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A Novel Approach to Politics

A Novel Approach to Politics
Introducing Political Science through Books, Movies, and Popular Culture

Fifth Edition
Additional resources:

October 2017 | 536 pages | CQ Press

A Novel Approach to Politics turns conventional textbook wisdom on its head by using pop culture references to illustrate key concepts and cover recent political events. This is a textbook students want to read. Adopters of previous editions from schools all over the country are thanking author Douglas A. Van Belle for some of their best student evaluations to date.

With this Fifth Edition, Van Belle brings the book fully up to date with recent events such as Trump’s executive orders on immigration, the 2016 elections in the US, current policy debates including recent court decisions that may affect gerrymandering, international happenings such as Brexit, and other assorted intergalactic matters. Van Belle adds a wealth of new and recent movies and books to the text as he illustrates key concepts in political science through examples that captivate students. Employing a wide range of references from 1984 to Game of Thrones to House of Cards, students are given a solid foundation in institutions, ideology, and economics. To keep things grounded, the textbook nuts and bolts are still there to aid students, including chapter objectives, chapter summaries, bolded key terms, and discussion questions.


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Chapter 1: Introducing the Ancient Debate: The Ideal Versus the Real
Classical Theory, Modern Reality, and Stuff

You’re Just a Mime Trapped in an Invisible Box

Fiction as a Tool for Exploring Politics

Utopias in Fiction and Politics


What Is Politics?

What Is Political Science?

Chapter 2: Why Government? Security, Anarchy, and Some Basic Group Dynamics
Security Trumps Anarchy, Rock Smashes Scissors, But Will Someone Please Explain How Paper Beats Rock?

A Model for the Emergence of Cooperation: Bobsville

Collective Action




The Context of Hierarchy


Groups and Group Identities

Chapter 3: Governing Society: We Know Who You Are
Leadership Benefits

The Panopticon

Collective Action, Revolution, and the Use of Force

Legitimacy and Government Control

Chapter 4: Government’s Role in the Economy: The Offer You Can’t Refuse
Government All Up In Your Business, Yo

The Tragedy of the Commons

Karl Marx—Student of Capitalism?


The Yin and Yang of Capitalism and Socialism

Modern Stuff


Chapter 5: Structures and Institutions
Structures or Institutions?

Human Nature and Political Institutions

The Reality of Political Institutions


Chapter 6: El Grande Loco Casa Blanca: The Executive (in Bad Spanish)
Oh Captain, My Captain

The Scorpion King on Grandpa’s Farm

Kings and Presidents

The Democratic Executive

Chapter 7: The Confederacy of Dunces: The Legislative Function (Not in Bad Spanish)
Boring History Stuff

A Dreary Discussion of Democratic Legislatures

A Redundant Repetition of the Theme: Contrasting Legislatures in Parliamentary and Presidential Systems

A Tired Attempt to Make Coalition Politics Interesting with a Lame Example

A Dreary Bleakness in the Authoritarian Gloom: They Endure Legislative Institutions, Too

Chapter 8: Brazilian Bureaucracy: Do I Even Need to Bother with the Jokes?
Bureaucracy, It Goes to Eleven

So ... What Is a Bureaucracy?

There Be Flaws in Yonder Bureaucracy, Obviously

Chapter 9: Courts and Law: Politics behind the Gavel, Obviously, but What’s under the Gown?
Law and Politics

The Political Functions of Courts

Trial and Appellate Courts

Legal Systems


Types of Law

Constitutional Review

Chapter 10: Not Quite Right, but Still Good: The Democratic Ideal in Modern Politics
Arrow’s Theorem

Democracy and the Liberal Ideal

An Economic Theory of Democracy

The Real versus the Ideal, Again

Chapter 11: Media, Politics, and Government: Talking Heads Are Better Than None
Reality and Beyond

The Whole China Charade

Your New Brain and the Creation of Reality

News Media and Politics

A Vast Conspiracy?

Understanding the Distortions Is the Key

Chapter 12: International Politics: Apocalypse Now and Then

Causes of War

Back to Anarchy

World War I Was Unpleasant

Realism and War

Challenging the Realist Paradigm

Chapter 13: Secret Government: Spies, Lies, and Freedom Fries
Chapter 14: Political Culture: Sex and Agriculture, Getting Rucked Explains It All
Political Culture

Applying Political Culture

Back to the Question of “What Is Culture?”

