A collection of 14 essays on political thought - from Plato and Aristotle to Rousseau and Karl Marx. Great to dip in and out of and for getting an overview of political theory if you've never studied politics before.
As someone who had never studied Politics at school, I was definitely initially suspicious of a book about political theory, especially one that had the phrase “Studies in Political Thought” in the title. However I did at the time think that one upside of this was that the title would make anyone who saw me reading it think I was really intellectual, so I took up my teacher’s recommendation. What I actually found was that Plato to NATO was incredibly useful not just for looking clever on the bus, but in actually getting a general overview on what political theory is, and how it has developed over time.
The book covers 14 political thinkers, from the classical political philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle to Rousseau, Karl Marx and even some 20th century thinkers that I hadn’t heard of, such as Hannah Arendt. It gives a historical background and a summary of each thinker’s main ideas as well as their thoughts on the state and its importance in society. I think what I liked most about it is that, because it was originally designed to be scripts for a series of BBC radio programmes on political thinkers, all the essays are fairly short and can be read individually. This means you don’t actually have to read the whole lot at once, and you can focus on the thinkers you find most interesting and for me this also meant skipping out any of the essays that I didn’t find interesting after a couple of pages. While the writing style can get quite academic, in general the essays are all quite easy to follow, partly because they’re kept short and because they are meant to be quite basic introductions, they don’t go into any obscure details about the philosophers or their ideas.
Overall I think what really made this book useful to me was that it gave me a background knowledge in political theory which, while not extremely detailed, meant I was more confident in my knowledge about politics in general and could also apply the basic ideas I had from this book to find out more about the thinkers that really interested me, in my case Karl Marx. The format of the book also gave me a better idea of where all the different philosophies fitted in historically and the continuations between them. So if you’re looking for an introduction to political theory, or indeed just something to make you look academic on public transport, I can’t recommend a better book!