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The Critics’ Picks: A Year in Reading

The Book Review’s daily critics — Dwight Garner, Alexandra Jacobs and Jennifer Szalai — reflect on the books that stuck with them in 2023.

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By Jennifer Szalai ,  Alexandra Jacobs and Dwight Garner

Jennifer Szalai

Since I review only nonfiction, I sometimes get tasked with writing about political memoirs — a number of which are geared toward getting you to believe what their politician-authors want you to believe, if not insisting that you should just shut your mind and let them do all the thinking for you . So it was with pleasure and relief that I encountered some philosophically-minded books this year. Amid all the hard sells and hot takes, these books provided some necessary counterprogramming. Their authors are more interested in opening up new ways of understanding than in telling people what to do.

Sarah Bakewell’s “Humanly Possible” gives you the sense that when it comes to humans, anything is possible — for good or for ill, which is part of what gives this book its undeniable charm. Bakewell, who has also written books about existentialism and Montaigne, is so generous and resolutely open-minded. That she is able to corral seven centuries of humanist thought into a brisk and readable narrative is a real achievement, even if this new book is more diffuse than her previous work. She is honest about the limitations of humanists, who can sometimes prize thinking above action — constantly seeing both sides of a question, even when one side is promoting a cruel fanaticism.

But “Humanly Possible” is full of funny stories, too. We are limited creatures, despite our pretensions to the contrary. Bakewell discusses “On Good Manners for Boys,” in which Erasmus addressed such pressing issues as how to pass gas in polite company. The most fruitful strains of humanism recognize what we share with nonhuman animals. After Bertrand Russell was in a seaplane accident, a journalist asked what his brush with death had made him think about — mysticism, maybe? No, Russell said. “I thought the water was cold.”

As I read Nikhil Krishnan’s “A Terribly Serious Adventure: Philosophy and War at Oxford, 1900-1960,” I wondered how he would pull it off. Here was a scholar, determined to bring to life a school of thought (hard to do) that revolved around finicky distinctions in language (extremely hard to do). The “linguistic” or “analytical” turn in philosophy resisted grand speculations about reality and truth. Krishnan had set out to dramatize an approach that was adamantly undramatic.

Krishnan admits that even he had a hard time warming up to his subject when he first encountered it as a philosophy student at Oxford. Part of what makes his book so winning is that he treats his reader like a partner, presenting a range of ideas with the respect they deserve, so that we feel as if we are thinking alongside him. He recalls his lofty assumption that the most profound ideas were inherently “ineffable,” before recognizing that he was learning something decidedly less lofty yet possibly more profound: how to tell the difference between what cannot be put into words and what can.

That discrepancy is also a preoccupation of one of my favorite books this year, “The Rigor of Angels,” by William Egginton. A humanities professor at Johns Hopkins University, Egginton weaves together philosophy, biography and criticism to explore “the ultimate nature of reality” through the life and work of three figures: the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges; the German theoretical physicist and pioneer of quantum mechanics, Werner Heisenberg; and the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. This seemingly disparate cast is gathered together here because all three men had something in common: They resisted the temptation to presume that there was a reality, out there, that obediently conformed to our experiences of it.

The only way to tell this story with any clarity is to write, as Egginton does, with elegance and patience. The notion that we create our own reality might sound like license to a terrible arrogance, but that’s only if we stop doing the kind of thinking that Egginton pushes us to do. We humans would do better to recognize what we can and cannot know, he suggests. Our knowledge is always partial and contingent. Instead of decreeing self-importance, he invites some humility.

I continue to think often about these three books, which are quite different but nevertheless seem to be in conversation with one another. A commitment to learning as a dialogue between people, rather than as a lesson delivered from on high, requires an author to do something risky: relinquish some authorial control. As Krishnan puts it so beautifully in his book, “Let no one join this conversation who is unwilling to be vulnerable.”

Alexandra Jacobs

I began the year reviewing Prince Harry’s memoir, “ Spare ,” and am typing this having just finished Barbra Streisand’s 970-page “ My Name Is Barbra ” — blots brow delicately with handkerchief — so those are top of mind right now. Like political books, celebrity ones can choke tender fiction sprouts like weeds. But each of these was remarkable, if flawed. Harry worked with J.R. Moehringer, a deeply talented memoirist himself (“The Tender Bar”), which I’ll wager is what gave it a more literary flavor. Barbra — you feel more that it was told to a Dictaphone, and she reads the audiobook, if you have a 48-hour road trip planned any time soon. (So … many … ellipses!) But the long arc of her life and tremendous accomplishments across industries make the book a cultural history as well, and the level of intimate detail is hard to resist.

Another fascinating if flawed book that has taken up permanent residence on my shelf — doubtless partly because of its groovy, period-perfect cover — is Alexander Stille’s “ The Sullivanians .” As other reviewers pointed out, it’s repetitive in parts. But I was too mesmerized by the lost world he revives — an Upper West Side commune, devoted to exploding the nuclear family, turned abusive sex cult — to care.

