Booklist | Fire and Ashes

A noted Harvard human rights specialist tries his hand at local politics in his native Canda, giving up his spot as an informed observer of global norms and theory for the rough and tumble world of electoral math. It doesn’t go wells or Michael Ignatieff. This is his story.

Politics, he argues, is necessarily about opportunism; a gifted politician knows when to strike and when to bide his time. This may reveal a lack of principle, he thinks, but it doesn’t have to, and a skillful politician knows how to avoid giving that impression. “A poor opportunist in politics is simply someone who looks, all too obviously, like he is exploiting an opportunity,” he says. “A skillful opportunist is someone who persuades the public that he has created the opportunity

Ignatieff also has some good tidbits on the skills required by politicos.

The need to give so many people his whole attention—a good politician won’t look at his watch or his smartphone while you’re talking to him—allowed him to cultivate the art of reading faces. “I would search every face for signs of support, learn to evaluate subtle cues of indecision, evasion, or outright rejection,” he writes. Over time, he says, the habit of putting himself always on display led to a feeling of hollowness: “I would say that some sense of hollowness, some sense of a divide between the face you present to the world and the face you reserve for the mirror, is a sign of sound mental health.


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