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Survive and Resist: The Definitive Guide to Dystopian Politics

Survive and Resist: The Definitive Guide to Dystopian Politics

Authoritarianism is on the march — and so is dystopian fiction. In the brave new twenty-first century, young-adult series like The Hunger Games and Divergent have become blockbusters; after Donald Trump's election, two dystopian classics, 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale, skyrocketed to the New York Times best-seller list. This should come as no surprise: dystopian fiction has a lot to say about the perils of terrible government in real life.

In Survive and Resist, Amy L. Atchison and Shauna L. Shames explore the ways in which dystopian narratives help explain how real-world politics work. They draw on classic and contemporary fiction, films, and TV shows — as well as their real-life counterparts — to offer funny and accessible explanations of key political concepts. Atchison and Shames demonstrate that dystopias both real and imagined help bring theories of governance, citizenship, and the state down to earth. They emphasize nonviolent resistance and change, exploring ways to challenge and overcome a dystopian-style government. Fictional examples, they argue, help give us the tools we need for individual survival and collective resistance. A clever look at the world through the lenses of pop culture, classic literature, and real-life events, Survive and Resist provides a timely and innovative approach to the fundamentals of politics for an era of creeping tyranny.

Author: Amy L. Atchison and Shauna L. Shames | Publisher: Columbia University Press

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Rating: 4 / 5

Big thank you to Columbia University Press for sending me a finished copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

“There are a couple of aspects to being a resilient movement. The first is that the movement has to be able to survive the loss of its top leadership. The authorities will go after the leaders first, on the theory that the group will fall apart once they’re gone. … That’s why, in the original Star Wars (1977), the Empire takes Princess Leia into custody — they can torture her into giving up the Rebel Alliance, and then they can kill her to send a message about what happens when you defy Emperor Palpatine (insert evil laugh here).”

Survive and Resist offers an intriguing premise: to look at actual dystopian political theory through the lens of fiction, film, and television. Um, helloooooo, sign me up! The execution of that premise is a readable, interesting, and thought-provoking guide to recognizing, fighting, and rebuilding after dystopian governments.

The book is broken into eight chapters: one on the basics of dystopia, two on example dystopian governments, three on how economics affects dystopias, four on survival in a dystopian state, five on individual resistance strategies and tactics, six and seven on group/movement strategies and tactics, and eight on rebuilding a new government once the dystopia falls.

This turned into a lot more of a handbook than I had been expecting, but I didn’t mind that. It was a lot more conversational and relatable this way, with “next you’ll need to do this” rather than something like “the next step a resistance movement might adopt could be.” Although I don’t personally plan to overthrow a government, I suppose you never know (especially today), and so it might just come in handy!

I really loved the context they provided with the dystopian fiction examples. It relied pretty heavily on 1984, The Handmaid’s Tale, Fahrenheit 451, The Uglies Series, The Hunger Games, All Rights Reserved, and even the LEGO Movie and Star Trek. I wish there had actually been even more, because I’m shamefully more interested in fiction than in political theory, but it was really helpful and kept me engaged.

Some of the chapters in the book are more engaging than others (I personally struggled through the economics chapter), but overall this book was somehow both fun and informative. I also learned a ton about government structure and global history — wins!

If you like nonfiction, definitely give this one a shot.

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