Setting the People Free

The Story of Democracy

John Dunn

RRP: £12.99

9 February 2006

Published by Atlantic Books

ISBN: 9781843542131

Why does democracy, as a word and as an idea, loom so large in the political imagination today? It holds sway over the political rhetoric of the modern world and has come to define a system of government that marks a huge moral and political advance from any structure before it. Democracy has become the political core of the civilisation that the West offers to the rest of the world.

Setting the People Free traces the roots of democracy from an improvised remedy for the local Greek difficulty two-and-a-half thousand years ago, through its near extinction, to its rebirth amid the struggles of the French Revolution. John Dunn charts its slow but insistent metamorphosis over the next one hundred and fifty years, and its overwhelming triumph since 1945. He examines the differences and the extraordinary continuities that modern democratic states share with their Greek antecedents and explains why democracy evokes intellectual and moral scorn for some, and vital allegiance from others.

Setting the People Free is a unique and brilliant account of this extraordinary idea and it’s evolution.


Rich and subtle... A masterly performance... Lucidly and provocatively written... Next time you hear the word democracy, reach for this book. If you want to think harder about democracy's shortcomings and challenges, it is an excellent place to start.
The Economist

A signal, beautifully written book... It is also a joy to read. The truth can entertain as well as make us free.Roy Hattersley
The Times

Exhilarating, gripping and full of mordant phrases... Magnificent.David Marquand
New Statesman

Remarkable.... written in a spare, incisive English style which at its best is worthy of HobbesJonathan Sumption