Psychiatric archives were well plumbed this year: See Clancy Martin’s rough but bold and potentially very helpful exploration of suicide, “ How Not to Kill Yourself .” I consider Jonathan Rosen’s “ The Best Minds ,” about his schizophrenic friend Michael Laudor, the absolute best book of 2023: a real genre-bender, complex and moving. In that spirit, I also enjoyed revisiting the tarnished classic “ Sybil ” on the occasion of its 50th anniversary, even though readers rightly chided me for suggesting that only women have trouble facing that birthday. Mea culpa!

Another revisit, hugely enjoyable, was the new edition of Ursula Parrott’s novel “ Ex-Wife .” I had never heard of Parrott, to my shame, and she falls into a very important tradition of women’s writing (and there’s a new biography to accompany it). I’d love to know what Gay Talese thinks of it — hey, he’s still producing bangers at 91 — and I’d also love to know if Talese was ever in a room with George Weidenfeld, the colorful publisher whose biography , “The Maverick,” by Thomas Harding, was an unexpected favorite.

But returning to the land of new fiction, with all its peaks and valleys, I was struck that three of my favorite novels this year — Esther Yi’s “ Y/N ,” Andrew Lipstein’s “ The Vegan ” and Isle McElroy’s “ People Collide ” — all feature characters who change bodies or flit across time zones in some magical way. Could it be that the brutal realities of our current world — war, widening income inequality, climate change — are motivating more fantastical fiction?

I suppose we’ll see in the year to come.

Dwight Garner

In Sigrid Nunez’s new novel, “ The Vulnerables ,” she presents what is said to be a foolproof cure for writer’s block. The trick, she writes, is to start with the words “I remember.” I plan to take Nunez’s advice for this, my look back at a year’s purposeful reading. The things we remember from books aren’t always the things we think we might — or the things we should. Here’s what some of this year’s titles bring rushing back to me.

I remember, reviewing a volume of Franz Kafka’s unabridged diaries , his obsession with noses. They were how he got a handle on someone’s personality.

I remember, reviewing Priscilla Gilman’s memoir of her father, the critic Richard Gilman, that (a) he had a good Cookie Monster voice and (b) he never got over not being tapped to be a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books.

I remember, in Eleanor Catton’s terrific novel “ Birnam Wood, ” a character’s reason for getting into gardening. It’s the same one that can get a person into reading: “It offered a respite from this habit of relentless interior critique.”

I remember, in Catherine Lacey’s counterfactual novel “ Biography of X ,” that she allows the poet Frank O’Hara to live after being struck by that Jeep on Fire Island. I also remember making a fool of myself. I wrote in my review that her main character “discovered and recorded a singer who resembles Karen Dalton.” That is true, so far as it goes. What I did not know is that the person she wrote about, Connie Converse, was a real musician, and a very good one.

I remember, in Mack McCormick’s long-awaited book about his 1970s-era search for the bluesman Robert Johnson, a moving scene in which he finally locates a cluster of people who knew Johnson well. He holds a listening party for them. He plays Johnson’s vinyl recordings for people who had not heard the music in 30 years. It was as if, he wrote, he was hearing Johnson’s music for the first time.

I remember, in Henry Threadgill’s memoir about his life in jazz, a moment from his Vietnam War service in the Army. Asked to arrange a medley of national classics for a ceremony at Fort Riley, in Kansas, Threadgill stretched the familiar songs so much, in a somewhat atonal manner that would define his career, that he was fired from the band and shipped into the middle of the fighting in Pleiku, Vietnam. A “musical peccadillo,” he wrote, had earned him a probable death sentence.

I remember, in James Campbell’s book “ NB by J.C. ,” a collection of his columns for The Times Literary Supplement, his comment that editors were once lionized for issuing banned books such as “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” “Ulysses” and “Lolita.” Now, he wrote, “an editor is in danger of being sacked for publishing something that doesn’t fit someone else’s idea of ‘appropriate.’”

I remember Jenny Erpenbeck’s novel “ Kairos ” as a weeper that I half wept through myself, because I was in the mood. I also recall her observation that certain flowers (pansies) resemble Karl Marx, and that looking inside a stranger’s refrigerator is as good as going to the movies.

I remember, in “ Be Mine ,” Richard Ford’s final Frank Bascombe novel, a long and electric description of Donald Trump on television that includes the words “pooch-lipped, arms-folded Mussolini.”

I remember, in Ann Beattie’s collection of stories “ Onlookers ,” the character who mistakes Burt Bacharach for Jeffrey Epstein.

I remember, in Steven Millhauser’s story collection “ Disruptions ,” the teeny-tiny woman who achieves orgasm by sliding down her lover’s ear.

I remember learning, from a biography of the playwright August Wilson, that he smoked even in the shower.

I remember, in a biography of the artist, mystic and collector Harry Smith, that he liked to collect bandages peeled off fresh tattoos, imprinted with bloody mirror images that he considered more interesting than the tattoos themselves. He also collected “the recorded death coughs of bums.”

I remember, in a biography of Larry McMurtry, that he said he could read and drive at the same time, at least out in the Texas flatlands. Once, stopped for speeding, he explained that he’d been writing in his head and gotten all excited.

I remember, in Werner Herzog’s memoir , that he hoped to direct a production of “Hamlet” and “have all the parts played by champion livestock auctioneers: I wanted the performance to come in at under 14 minutes.”

