Nothing But A Circus: Misadventures Among The Powerful by Daniel Levin

The Blurb On The Back:

In this eye-opening exploration of the human weakness for power, Daniel Levin takes us on a journey through the absurd world of our global elites, drawing unforgettable sketches of some of the puppets who stand guard, and the jugglers and conjurers employed within.  Most spectacular of all, however, are the astonishing contortions performed by those closest to the top in order to maintain the illusion of integrity, decency and public service.

Based on the author’s first hand experiences of dealing with governments and political institutions around the world, NOTHING BUT A CIRCUS offers a rare glimpse of the conversations that happen behind closed doors, observing the appalling lengths that people will go to in order to justify their unscrupulous choices, from Dubai to Luanda, Moscow to Beijing, and at the heart of the UN and the US government.  

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Daniel Levin advises governments and institutions on political and economic matters including financial development and education.  This book aims to show the absurdities and venal ambition of those in power and their mental contortions to convince themselves and others they their actions are actually for the public good but instead it’s a jumble of smug anecdotes about scammers and people desperate to be close to power where Levin paints himself as a gullible, Jimmy Stewart-style ingénue who despairs of the condescending arrogance of the West towards Africa.

Levin says that he’s interested in the blurring of lines between means and ends such that people seek to validate their selfish behaviour.  To be honest, I didn’t get that sense from this book.  The prologue rambles on about a workaholic partner Levin used to work for in a law firm and the first two chapters are about how he fell firstly for a scam artist and then for a guy who wanted to use him to get close to the ruler of Dubai.  Many of the anecdotes made me think “cool story, bro” particularly as the dialogue is so stilted and Levin too keen to show himself as the hero (albeit he does have a humble moment where an Angolan shows him that they actually know how financial markets and short-selling works) and he can’t resist speechifying truth to power (or at least the annoying, unreasonable bureaucrats and middlemen he meets.  This is a shame because there are some intriguing nuggets in the book – notably an exchange with a person at the US State Department who implies that anyone wanting State Department help could get it by making payment to the unnamed then Secretary of State.  Unfortunately, there is a decidedly smug tone to the stories (even Levin’s humbling by an Angolan implies that he’s a better person than other Westerners for experiencing it), the “humour” isn’t funny and there’s no one discussed here who is actually in a position of power (except perhaps for Gambia’s lately ousted President Yahya Jammeh who gets a name drop in passing).  Ultimately I didn’t learn anything in this book and certainly didn’t get a sense that I’d seen how the world really worked.  As such, I don’t think I’d bother checking out Levin’s next book (assuming there is one).

NOTHING BUT A CIRCUS: MISADVENTURES AMONG THE POWERFUL was released in the United Kingdom on 26th January 2017.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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