Thoroughness wins the vote

3rd October 1997 at 01:00
POLITICS. By Andrew Heywood. Macmillan Foundations series Pounds 40 (Pounds 12.99 paperback)

Frank Conley reviews a politics course which he says is unlikely to be bettered

Andrew Heywood's book has already won high praise, and I'm happy to join the chorus.

The five sections cover all the main themes of politics: theories of politics; nations and globalisation; political interaction; machinery of government; and policy and performance. These are sub-divided into chapters with a summary of key points at the end of each. The coverage is extremely thorough, not just of institutions and concepts, but also of alternative viewpoints drawn from a vast range of systems and authorities.

Though he is frequently dealing with very complex topics, Andrew Heywood's style is always clear, and the analysis crisp and decisive. He is not afraid to be contentious, as when he comments that "the electoral reform debate . . . consistently risks overestimating the importance of electoral systems", a view that would not appeal to those for whom a new method of voting is expected to solve every weakness in our political system.

On the other hand, he manages to be balanced without being bland and non-committal: the definition of "consensus" as "an overlap of policy and ideological priorities between parties" may not please Thatcherites, but will provide a valuable basis for classroom discussion. There are many such examples.

The layout of the book is complex, which may not appeal to those who like a "page-turner" which can be read straight through. The basic text incorporates figures and tables. Key points are printed in bold in the text and explained at the bottom of the margins. In addition there are three types of box. Outline biographies, including portraits, are placed at the top of pages: these range from Aristotle to Betty Friedan and from Machiavelli to Mao Zedong. It is difficult to think of any important figure in the history of political thought, thinker or practitioner, who has been left out. Concepts are placed in the margin; and "Focus on . . ." boxes explain structures such as electoral systems.

Though this creates distractions for the reviewer, it makes the book extremely useful for reference. Definitions in the glossary, which runs to 15 pages, are cross-referenced to the text, and the book is scrupulously indexed. There is an extensive bibliography, and the suggestions for further reading are succinctly evaluated.

At a time when too many authors neglect the needs of their readers it is refreshing to encounter a book where students and their teachers can find what they want without fuss. I have been using this book with classes ever since I received it, and look forward to exploring it further. Since it is good value, especially in paperback, it is unlikely to be bettered in the near future, either for A-level students or as a foundation text for university courses.

Frank Conley is head of politics at the Harvey Grammar School, Folkestone, Kent, and a member of the Hansard Society Education Panel

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