I remember Jonathan Raban, in his posthumous memoir “ Father and Son ,” writing about a serious stroke he suffered at 68. He had no patience with some of his caregivers. One asked about his bowel movements, and he found the question to be impertinent and beside the point. Pushed further, he finally replied, “OK, then. Mine are always paragons of their kind.”

Finally, to send out the year, I remember another moment from Priscilla Gilman’s book about her father. At his memorial service, his wife said to the audience of mourners: “Thank you for missing him. He loves to be missed.”

Jennifer Szalai is the nonfiction book critic for The Times. More about Jennifer Szalai

Alexandra Jacobs is a book critic and the author of “Still Here: The Madcap, Nervy, Singular Life of Elaine Stritch.” More about Alexandra Jacobs

Dwight Garner has been a book critic for The Times since 2008. His latest book is “The Upstairs Delicatessen: On Eating, Reading, Reading About Eating, and Eating While Reading.” More about Dwight Garner

Every item on this page was chosen by a Town & Country editor. We may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy.

16 Best Political Books to Read Before the 2022 Election

Dive into candidate memoirs, the Mueller report, and narrative histories to stay informed for November 2020.

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The Mueller Report

The Mueller Report

The controversy surrounding Russia's interference in the 2016 election resulted in a nearly two-year investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller . A redacted version of Mueller's report was released in April 2019, which found that although the Russian government did interfere in the 2016 presidential election (therefore violating U.S. criminal law), there was insufficient evidence that President Trump or his campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia. The report did detail Trump's efforts to stymie the Mueller investigation, and whether those actions were tantamount to obstruction of justice. You can read the report in this book, which also has analysis by Washington Post reporters. And lest we forget, the Russia scandal was later upstaged by the revelation of the Ukraine affair, and Trump's subsequent impeachment by the House of Representatives in January 2020. He was acquitted by the Senate in February.

Simon & Schuster Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man

Even though the book has yet to hit the shelves, this explosive tell all by Mary L. Trump,  Donald Trump's estranged niece , is sure to make even more headlines as the year goes on. Mary, a clinical psychologist, is the daughter of Fred Trump Jr., Donald Trump's older brother. There has been much speculation and controversy about what's in the book, so much so that legal action has already taken place. After Donald Trump alleged Mary was not allowed to write the book because she signed a non-disclosure agreement in 2001, following the dispute over his father, Fred Sr.'s estate, Donald's brother Robert Trump sued Mary to attempt to stop the book's publication. A New York state Supreme Court judge temporarily blocked the publication, but an appellate judge reversed the decision, allowing the publication of the book to proceed while both sides await a court date. The pre-publication controversy will no doubt increase people's interest in the book.

Simon & Schuster The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir

The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir

John Bolton, who served as Donald Trump's former National Security Advisor for 17 months, had a contentious relationship with the President. The two even disagreed on his departure: on the morning of September 10, 2019, Trump tweeted that he had fired Bolton, who in turn said he had actually resigned the previous night. Bolton infamously did not testify in the impeachment inquiry about the Ukraine affair, but the details are all here now. Democrats have slammed him for this choice, asking why he was unwilling to make the information public at the time, but would do so now in order to secure a lucrative book deal. Bolton's book describes the toxic culture in the West Wing and his observations, frustrations, and insights over his brief, tumultuous tenure. 

This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class

This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class

Every Democratic candidate puts out a memoir before the election cycle kicks into gear—it's a political rite of passage. Senator Elizabeth Warren has written a few books, but pick up her latest to brush up on her policy proposals.

American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump

American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump

Politico Magazine ’s chief political correspondent takes a deep dive into how the Republican party's collapse (fueled by intra-party fighting in the post-Bush era) led to Trump's rise. 

The Truths We Hold: An American Journey

The Truths We Hold: An American Journey

In this memoir, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris writes about growing up in an Indian-Jamaican household and her journey from prosecutor to politician.

Simon and Schuster Fear: Trump in the White House

Fear: Trump in the White House

Bob Woodward—who shot to journalistic fame (along with colleague Carl Bernstein) after exposing the Watergate scandal in 1972—presents a deeply reported account of operations inside the Trump White House, based on hundreds of hours of interviews with key staff, past and present.

Shortest Way Home: One Mayor's Challenge and a Model for America's Future

Shortest Way Home: One Mayor's Challenge and a Model for America's Future

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana has been one of the more unlikely candidates to emerge in the Democratic field. Pick up his memoir to learn about how he became America's youngest mayor at age 29, as well as a Navy officer and Rhodes scholar. 

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump

Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump

The story of Russia's interference in the 2016 election has consumed the nation. Unpack the puzzle with this book from the chief investigative correspondent from Yahoo! News and Mother Jones's Washington bureau chief.

An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up from My American Dream

An Unlikely Journey: Waking Up from My American Dream

The former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and current Democratic presidential candidate grew up in a poor household in San Antonio and went on to Stanford and Harvard Law before becoming the mayor of his home city.

Spiegel & Grau I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street

I Can't Breathe: A Killing on Bay Street

A 2014 video showing Eric Garner gasping "I can't breathe" as NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo put Garner in a chokehold on a Staten Island sidewalk became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter. Pantaleo was not indicted for Garner's death, and the U.S. attorney general recently announced that he would not seek federal civil rights charges against the officer. This book is essential reading not only to understand this incident, but also the entire issue of police brutality and the BLM movement.

