Richard C. Lyons takes on an ambitious project in his history book, The DNA of Democracy. It begins with Egyptian Pharaohs and ends in the early 20th century. And at just over 375 pages, it’s impossible for the author to provide extensive detail on any one time period covered.

Lyons compares and contrasts times of tyranny with times of democracy, throughout the ages. He discusses not just Egypt and Israel, but Greece and Rome. Then he moves forward in time to Medieval Western Europe and the British Isles, primarily England. This serves as a jumping off point for the colonization of America and the Revolutionary War.

He also covers some aspects of Native American life and their democratic power structures. (Although his use of the antiquated term Amerindian is a head scratcher.) Next up he addresses the colonists and new Americans’ tyrannical decisions against the indigenous peoples. Then Lyons moves forward to a discussion of slavery and the Civil War. At the end of his book, he briefly discusses women’s suffrage and the fight for the right to vote.

Lyons covers a tremendous amount of historical ground, focusing more on retelling of facts and events, without adding the deeper back stories of the people involved. Truthfully, if he had added more detail, the book would have come unmanageable. Still, a different editorial strategy might also have given it more heart.

Quotes I appreciated

“The power of liberty does not reside in real estate and capitals, it resides in each citizen’s soul.” p. 233

“All things are possible when individuals, families, faith organizations, association, enterprises and town rule themselves. Nothing is possible when a societal prison is imposed by the tyrannical rule of one, through a few who enslave the multitudes—other than the gross feeding of the one and the few.” p. 234

“The Native American ethos of local and individual independence, which is foundational to the American ideal and fundamental to the DNA of our democracy, was being lost by those who made it a gift to our Constitution.” p. 269-270

“A compromise with tyranny was how the Civil War began. Lincoln did not compromise the end of the Civil War—he would fight it out with tyranny to the last, even if it was within his own body politic. He would not compromise on the promise of equality: the most fundamental gene in the DNA of democracy.” p. 350

My conclusions

This wasn’t the book for me, but another type of history reader might love it. I wanted more detail on some things, especially the human aspects, and less on others. Plus, I just don’t enjoy blow by blow accounts of multiple battles in multiple wars. I never will. I’m not that kind of history buff.

I appreciated Lyons’ connections between a wide variety of historical threads. He wove them into a structure that brought democracy to life. Unfortunately, his writing style and tone didn’t thrill me. I prefer a more journalistic, story-focused approach. Instead, this felt like a very long and wide-ranging lecture.

Lyons offers his interpretations and opinions as well. Whether I agree with them or not, sadly they didn’t elucidate his case for me.

One the whole, this seemed more like a vanity project than a readable historical analysis. But that’s just me. It may be a strong entry in the history of democracy for you.


Many thanks to Lylea Publishers, JKS Literary Publicity, and most of all, the author. I received a copy of this book in exchange for this honest review.