Philip John Davis, US Elections Today (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999). Pb.xv+237. ISBN 071904508 8
Edward Ashbee and Nigel Ashford, US Politics Today (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999). Pb.vii+240. ISBN 07190 5464 8
Both of these books provide broad insights into the contemporary American political process. Ashbee and Ashford provide the more comprehensive account as they introduce and analyse the various institutions of US government.
Davies's book is a much more specific examination of the American electoral process. The book is clearly an update and expansion of Davies's previous work an American elections but the inclusion of the more recent material (though sadly not on vote-counting the Florida way) gives this edition a fresh look.
Davies supplies a wealth of information in a manner which is straightforward and easily accessible but which is given added piquancy and life by the well-judged use of illustrative evidence. The book brings its material together in a fresh and often stimulating fashion: and in some areas, notably the chapter on state level politics and elections it is a much needed source of difficult to find information.
More generally the book is particularly effective in placing current issues in the American political arena in a historical context by highlighting the salient patterns of develpment without becoming too immersed in detail. Indeed in some ways the title of the book does it a disservice. It suggests a work that is narrow in focus with a concentration only on recent electoral statistics.
However, while the necessary facts and figures are present there are many further themes which are given reasonably substantial coverage. That is, although the electoral process clearly provides the primary focus of the book there is informed and more than merely perfunctory discussion of a number of other key themes in US politics and society. For example, Davies tells the reader more than most standard textbooks about the history and general nature of American political parties and the role of money in the American political system. In addition there is than adequate discussion of the role fo the media, the significance of federalism and the mecanisms of congressional procedure.
Both works are solid and well-written accounts. Ashbee and Ashford do well to cover the ground in a manner which manages to combine the basic material with a sense of the underlying complex realities. In particular the first chapters on diversity and consensus in American society provide an interesting background for the subsequent analysis of government institutions. Also, the later chapters on parties and interest groups give a framework for understanding both the historical continuities and changing dynamics inherent to these types of political actors. In a particularly useful innovation the authors supply Internet addresses as well as regular advice on further reading.
In short both texts are valuable sources to aid and further understanding of American politics and contemporary American history.
University of Sunderland