This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant's Manifesto

This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant's Manifesto

Reports of appalling conditions at detention facilities at the US-Mexico border have cast a spotlight on immigration, and it will no doubt be a key issue in the 2020 election. Writer Suketu Mehta takes a step back to examine the effects of globalism and colonialism, asking why people leave their homes and what they find when they do. It's a powerful testament to the immigrant experience, including his own.

imusti United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good

United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good

Senator Cory Booker has a sterling record: Stanford, Yale Law, a Rhodes scholarship. Does he have what it takes to go all the way to the White House? Read his memoir and decide for yourself.

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

One of the most hotly anticipated books of last year, this account of the first nine months of the Trump administration deserves a re-read in the ramp-up to 2020. 

The Making of Donald Trump

The Making of Donald Trump

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston has been writing about Trump long before the former real estate mogul's astonishing presidential win. Here, Johnston uses three decades of reporting to take us from the Trump family's beginnings, to Trump's personal wheelings and dealings in the 80s and 90s, to his 2016 ascendancy. 

Simon & Schuster Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger

The #MeToo movement brought down scores of powerful men accused of sexual harassment and assault, and its reverberations are still felt today. But women's anger as a political issue has a long history, from the suffrage movement to the Anita Hill testimony. Read up on the history of women putting their anger to use for a larger purpose. 

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Liz Cantrell is the assistant to the Editor in Chief of Town & Country , covering arts and culture, and has previously written for Esquire.

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Politics & Society » Best Politics Books of 2023, recommended by Martha Lane Fox

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Martha Lane Fox, chair of this year's judging panel, talks us through the nine finalists for the 2023 Orwell Prize for Political Writing, awarded annually for a nonfiction book.

Q. Readers outside the UK might not be familiar with the Orwell Prizes. Could you tell me what kind of books you were looking for and that the Orwell Prize for Political Writing is trying to single out?

Martha Lane Fox : I’m sure everybody has their own sense of George Orwell as a person, but for us as a set of judges, we're looking for three major things. The first is great writing. It sounds obvious, but this is a writing prize so you’re looking for clear writing and great storytelling. George Orwell wrote many essays about writing itself and, for me, it was very important that we found books that were very well written.

The second is subject matter that reveals truth. We wanted stories and insights with a political bent, that reveal things about us as a country or as a world. We wanted books that help us understand stories and ideas that are not necessarily about the most well-known subjects, although we ended up with some that are. But always we were looking for books that show a depth or urgency in a story that perhaps we hadn't appreciated before.

The final thing, I think, is an element of bravery in the storytelling, of not being afraid of either vested interests or the establishment or of telling something difficult. It’s about following George Orwell’s deep commitment to revealing inequalities and always acting with bravery and truth.

So those were the three things—great writing, revealing something we perhaps hadn't understood or seen before with incredibly detailed research, and then, finally, an element of bravery:

The Fire of the Dragon: China’s New Cold War by Ian Williams

The Fire of the Dragon: China’s New Cold War

By ian williams.

“I have to warn you, don’t read any Orwell books before you go to sleep. I cried when I read Who Cares , I was furious when I read Show Me the Bodies , I was dismayed when I read Divided . All these books bring you to certain emotions. This one, The Fire of the Dragon, just kept me awake because it scared me. And I’m not prone to hyperbole, generally.

What I found so incredibly powerful about this book is just how important it is that we all understand more about what is happening in China and its worldview. I’m not saying this in a nationalistic or close-minded way, but this book reveals the much scarier nature of the world, when you think about it through the lens of China. That’s what it challenges you to do. How China sees us and how we see China and the ambitions on both sides are so wildly different. The book shows how bad the policy has been in terms of individual governments in relation to supply of resources, what’s happening in Taiwan, what this author thinks will happen in Hong Kong. It kept me awake because it feels as though this is troubling in a way that not enough people are really thinking about and understand well enough.”

Read expert recommendations

Invasion: Russia’s Bloody War and Ukraine’s Fight for Survival by Luke Harding

Invasion: Russia’s Bloody War and Ukraine’s Fight for Survival

By luke harding.

“This feels to me a bit like a watercolor, in that it’s painted very quickly, with incredible beauty but also real clarity and, in this case, horror. Luke writes brilliantly about what’s happened in Ukraine, not just since the invasion, but he puts it into historical context. This book is not a finished product as, unfortunately, the war is ongoing, and it only goes a few months in. But it’s an incredible combination of really deep research about this appalling conflict and the sweep of history, and the experiences of a war journalist being in a location and the really visceral nature of just being in a war.”

The Patriarchs: How Men Came to Rule by Angela Saini

The Patriarchs: How Men Came to Rule

By angela saini.

“The Patriarchs is fantastic. Angela Saini is a science journalist and it’s a very detailed study and look at feminism over time with an interesting bent. Different women through the ages haven’t understood in the way that power has arisen and the way that we moved from a matriarchal society, thousands of years ago, to a patriarchal one. Again, it’s the long sweep of history, but with a very political endpoint. Why have we ended up here? Why do we live in a patriarchy now when we haven’t at moments in history? What’s happened? I’ve read so many books on this subject, but I love this because of its fabulous combination of real detail about some really interesting cultures centered on women, but again, with a very strong political message.”

