Book Review: How to Make Love to a Despot


How to make Love to a Despot: An Alternative Foreign Policy for the Twenty-First Century by Stephen D. Krasner was a reliable performance of why the United States must embrace good-enough governance.

Although the book addresses a robust history of U.S. relations in other countries, it centers on why the U.S. got involved in foreign affairs.

Case in point: U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. How to Make Love to a Despot seeks to provide an answer for U.S. policies abroad by neither implementing utopian nor dystopian world views.

First, I’ll briefly summarize the book, then talk about what I liked. Then, I’ll tell you what I didn’t like about it, followed by my final thoughts.

How to make love to a despot


At first glance, I loved the title. It seems like a seductive read at first; then the tone turns serious. How to Make Love to a Despot first begins with a United States worldview that countries are better off with a democratic government.

A utopian worldview such as this has caused trouble for the United States, according to the book. Similarly, a dystopian world view is not healthy either.

Instead, Krasner advocates for ‘good-enough governance.’ That is, autocracies and dictatorships comprise most of the world’s governments. So, to achieve global objectives, the United States needs to work with these despots and dictators.

However, the book argues that the United States’ utopian worldview has eliminated opportunities to work with despots to achieve national security for itself.

The book continues with Germany and Japan’s successes in building their own democracies. On the other hand, countries like Iraq and Afghanistan have not had much success in having a stable government.

Good-Enough Governance

Challenges like Iraq and Afghanistan have plagued countries like Russia and the United States that both have sought to remedy the region.

Later, the book talks about elections and their effects on good-enough governance. One lesson the book portrays is that corruption is inevitable even in the United States.

So, participants shouldn’t get too surprised to know about corruption infecting its democratic process when elections are concerned.

The bright spot in U.S. foreign policy was Plan Colombia. As explained in the book, it outlines how the United States and Colombia worked together to achieve specific goals. When there’s interest by both governments, then good-enough governance can follow.

Finally, the book explains how difficult it is to establish a consolidated democracy. Further, Krasner explains the modernization theory and rational choice institutionalism. Also, the book argues that other approaches could explain how weak countries can create a consolidated democracy.

The book uses the term “the road to Denmark,” alluding to Denmark’s rise to one of the world’s most governed nations.

What I Liked

How to Make Love to a Despot was eye-opening. It puts a different spin on how to view the United States and its foreign policy. For instance, the book talks about how America has this utopian view that all countries can become like the United States.

It made me pause and realize that this cannot be.

Leaders in the United States want to spread what has worked. However, the book does a great job of articulating why this worldview has hurt U.S. foreign policy over the past thirty years or since the Cold War.

I enjoyed the thought experiment of trying to figure out this foreign policy puzzle.

Theories In The Book

I thought that How to Make Love to a Despot did a great job explaining the theories and implementing them into the book. It explains why modernization theory doesn’t fully explain why states indulge in a consolidated democracy.

Also, the book tells why rational choice institutionalism is a better example. For brevity, I won’t reveal those theories here. This book is an excellent example of how to explain political theory and provide examples for it.

Even more, this book caught my attention with Colombia. Most books hone in on Iraq and Afghanistan now, leaving other less-interesting countries out of the discussion.

It had similarities to Exercise of Power by Robert Gates in this chapter. Krasner stayed brief with Colombia’s deep history but provided enough details to make a point.

Finally, the best part of the book was the chapter on good-enough governance. It never occurred to me that the United States must lower its expectations to achieve its own strategic goals.

How to Make Love to a Despot argues that national security sometimes requires intervening in countries. Those national security goals cannot be obscured by poor governance in the host country. Instead, the United States must settle for good-enough because that’s all it’s going to get.

Buy How to Make Love to a Despot

What I Didn’t Like

The book read a lot like a textbook. I did enjoy the book, but I caught myself drifting in and out of the text a lot.

Perhaps I drifted so much because I got the audiobook instead of the printed copy.

I was surprised at the lack of depth in each of the chapters. However, I can’t be too disappointed because Krasner chose several foreign policy topics to address, which was also enlightening.

So, if you’re looking for an overview of several countries, then this is your book.

I didn’t enjoy the audiobook performance as I would have liked. In a lot of my reviews, I advocate for getting the paperback version anyway. Despite the book’s content, the narrator did an excellent job of making the text more engaging.

It’s challenging to do that when describing political science theories and their relations to the United States and foreign policy.


I have always advocated for leaders being stewards of their professions. Even so, this is an excellent book to read. U.S. foreign policy affects all leaders in every capacity. The more you know about the world, the more you can connect solutions to problems.

Indeed, read this book a little at a time. I binge-listened to it on car rides to work. But, you can take your time. That’s the best way to read this book.

Overall, I give this book a 6/10. I still think that leaders should read a foreign policy book. However, I enjoyed Exercise of Power by Robert Gates a little more, and it covered the same material.

If you want to buy How to Make Love to a Despot, click here.

Have you read this book? What did you like or didn’t like about it? Thanks for reading!

2 thoughts on “Book Review: How to Make Love to a Despot”

  1. Christine says:

    Interesting … The title is certainly very catchy and before I clicked on this link I imagined several scenarios for this book, but I did not think that it would be about foreign policy 😉

    I am not American, and so my view will be different. As far as people outside of the US are concerned, they have viewed most of the US’s foreign policies as invasions and policing other places. There are always two sides of the story, right?
    I understand that the US wants to spread what has worked for them, and democracy is definitely the preferred government for me too, but we also have to understand the history of certain countries, which is crucial information to help us understand why the government that we deem ideal won’t work yet for another country and may need more time.
    It isn’t always that simple to help install a democratic government in a country like Iraq or Afghanistan for example and expect it to work right away. Sometimes, even with the best intentions, things can turn quite badly … That is why I think it is important for anyone working in foreign policy to understand the history of those countries, but that’s just my opinion 😉 I don’t mean to upset anyone, it’s just what I think 😉
    The book sounds like an interesting read.

    1. Robert says:


      Your thoughts align with the premise of the book! It’s interesting how this book has explained foreign policy in a different light. Thank you for your comment!


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