Please watch our conversation below with William Dobson, author of the recent book, “The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy.” Dobson was joined by Roosevelt House Interim Director Jonathan Fanton.
About the book
In this riveting portrait of authoritarianism in peril, acclaimed journalist William Dobson takes us inside the relentless battle between dictators and the people challenging their rule. We are witnessing an incredible moment in the war between dictators and democracy—waves of protests are sweeping Syria and Yemen, and despots have fallen in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. But the Arab Spring is only the latest front in a worldwide battle between freedom and repression, a battle that also rages in a dozen other countries from Venezuela to China, Russia to Malaysia. It is a struggle that, until recently, dictators have been winning hands-down. The reason is that today’s authoritarian regimes are nothing like the frozen-in-time government of North Korea. They are ever-morphing, technologically savvy, and internationally connected, and they have replaced more brutal forms of intimidation with seemingly “free” elections and talk of human rights. Facing off against modern dictators is an unlikely army of democracy advocates—students, bloggers, environmentalists, lawyers, activists, and millionaires—who are growing increasingly savvy themselves. The result is a global game of cat-and-mouse, where the future of freedom hangs in the balance. Dobson takes us behind the scenes in both camps, and reveals how each side is honing its strategies for the war that will define our age.
“Intelligent and absorbing…Dobson has interviewed more than 200 people, and his closely observed accounts of dictators’ increasingly sly methods to control their populations are haunting….The Dictator’s Learning Curve is agile and light on its feet, but among its salient points is that pro-democracy movements need to be more than that. Happy thoughts and hippie clothes are not enough….Mr. Dobson’s book, with luck, will find its way into the hands of people who aspire to be free. They’ll find optimism here, but hard realities as well.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“A brilliant and original analysis of the nature of modern authoritarianism.”
—Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
“William Dobson is that rare thinker who combines a gift for storytelling with an understanding of how the world works. Marrying a historian’s judgment with a journalist’s eye for detail, he spots the emerging trends that others miss. The Dictator’s Learning Curve offers an essential perspective on a crucial struggle.”
—Fareed Zakaria, author of The Future of Freedom and The Post-American World
“It is hard to imagine a timelier book than this one. William Dobson provides a new framework and a new vocabulary for understanding modern authoritarianism, backed up by detailed and gripping stories of dictators and their citizen opponents in Russia, China, Venezuela, Egypt, and Malaysia. Anyone seeking to make sense of the extraordinary tide of revolutions and protests sweeping around the world will find The Dictator’s Learning Curve an indispensable read.”
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University, and former Director of Policy Planning, U.S. State Department
Find the book online: The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy
By William J. Dobson
341 pages. Doubleday. $28.95.
About the author
William J. Dobson is the politics & foreign affairs editor for Slate and the author of The Dictator’s Learning Curve: Inside the Global Battle for Democracy. Previously, he served as the managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine. Under his editorial direction, the magazine was nominated for the National Magazine Award five years in a row–the only publication of its size to be nominated for five consecutive years–and in 2007 and 2009, Foreign Policy won the overall award for General Excellence. Earlier in his career, Mr. Dobson served as Newsweek International’s Senior Editor for Asia and as Associate Editor at Foreign Affairs.
During the height of the Arab Spring, the Washington Post editorial page commissioned Mr. Dobson to write daily online pieces on modern authoritarianism. While in Cairo, Mr. Dobson reported the first direct account of the Egyptian military conducting torture of female protestors from Tahrir Square.
Mr. Dobson has published widely on international politics. His articles and op-eds have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Newsweek, and elsewhere. He has provided commentary and analysis on international politics for ABC, CNN, CBS, MSNBC, and NPR.
From 2008 to 2009, Mr. Dobson was a Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. In 2006, Mr. Dobson was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. He has been recognized and awarded honors by a number of international foundations, including the Salzburg Global Seminar, the East-West Center, the Knight Foundation, the Council for the United States and Italy, and the Singapore International Foundation. He has received fellowships from Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and Stanford University. Mr. Dobson is a 1994 Truman Scholar.
Mr. Dobson holds a law degree from Harvard Law School and a Masters degree in East Asian Studies from Harvard University. He received his bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, from Middlebury College. He lives in Washington, DC wife his wife and two children.