Inside Qatar: Hidden Stories from One of the Richest Nations on Earth by John McManus

Inside Qatar: Hidden Stories from One of the Richest Nations on Earth

By john mcmanus.

“Qatar has been in the news because of the World Cup, but this book is not just for people interested in football. It’s about the growing importance of this little state which I knew a little bit about, but not nearly enough. It’s about what’s gone on there. I won’t use the word corruption—I’ll let readers decide for themselves—but Qatar is a very important access point in the Middle East, from which money flows in and out around the world. He interviews people around the country and looks at its interrelationship with the rest of the Middle East and the world. It’s a really fascinating read.”

The Last Colony: A Tale of Exile, Justice and Britain’s Colonial Legacy by Philippe Sands

The Last Colony: A Tale of Exile, Justice and Britain’s Colonial Legacy

By philippe sands.

“I’m sure many of your readers know Philippe Sands’s books. Philippe writes with real energy about subjects that are often very complicated, nuanced, and unpleasant. I did not know enough about this saga in British history, where islanders were removed from their homes because of the geopolitical nature of the archipelago they lived on, and its importance for military manoeuvres in the area.

Just as he did with his previous books, Philippe brilliantly weaves quite complex international law and international legal history with the personal stories of the people who were removed in the middle of the night. It’s a fabulous exploration of some big topics around how to structure international law and how to use the international legal framework, through the eyes of the people who were really impacted. The British did not behave well, not at all. In thinking about our role in the world, this is a really important book.”

Divided: Racism, Medicine and Why We Need to Decolonise Healthcare by Annabel Sowemimo

Divided: Racism, Medicine and Why We Need to Decolonise Healthcare

By annabel sowemimo.

“This is a really interesting book written by a doctor, so someone coming out of the medical profession. Annabel Sowemimo is a black female doctor so an even more important voice to be heard. She has done an incredibly detailed study of why we have such brutal health inequalities in this country. It’s about the racist nature of some of the health care choices and structures that we have. I have spent an enormous amount of time in the healthcare system, way more than your average person, but I was not aware of the scale of the challenges that people face if they’re from certain minorities. For example, black women are four times more likely to die in childbirth. It’s so shocking.

Again, she has done this fabulous balancing act of real detail and extremely careful research, sometimes academic research, but always coupled with stories from doctors, from patients and from healthcare professionals. It’s a very important book. We’re grappling with so many issues in this country at the moment and all of these books touch on them in some way, but this one does so in spades.”

Show Me the Bodies: How We Let Grenfell Happen by Peter Apps

Show Me the Bodies: How We Let Grenfell Happen

By peter apps.

🏆 Winner of the 2023  Orwell Prize for Political Writing (nonfiction)

“The title of this book, ‘ Show Me the Bodies,’ is of course the response that is ascribed to one of the civil servants working in the Department for Communities and Local Government who was warned before the Grenfell catastrophe that fire safety rules needed to be tightened. To have such an expansive history of Grenfell is phenomenal. The book is an incredible journey through the last 40 years of sometimes neglect, sometimes just carelessness, in the management of our housing stock by successive governments, ministers and civil servants, as well as councillors and building suppliers. It’s very carefully researched and unflinching.

It’s a very forensic look at how we got to Grenfell, but also all the other issues that we face in social housing. It’s not only devastating about the horrific tragedy at Grenfell, but it’s also the years of abuse that we’ve put people through because of the substandard quality of housing that they have lived in.”

Who Cares: The Hidden Crisis of Caregiving, and How We Solve It by Emily Kenway

Who Cares: The Hidden Crisis of Caregiving, and How We Solve It

By emily kenway.

“Emily starts the book by pulling us up and reminding us that everyone is going to face this issue in their lives: there is hardly anyone who escapes needing to care for someone. I use the word escapes because I think she would describe the care that she had to do for her mother, who was dying, as a prison and one of the most appalling things that she’s ever had to do in her life.

Emily weaves in her own story of unpicking a care system and working through it and looking after her mother who died with the macro issue that we are trying to reckon with as a country and globally. It’s a really phenomenal interweaving of her own personal story—which is extremely upsetting and very hard to read at moments—with deeply researched statistics and the way that the care structures in this country work. It’s the perfect Orwell book, in a way, because you’ve got this amazing narrative and this extremely personal reveal of what Emily had to go through, coupled with research and political points about how we need to restructure care in this country.”

Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children by Hannah Barnes

Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children

By hannah barnes.

“Hannah Barnes, who wrote this book, is a Newsnight journalist and had done a lot of work for the BBC revealing what had happened at the Tavistock, a clinic set up in London in 1989 to help kids who are struggling with gender dysphoria. This is a story of bad management in a local center. It also touches on some of the decisions that were made about puberty blockers and the way that young people were treated. What we found really compelling about this story was the detailed research. She interviewed lots and lots of people who had been through the clinic or had worked there.

This is a complex subject that divides opinion, but it’s also important to think carefully about and to be able to talk about and debate, particularly as it’s now been revealed how many children’s lives were changed. They were put on drugs and medication that people had not fully understood, with profound consequences.”

