosaic in and of itself, given that the image only becomes whole when all sides of the box are viewed together and the two volumes are neatly fit into the box opening, side-by-side.
Liveright has been promoting ON POLITICS with the tagline, "Three decades in the making, one of the most ambitious and comprehensive histories of political philosophy in nearly a century." Indeed, the book did take Ryan, a professor at Oxford and Princeton Universities, thirty years to write--which is only understandable, given the breadth Ryan covers in his book. Clearly the effort was worth it! Below are several of the rave pre-publication reviews:
"An ambitious survey...Provocative, illuminating, and entertaining--an exemplary work of philosophy and history whose author's deep learning is lightly worn." --Kirkus, starred review
"Remarkably detailed yet highly readable...[An] absorbing and edifying read, [Ryan] regularly reminds us of what modern citizens might gain from a deeper understanding of the roots of today's political ideals and loyalties...These two volumes constitute a remarkable achievement, one that will be immensely valuable to both students and readers for years to come." --Publishers Weekly, starred review
"In a work of astonishing scope and ambition, Ryan, surveying the whole vast field, concisely charts the welter of conflicting positions and tracks the sometimes thrilling, sometimes catastrophic consequences of political thought." --Stephen Greenblatt, Harvard University, author of The Swerve: How the World Became Modern
"Ryan has created a vision of the entire surge of Western political thought which is equal to the heroic venture of George Sabine...Ryan demonstrates throughout vivacity and a tenacious grasp of the human meaning of everything that has transpired in political speculation from the ancients on through the threshold of our own dark age. I commend particularly his terse eloquence, his capacious erudition, and the verve and judicious intensity with which he somehow allows his whole being to inform his vast scope and deep concern of our human limitations." --Harold Bloom, Yale University, author of The Western Canon
"With an unmatched magisterial command, Ryan powerfully reminds and teaches us how the leading thinkers since classic times can and must inform our debates over how to envision the better world we must build." --Anthony Marx, President, New York Public Library
"Ryan has taken a vast range of challenging material written over twenty-five centuries in the West and engaged with it in prose of stunning clarity. He displays the intrinsic interest of reflection on writers from Herodotus to yesterday, while showing how it can be a powerful resource for dealing with politics today. It is an amazing achievement to combine so much learning with such lucidity." --Anthony Appiah, Princeton University, author of The Honor Code
"In lucid, precise, and accessible prose, Ryan has written an unparalleled guide for our times to the Western tradition of political thought. From Herodotus through the Christian world and the rise of modernity to our own time, readers will be stimulated to reflect on historical, contemporary, and perennial questions." --Steven Lukes, Princeton University, author of Power: A Radical View
Liveright/W. W. Norton, October 2012