Starting with ancient Egypt and winding his way through Greece, Rome and medieval England, author Richard C. Lyons examines the evolution of Western democracy. He winds up in the New World with the original English colonists, reading the American Revolution and Civil War as liberating fights against tyrants and tyranny that began long before 1776.
Lyons has penned books of poetry, and it shows in his writing. His narrative is as smooth as stanzas and sometimes quite elegant, although it sometimes gets a little too flighty for its own good. However, the style is never overly ornate or academic, and it won’t put off readers who are afraid that dense topics mean dense text.
It’s probably fair to call Lyons a “fanboy” of democracy, and while some might accuse him of naivete, it’s of the charming sort. He also shows bursts of intriguing insight, like his suggestion that the democratic structure of Parliament’s Model Army helped it beat the royal forces during the English Civil War; that the history of small, independent government in the Americas helped the colonists survive the American Revolution and saw that both the North and the South had nimble, functioning administrations during the American Civil War; and his original thoughts on the symbolic significance of King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail. But not everything Lyons writes is speculation. History buffs will have fun with Lyons’s recounts of battles and anecdotes about the characters who made their way into the story of democracy. Along with the well-known names like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, readers will find the foul-mouthed and self-aggrandizing Prussian nobleman Baron von Steuben, a mercenary who trained Washington’s troops in the European style. His quip that Prussians soldiers just had to be told what to do while Americans had to be told why they were doing it succinctly captures the book’s vision of the clash between autonomy and slavery.
The most blatant weakness of the book is that some readers will be left wanting more—more stories about Greece and Rome, or more looks into the legends of the cultures that shaped Western democracy, particularly the legends of the United States and the Americas. THE DNA OF DEMOCRACY is subtitled VOLUME ONE. Hopefully more volumes will further expand Lyons’s enjoyable and engaging understanding of history.
Smoothly written and, at times insightfully speculative, THE DNA OF DEMOCRACY will engage poetically minded readers interested in the deep history of democracy in America.
~Colin Newton for IndieReader