We ask experts to recommend the five best books in their subject and explain their selection in an interview.

This site has an archive of more than one thousand seven hundred interviews, or eight thousand book recommendations. We publish at least two new interviews per week.

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TCK Publishing

12 Best Politics Books to Help You Understand Political Issues 

by Yen Cabag

written the book politics

Politics may not always be an easy topic, with all the factors at play, and all the different opinions bombarding us from everywhere. That’s why it’s important to take some time to dive deep into the different issues, and what better way to do that than through well-researched, excellently-written books! 

Admittedly, many books on politics are not easily accessible for the average layman. We hope that this list we’ve compiled for you can serve as a basic course, so to speak, so that you can relate with and grapple with the difficult topics as you go along.

12 Best Books to Help You Understand Politics 

Here are some of our best recommendations of politics-themed books to get you started: 

1. The Republic by Plato 

This Socratic dialogue on the theories of governance and democracy was authored by the Greek philosopher Plato way back around 375 BC. In this classic work, he presents his belief that knowledge and expertise are the most important determinants about who should rule over other people, because they tend to be the most efficient and fair. 

2. The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau 

The French philospher Jean-Jacques Rosseau authored this essay on the social contract between the people and the government, which he believes remains binding as long as the will of the people supports it. This was considered a revolutionary work, especially during the time when the French royalty was thought to be divinely bestowed with authority. 

3. Animal Farm by George Orwell 

Don’t be fooled by this novel nor by its children’s fable-like theme. It’s actually an allegory in novella form, featuring farm animals who rise up against their human owner in their desire to create a free—and ultimately utopian—state. But their dreams are dashed when, in the absence of a supreme rule, a pig rises to power and ends up more tyrannical than their previous master. 

4. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels 

In 1848, the Communist League commissioned this work by the German philosophers Frederick Engels and Karl Marx. The work looks at the challenges of a society run on capitalism and the focus on production. It believes that eventually, the forces of socialism will overthrow any society that revolves around capitalism. 

At the time of its publication, the book was considered obscure, but in later years, social democrat parties that rose throughout Europe turned to this as their foundational doctrine. 

5. 1984 by George Orwell 

Who would’ve thought that this dystopian novel published back in 1949 could have chilling resemblance to some totalitarian societies in the present time? The story portrays a tyrannical rule with surveillance, propaganda, lies, and a cult-like supreme leader. Admittedly, this fictional world was inspired by the Soviet Union’s Stalin, but it just might have lessons for us today. 

6. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave by Frederick Douglass 

This autobiographical account follows the author’s own enslavement in Maryland up until the time he was in early twenties. When he managed to escape in 1838, he rose to power in the abolitionist movement, well-known for his speeches and written works, both of which have been formative not just in abolition but also in the women’s rights movement. 

7. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin 

This collection of essays, published in 1955 and containing Baldwin’s thoughts throughout the 1940s and 1950s when he was in his twenties, are considered foundational for the Civil Rights Movement. Because Baldwin was a crucial figure in the Civil Rights movement, this will help you understand the Jim Crow time period and how the said movement began.

8. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela 

Mandela is a prime figure when it comes to revolutionaries. Read through this autobiographical account which he wrote in 1994, published right at the start of his becoming President of South Africa. Here you can take a closer look at his anti-aparthaid activism, which led to his close to three decades of imprisonment. 

Although the book is a kind of memoir, it’s essential reading if you want to learn about government oppression, and how Mandela influenced South Africa into a more democratic system. 

9. Friendly Politics by Glen Smith

This modern day book on politics can serve as your basic handbook, to get you started n the realm of power and governance even when you’re not too familiar with them. Adopt the practical life lessons so you can be less anxious about the current political climate. Plus, you get to improve your relationships too by getting involved in productive conversations. 

10. We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a journalist who wrote this collection of essays. Although the essays deal with modern-day political issues, the author chose this title in reference to the eight years that the Black Reconstruction-period politicians sat in power, before Jim Crow laws inched their way back along with white supremacy. It also has the double meaning of referencing President Barack Obama’s eight years in power before racism made its way back at the 2016 elections. 

11. Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein 

Published in the beginning of 2020, this book explores the problem of extreme political polarization in the United States. He believes that the feedback loops between institutions and the people, as well as the power of polarization in media, have contributed to the extreme differences in identity politics. 

12. Politics is For Power by Eitan Hersh

Yes, it can be interesting to read up on books about politics, but how about one that actually stirs you up into action? This book wll do just that, showing you different ways how you can make the change you want to see in your world, with practical teachings on how to lobby, on advocacy, and even how to mobilize communities for the causes that are important to you. 

Reading Politics Books 

It’s important to be well-read in political issues so that we can form well-informed opinions and make intellectual decisions. We hope this list whets your appetite to be more educated in the area of politics. 

On the other hand, we also hope that this booklist can help inspire passionate individuals to take decisive action for positive change. 

Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:

  • 12 Memoirs That Demonstrate the Horrors of War
  • 10 Books Every Law Student Should Read
  • 13 Thought-Provoking Social Issues Books
  • 11 David McCullough Books That Bring History to Life

Yen Cabag

Yen Cabag is the Blog Writer of TCK Publishing. She is also a homeschooling mom, family coach, and speaker for the Charlotte Mason method, an educational philosophy that places great emphasis on classic literature and the masterpieces in art and music. She has also written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her passion is to see the next generation of children become lovers of reading and learning in the midst of short attention spans.

