You have to appreciate a book that, in the course of a dozen pages, informs you that the prime cause of death of Argentines aged 10 to 50 is traffic accidents, while the prime cause of death among Colombian men is homicide. That sequence gives some sense of the varied terrain that Peter Waldmann, a German political sociologist, tries to survey and interpret in this collection of essays, and it also conveys how many phenomena he gathers under his titular rubric.

The essays, given their disparate origins, hang together reasonably well but are not entirely integrated. In the introduction, Waldmann does a yeoman’s job to justify their arrangement. The book’s first section—probably of more interest to historians— contains four chapters that attempt to outline, assert, deepen, and defend the application of his core concept, “the anomic state” (an adjective borrowed from Émile Durkheim),...

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