Greetings, everyone. Please excuse my long absence, due to – of all things – running in an election. I recently had the pleasure of reviewing ‘Democracy’s Beginning: The Athenian Story’ by Thomas N. Mitchell former Provost of Trinity College, Dublin for the Irish Times:
Alien and fascinating
It is common knowledge that democracy was invented in ancient Athens, but Mitchell explodes the myths of what that democracy was like. In Athens, all citizens had an equal say in public affairs (known as isegoria), staffed enormous citizen juries, were chosen for office by lottery, and were paid to participate in politics. In describing this way of life, Mitchell paints a picture of a society both alien and fascinating, underscoring the vibrancy of this long-lost civilization with a collection of maps and photos in the centre of the book.
His close scholarship shines in documenting the transition of Athens from financially and morally bankrupt oligarchy to emancipated democracy 2,500 years ago. It was not an easy or linear process, and the book tracks the many clashes of ideas and personalities with a commendable attention to detail that beautifully captures the essence of ancient Greek culture and politics.
From Solon’s economic balancing act, through the political reorganisation of Cleisthenes, the assassination of Ephialtes and, finally, Pericles, one of the most respected but sober leaders of the early democracy, Democracy’s Beginning explores this innovative and fearless experiment in “people power”.
Full review here. I would highly recommend the book to anyone interested in Athenian democracy. It is extremely comprehensive and highly readable.