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27 of the Best Political Books to Read to Process the 2022 Election

From candidate memoirs to journalistic deep dives.

Headshot of Hamilton Cain

Chances are, you've been following politics in 2020, and the years before. Ahead, a few compasses to help you navigate this time in American history through a political lens.

Henry Holt and Co. Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America

Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America

Former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams was pivotal in turning out the vote in Georgia during the 2020 presidential election. In addition to being a politician, Abrams is also a romance novelist and the author of prescient political books like  Our Time Is Now , out in June 2020. Abrams, a rising leader in the Democratic party, offers an overview of how political institutions have been eroded, and what can be done to fix them. 

Simon & Schuster The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience

The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience

Pitted against an often antagonistic media, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton have made difficult choices, for themselves and for others, with grace and fortitude. Here they share a hundred profiles of the women who have inspired them through tough moments: resilient figures from the past -- Harriet Tubman, “the Moses of her people,” and  Rachel Carson, the environmental Cassandra -- and the present, such as charismatic activist Malala Yousafzai and the virtuoso novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Aidichie. These captivating stories point the way toward a kinder future for us all.

The Economists' Hour: False Prophets, Free Markets, and the Fracture of Society

The New York Times financial writer maps the advance of economists—from the Kennedy administration onward—out of the academy and into government, elevating free markets in the sausage-making of public policy and sparking the inequity that plagues us today. 

Flatiron Books Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose

Public defender, Senator, Vice President, Presidential contender. Throughout his lengthy and storied career Joe Biden has circled back to his cherished touchstone: father. After a terminal cancer diagnosis, his eldest son Beau asked his dad to promise him he’d be okay; as Beau’s health declined, Biden performed his elected duties, jet-setting around the globe at the request of his close friend, President Obama, managing conflicts in Ukraine and Iraq even as he suffered the most wrenching agony of all: the death of a child. Read this for a stirring memoir of public service and private sorrow.

imusti United: Thoughts on Finding Common Ground and Advancing the Common Good

The junior Senator from New Jersey hitched a ride on a meteor to success. First, a Stanford and a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, “with more degrees than July.” Then, the innovative mayor of Newark before becoming one of only eight post-Reconstruction African-Americans to serve in Capitol Hill’s distinguished upper chamber. His prescription for our ailing nation is sharp and rich, a blueprint for coming together from a politician destined to play an indelible role on the American stage.

Shortest Way Home: One Mayor's Challenge and a Model for America's Future

Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg has uneasily embodied some of the most enduring tensions in our culture: a Harvard grad and urban businessman lured back to run for mayor of his Rust Belt town; a closeted Iraq War veteran; the first openly gay candidate for President; and now, most shockingly, a coolly measured voice amid the din of Twitter grievance. His is the most thrilling kind of memoir, one that's out, loud, and proud, but also reflective and gorgeously written.

No Stopping Us Now: A History of Older Women in America

While young men have fallen by the hundreds of thousands in military combat, America’s women have waged wars of their own on the home front, forcing change. This  New York Times columnist traces the enthralling arc of older women in political history, from feminist pioneers (Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth) to First Ladies (Dolley Madison, Eleanor Roosevelt); feisty agitators (Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem) to intrepid influencers (Nellie Bly, Ruth Bader Ginsburg); Republicans of integrity (Margaret Chase Smith) and legendary Democrats (Hillary Clinton). They’re all here, brought to radiant life in Gail Collins’ witty, vivid prose.

We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast

Alarmed by the spike in perilous climate change, the acclaimed writer tackles what we can do here and now, ordinary tweaks with global impact, his book a mesh of bulleted lists blended with polished literary forms—read this if you're looking for  The Overstory meets 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth.

How to Be an Antiracist

The author of the National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning returns with a compelling compendium of facts and figures, searing stories of tragedy and triumph as he defines what it truly means to be an anti-racist in our divisive age.  How To Be An Antiracist  is the  antidote for the toxicity of white supremacy—and a rebuke to calls for segregation.

The Meritocracy Trap: How America's Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite

A product of public schools and the Ivy League, a Yale Law professor exposes the lies beneath aspirational meritocracy, damning it with data and anecdotes. In Markovits’s telling, the American Dream is a locked steel door that bars the middle-class from achievement and imprisons the children of elites in cells of excruciating expectations.

Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America

Earlier this year, television critic Emily Nussbaum’s I Like to Watc h regaled us with behind-the-scenes insights into the cultural power of the small screen. Now comes the  New York Times ’ television critic with a similarly masterful study that probes how television networks built up a vulgar xenophobe to boost ratings, a meditation on “a man who, through a four-decades-long TV performance, achieved symbiosis with the medium. Its impulses were his impulses; its appetites were his appetites; its mentality was his mentality.

This Fight Is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America's Middle Class

She’s been called the “long-distance runner” of the 2020 election. The indomitable Massachusetts Senator has emerged as the wonk’s dream date, the go-to candidate for hot takes on trade, healthcare, social justice, and her signature issue of economic inequality. She’s got a plan for virtually all of our challenges, tapping the varied arenas of her life, including a hardscrabble Oklahoma childhood, plus working as a schoolteacher, Harvard Law professor, and later, policy visionary. This Fight is Our Fight  is a manifesto for those who play by the rules and still feel shafted.

