Social scientists are concerned with élites of many kinds - bureaucracies, military oligarchies, political leaders and the like. The study of élites is frequently characterised by a certain suspicion, and the tone of the enquirer’s description and discussion of such groups is often sceptical if not actually hostile. While not simply an attempt to redress the balance, this book is intended to provide the reader with a fair idea of the nature and variety of élites and to offer some explanantions as to why societies over a remarkably wide range of time, space and economic development have evolved a structure in which a small group exercises a disproportionate power over the great mass of their fellows. The first section deals with theoretical approaches to élites and élitism, summarising and criticising work from Plato and Weber, Popper, Scruton and Bottomore. The second section consists of a number of historical and contemporary case studies, ranging from Classical Athens to late twentieth-century Western society, which individually and in combination illustrate and amplify the theoretical material. The final section draws together the main arguments in the form of a critique and conclusions.