The best books to understand the North African version of North Korea: Algeria

Who am I?

I hold a doctorate in political science and am an expert on Algeria. I was a senior scholar at Carnegie for ten years before I joined the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), the EU's official think tank. I was born in Algeria, where I grew up. When I was fourteen, between 22-23 September 1997 the massacre of Bentalha took place while I was living in Algeria, and I became obsessed with that massacre. This obsession led me ten years later to write a Ph.D. on that bloody page of Algerian history, political violence, and jihadism. Eventually, my expertise encompassed all of Algeria's political, social, and economic developments. 


I wrote...

Understanding the Persistence of Competitive Authoritarianism in Algeria

By Dalia Ghanem,

Book cover of Understanding the Persistence of Competitive Authoritarianism in Algeria

What is my book about?

In my book, I dissect the Algerian regime's survival strategies, the pillars of its longevity, and how this country, which is perceived as the North Korea of North Africa, consolidated authoritarianism throughout the years. I identify Algeria's regime as semi-authoritarian, mixing elements of democracy, and authoritarianism. My book is based on evidence from fieldwork research in Algeria. It is a sober and calm analysis, of what the regime is and not how it should be, meaning my analysis is far from the premise of a trend toward democratization. My book is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand how Algeria works and how authoritarianism persists.

The books I picked & why

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Managing Instability in Algeria: Elites and Political Change

By Isabelle Werenfels,

Book cover of Managing Instability in Algeria: Elites and Political Change

Why this book?

In this book, Werenfels explains how elite dynamics and tactics work in the Algerian political system and how they have led to the lack of significant political change since the country returned to the democratic process in 1995. Werenfels analyses the coping mechanisms of the highly opaque authoritarian elite in a shifting local and global environment building on evidence from extensive research. This book planted the seed of an idea for what the topic of my own book would be and how I wanted to structure it. 

Managing Instability in Algeria: Elites and Political Change

By Isabelle Werenfels,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Managing Instability in Algeria as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This topical new book seeks to understand the relationship between elite dynamics and strategies and the lack of profound political change in Algeria after 1995, when the country's military rulers returned to electoral processes.

Using evidence from extensive fieldwork, Isabelle Werenfels exposes successful survival strategies of an opaque authoritarian elite in a changing domestic and international environment. The main focus is on:

the changing balance of power between different elite segments the modes of generation change and the different emerging young elite types constraints, obligations and opportunities arising from elite embeddings in clienteles networks and in specific social and economic…


Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey

By Steven A. Cook,

Book cover of Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey

Why this book?

One of my favorite books of its kind and I do not think I have read a better book about this topic ever since. It explains the critical role that the military plays in stabilizing authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Algeria, and until recently, Turkey. It also analyses how informal politics can restrict formal democratic institutions. In this book, Cook perfectly grasps how the military works in these countries and explains it in a clear and accessible style. The book is simply captivating and a must-read. 

Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria, and Turkey

By Steven A. Cook,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ruling But Not Governing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Ruling But Not Governing" highlights the critical role that the military plays in the stability of the Egyptian, Algerian, and, until recently, Turkish political systems. This in-depth study demonstrates that while the soldiers and materiel of Middle Eastern militaries form the obvious outer perimeter of regime protection, it is actually the less apparent, multilayered institutional legacies of military domination that play the decisive role in regime maintenance. Steven A. Cook uncovers the complex and nuanced character of the military's interest in maintaining a facade of democracy. He explores how an authoritarian elite hijack seemingly democratic practices such as elections, multiparty…


Dictators and Dictatorships: Understanding Authoritarian Regimes and Their Leaders

By Natasha M. Ezrow, Erica Frantz,

Book cover of Dictators and Dictatorships: Understanding Authoritarian Regimes and Their Leaders

Why this book?

I like this book because it is based on a qualitative investigation into the politics of authoritarian states. It contends that political outcomes in dictatorships are mostly the result of relations between leaders and elites, and the internal structures that influence the dynamics of these relations. The book analyses the differences between several authoritarian regimes and their political ramifications. Process in personalist, military, one-party, monarchical, and semi-authoritarian regimes are examined. The book explains what dictatorship entails and how authoritarian politics function. 

Dictators and Dictatorships: Understanding Authoritarian Regimes and Their Leaders

By Natasha M. Ezrow, Erica Frantz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dictators and Dictatorships as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This title discusses how dictatorships work, looking at leaders, elites, and regime dynamics, synthesizing foundational and cutting-edge research on authoritarian politics, and integrating theory with case studies. "Dictators and Dictatorships" is a qualitative enquiry into the politics of authoritarian regimes. It argues that political outcomes in dictatorships are largely a product of leader-elite relations. Differences in the internal structure of dictatorships affect the dynamics of this relationship. This book shows how dictatorships differ from one another and the implications of these differences for political outcomes. In particular, it examines political processes in personalist, military, single-party, monarchic, and hybrid regimes. The…


Oil Wealth and the Poverty of Politics: Algeria Compared

By Miriam R. Lowi,

Book cover of Oil Wealth and the Poverty of Politics: Algeria Compared

Why this book?

In this book, Lowi examines why Algeria's domestic political economy disintegrated in the mid-1980s and how the regime eventually reclaimed power and hegemony. Miriam Lowi discusses the significance of leadership decisions for political outcomes and extends her theory to explain the diversity in stability among oil-exporting states in response to economic shocks. Comparing Algeria to Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia, she inquires as to why certain regimes fail and endure regime change while others remain stable or are able to regain stability after a time of turmoil.

Oil Wealth and the Poverty of Politics: Algeria Compared

By Miriam R. Lowi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Oil Wealth and the Poverty of Politics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How can we make sense of Algeria's post-colonial experience - the tragedy of unfulfilled expectations, the descent into violence, the resurgence of the state? Oil Wealth and the Poverty of Politics explains why Algeria's domestic political economy unravelled from the mid-1980s, and how the regime eventually managed to regain power and hegemony. Miriam Lowi argues the importance of leadership decisions for political outcomes, and extends the argument to explain the variation in stability in oil-exporting states following economic shocks. Comparing Algeria with Iran, Iraq, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, she asks why some states break down and undergo regime change, while…


A History of Algeria

By James McDougall,

Book cover of A History of Algeria

Why this book?

A History of Algeria by British historian James McDougall is one of the most original books I have read on Algeria. It takes a fresh new look at the history of contemporary Algeria and avoids the classic chronological approach. The style is exquisite, and the scientific rigor is impeccable. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to know more about the history of Algeria, and Algerians. 

A History of Algeria

By James McDougall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A History of Algeria as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Covering a period of five hundred years, from the arrival of the Ottomans to the aftermath of the Arab uprisings, James McDougall presents an expansive new account of the modern history of Africa's largest country. Drawing on substantial new scholarship and over a decade of research, McDougall places Algerian society at the centre of the story, tracing the continuities and the resilience of Algeria's people and their cultures through the dramatic changes and crises that have marked the country. Whether examining the emergence of the Ottoman viceroyalty in the early modern Mediterranean, the 130 years of French colonial rule and…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Algeria, North Korea, and the economy?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Algeria, North Korea, and the economy.

Algeria Explore 24 books about Algeria
North Korea Explore 34 books about North Korea
The Economy Explore 131 books about the economy

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Nomad, Women of Algiers in Their Apartment, and I Was a French Muslim if you like this list.