U.S. & Comparative Government and Politics Textbook

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U.S. & COMPARATIVE GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS TEXTBOOK Author: Anthony J Bennell Publisher: Philip Allan Updates (June 2004) ISBN 0 86003 760 6 Paperback; price £16.95 378 pages; full colour

Anthony Bennett is well known for his U.S. Government and Politics Annual Survey, and has now produced a textbook that is comprehensive in scope, attractively written and presented, and pitched at exactly the right level. It has been written specifically for the A2 specifications of the three awarding bodies, all of which include a comparative UK/US paper. Nine chapters are devoted to mainstream aspects of US government and politics, and five to the comparative material. Each begins with a short introduction and a series of questions that are answered during the chapter. The subsections are packed with detail, yet are wholly manageable, not least because key terms appear in bold in the text, and are also very clearly explained in a separate box. Each chapter concludes with a series of very focused exercises and essay titles, together with references; the book also offers an excellent set of recommended websites. The book is highly informative and eminently readable (anecdotes and quotations can be found in abundance); Bennett also succeeds in avoiding the eulogistic assessment of the U.S. system of government so commonly found in the equivalent American texts.

The text is rich in insights into American politics, inclusion of which would certainly add polish to any A level essay. A few examples will underline the quality of the author's analysis - primaries test campaigning rather than presidential qualities of candidates; the built-in negative bias found in Congress was intended by the framers of the Constitution; any executive branch persuasion of Congress must be regular, reciprocal and bipartisan; the USA does not have a two-party system but rather a fifty-party system; reference to a separation of powers is misleading, as the Constitution created a government of separated institutions sharing powers.

There are remarkably few weak sections in the American government chapters, which are packed with statistical data, and invariably set out in very attractive tabular form. The coverage of campaign finance is thin, while an opportunity to analyse the present President's relationship with the Congress was almost entirely missed.

Most of the material is outstanding, and this reviewer was particularly impressed by the treatment of alternatives to the electoral college, the problems encountered by third parties, the detailed analysis of voting trends in congressional elections, the significance of the invisible primary, the increased importance of the vice presidency, factors influencing the appointment of members of the Cabinet, and the explanation of how the South has become a Republican stronghold. …