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How Change Happens—or Doesn’t: The Politics of US Public Policy

Elaine C. Kamarck
How Change Happens—or Doesn’t: The Politics of US Public Policy
ISBN: 978-1-58826-916-4
ISBN: 978-1-58826-939-3
ISBN: 978-1-62637-218-4
2013/163 pages/LC: 2013014719
"An excellent little book about how to deal with knotty problems in politics and policy."—Mark Funkhouser, Governing

"[A] gem.... Essential for undergraduates through faculty studying Congress or policy change."—Choice

"Will appeal to both scholarly and general readers interested in an updated account of US public policy change."—Library Journal

"Elaine Kamarck combines the systematic qualities of a political scientist with the insights of a seasoned political insider to reveal what really matters in the policy process. This lively book will keep students engaged."—Sean Q. Kelly, California State University Channel Islands

"Insightful and well written.... Kamarck provides valuable advice for those who seek to understand or bring about fundamental policy change."—Eric Patashnik, University of Virginia


Choice Outstanding Academic Book!

How do transformative changes in public policy take place? Why do some issues rise to the top of the political agenda, while others are completely ignored? What makes some major policy initiatives succeed—at times, even when the odds are decidedly against them—while others fail or languish for decades? Answering those questions is the purpose of this book.

Elaine Kamarck traces the paths of a series of modern policy initiatives from the orderly world of analysis to the messy world of partisan politics. Dissecting the reasons for policy success and failure, she offers an intriguing new perspective on how change happens in the space where politics and policy overlap.


Elaine C. Kamarck is lecturer in public policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Previously, she was a senior policy adviser to the Clinton administration and a political columnist for Newsday and the Los Angeles Times. She is author of The End of Government ... As We Know It: Making Public Policy Work.


  • Change in the Messy World of Partisan Politics.
  • Assessing the Policy Battlefield.
  • Evaluating Policy Problems.
  • Not All Policy Is Created Equal.
  • The Overrated Value of Bipartisanship.
  • When the Insiders Get It Wrong.
  • Politics as a Fight.
  • Elections: Do They Matter?
  • Coping with the Unexpected.