Chapter 15: The Lastest and Bestest Chapter: The Study of Politics
Here’s Where the Story Ends

The Study of Politics

The Applied Subfields




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  • Chapter activities and discussion questions for individual or group projects provide lively and stimulating ideas for use in and out of class reinforce active learning.
Student Study Site

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“A Novel Approach to Politics is an easy-to-read, entertaining, basic introduction to political science that covers the key concepts, theories, and thinkers of the discipline with relatable examples and illustrations from fiction and pop culture. Van Belle’s humor sets his text apart, making learning about political science ’cool‘ and ’entertaining‘ for the nerdy and non-nerdy alike.”

Verónica B. Hoyo

“A Novel Approach to Politics is highly readable and engaging for students! This is a text that will draw students into topics that they previously rolled their eyes at.  Seriously, students will actually not only read the book, but also be able to personally relate to the material. In 25 years of teaching political science, I’ve never found a better textbook!”

Kimberly J. H. Pace
University of Alaska, Anchorage

“Who says political science has to be dull and lifeless? Van Belle’s textbook is completely distinctive from the other currently available political science textbooks— you will come for the popular culture references and stay for the humor, which both work as engaging ways to keep students’ attention. My students invariably love this book. A Novel Approach to Politics is political science as you always hoped it would be.”

Richard L. Pacelle, Jr.
University of Tennessee

Douglas Van Bell’s A Novel Approach to Politics is a “useful and handy textbook for…beginners” with “good examples” and “simple definitions.”

Nalanda Roy
Armstrong State University

“Van Belle offers us an introduction to the study of politics using popular culture and humor. While this approach is already enshrined in the numerous articles and teaching conferences in our discipline, it has yet to be reflected in any meaningful way in a textbook— with Van Belle’s text as the exception, of course!”

Julie Webber
Illinois State University

“A Novel Approach to Politics is an entertaining textbook that combines solid scholarship with references to cultural media that students will enjoy and teachers will find refreshing. Van Belle’s text is very different from traditional textbooks— it is like The Daily Show compared to CNN News. Its sarcasm and humor are unique and make students more likely to read it than traditional texts.”

Wendell S. Broadwell, Jr., Ph.D.
Perimeter College at Georgia State University
Key features


  • Throughout the book, examples of the ramifications of the 2016 elections in the US—such as recent court decisions that may affect gerrymandering, Trump’s executive orders on immigration including the role of and implications for the bureaucracy, social media, and the issue of "fake news” and entertainment sites posing as news—help students apply concepts to their daily lives.
  • At the start of each chapter, a new paragraph-long overview calls attention to the major concepts the students are expected to learn.
  • “We Call the Old Stuff Classics” and "We Call the New Stuff Popular Culture” features call out pivotal political philosophers, theorists, and assorted hipsters whose work continues to impact modern governments.
  • A new passage connecting internet piracy to the free rider problem illustrates to students how stolen technology has affected the economy.
  • An extended discussion of the game Civilization helps students work through the differences among institutional forms and structures.
  • A new introduction on the “four waves” of legal dramas provides students with a contemporary understanding of the role of politics in the judiciary—from an earlier idealism to a new, harsher realism.
  • Expanded discussion of the democratic ideal explains what recent events such as the 2016 elections in the US and Brexit in the UK mean for our understanding of the fundamentals of democracy.
  • The book’s Fiction Appendix has been updated to capture all of the new films, TV shows, games, and works of fiction added to the Fifth Edition.


The use of fictional examples
allows instructors to increase the complexity and nuance of the political dynamics addressed and start classroom discussions that will make students want to participate.

Learning objectives
called “Stuff to Remember” provide additional guidance.

“Spoiler Alerts”
at the end of chapter introductions frame the discussion to come, keeping students focused on key points.

Pop culture connections
keep students reading:

  • Z-nation and The Walking Dead use zombies to represent the rise of anti-intellectualism as a political and social force;
  • iZombie represents the loss of intimacy and individuality in the modern connected world;
  • House of Cards’ focus on an education reform bill illustrates cross-cutting cleavages;
  • Game of Thrones season 4’s storyline on the freeing of slaves in the city of Meereen shows preference falsification and atomization in action;
  • Neil de Grasse Tyson’s straightforward defense of science provides a facts-based response to ideologue criticisms of Cosmos;
  • The TV show Dr. Who provides a clear example of how bureaucracy can be worked to achieve success;
  • World War Z is used as a metaphor for the inhumanity of an increasingly bureaucratized world.

Preview this book

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1: Introducing the Ancient Debate

For instructors

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