Nepotism has a bad name. No modern politician who openly avowed his nepotistic inclinations would stand much of a chance of election. “I intend to give as many important positions in government as possible to my children, my brothers, and my cousins” is certainly not a vote-winning formula. Yet nepotism, as Adam Bellow demonstrates in this long book, is rather like the poor: that is to say, it is with us always. The survival of nepotism in a democracy (or for that matter in a communist dictatorship) is often thought to be as surprising, paradoxical, or anomalous as the survival of poverty in the midst of plenty. It is nothing of the kind.

One way of thinking about the role of nepotism is to try to imagine a world from which it had been expunged entirely. Mr. Bellow does not try this thought experiment, but it confirms his view that nepotism is not merely or even mainly a force for evil, though in actual...

 
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