The Truths We Hold: An American Journey by Kamala Harris

In her second book,  California Senator Kamala Harris incorporates tales from her upbringing and how her mother motivated her to explain why she feels responsible for serving Americans in office. With its release, Harris is being touted as a potential 2020 White House contender, especially after saying she believes the U.S. is ready for a woman of color to be president.  

West Wingers by Gautam Raghavan

From a Latina immigration expert to a dessert chef enlisted as “spokesperson” for healthy eating, 18 former Obama administration staffers share their candid, affecting accounts of life at the White House.

Minority Leader by Stacey Abrams

Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams  was the first Black woman to lead a major party in the race for governor. In this blueprint for change, she riffs on budget battles and policy proposals while offering guidelines for a better you. 

Good and Mad by Rebecca Traister

The author of the bestselling All the Single Ladies   focuses on women's rage and whether sisterhood can bridge deep divides over race, class, and gender identity.

Unladylike by Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin

The hosts of the popular podcast of the same name bring practical tips and cheeky humor to help women fend off manspreading in the wild. Their book also comes with reminders of gender inequality: on average, women earn seventy-nine cents to every man's dollar.

Leadership: in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Examining the legacies of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin offers an invaluable take on how leadership is forged in the fires of adversity and triumph. 

How to Read a Protest by L.A. Kauffman

A seasoned activist shares her wisdom on the struggle for social change, using political movements such as Black Lives Matter , the Women's March , and the Bonus Army as examples.

One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson

The award-winning author of White Rage   explores the drive to purge voters of their right to cast a ballot, meanwhile exposing a decades-long plot to disenfranchise people of color. Her title serves as a gimlet-eyed analysis of President Lyndon B. Johnson, Chief Justice John Roberts, and Jim Crow laws.

Headshot of Hamilton Cain

A former book editor and the author of a memoir, This Boy's Faith, Hamilton Cain is Contributing Books Editor at Oprah Daily. As a freelance journalist, he has written for O, The Oprah Magazine, Men’s Health, The Good Men Project, and The List (Edinburgh, U.K.) and was a finalist for a National Magazine Award. He is currently a member of the National Book Critics Circle and lives with his family in Brooklyn.  

Presidential Election 2020

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Chasten Buttigieg on His Enduring Marriage

wilmington, delaware   august 19  democratic vice presidential nominee us sen kamala harris d ca and her husband douglas emhoff appear on stage after harris delivered her acceptance speech on the third night of the democratic national convention from the chase center august 19, 2020 in wilmington, delaware the convention, which was once expected to draw 50,000 people to milwaukee, wisconsin, is now taking place virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic harris is the first african american, first asian american, and third female vice presidential candidate on a major party ticket photo by win mcnameegetty images

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Joe Biden's Dogs Major and Champ Have Tons of Fans

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Kamala Harris's Step-Kids Call Her "Momala"

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washington, dc   january 20 joseph r biden jr is sworn in by associate justice john paul stevens to become vice president of the united states bidens wife, dr jill biden, looks on children ashley, hunter and beau also look on photo by scott j ferrellcongressional quarterlygetty images

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Politics books

written the book politics

Best books of 2023 The best politics books of 2023

2023 in culture the best books to give as presents this christmas, from piketty’s capital to hawking’s the theory of everything: can one book explain it all, the kingdom, the power, and the glory review: trump and his evangelical believers.

written the book politics

‘She got so mad at me’: book on the ‘Squad’ details AOC-Pelosi clashes

written the book politics

‘Bait and switch’: Liz Cheney book tears into Mike Johnson over pro-Trump January 6 brief

written the book politics

The Fabulist review: timely tale of the rise and fall of George Santos

written the book politics

‘George Santos models himself pretty directly off Trump’ – biographer Mark Chiusano

Mtg review: far-right rabble rouser makes case to be trump’s vp, ‘we will coup whoever we want’: the unbearable hubris of musk and the billionaire tech bros, trump called iowa evangelicals ‘so-called christians’ and ‘pieces of shit’, book says, book of the day how they broke britain by james o’brien review – a catalogue of disasters, ‘america first’ republican marjorie taylor greene prints book in canada, brief letters please stop giving nihilists a bad name, the g2 interview nadine dorries on cabals, cosmetic work and cameron’s peerage: ‘if you’re an etonian, someone just has a word with the king’, searching for the perfect republic: eric foner on the 14th amendment – and if it might stop trump, ‘just call him a child abuser’: trump told walker to use slur against warnock, book says, tired of winning review: jonathan karl on trump as hitler wannabe, standing my ground review: capitol cop harry dunn on january 6 and the trumpist threat, ‘i don’t think most americans realize what a coup is’: edel rodriguez takes on trump.

  • US politics
  • Republicans
  • Donald Trump
  • The far right
  • US elections 2024

written the book politics

50 Must-Read Books about American Politics

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Sarah S. Davis

Sarah S. Davis holds a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master's of Library Science from Clarion University, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Sarah has also written for Electric Literature, Kirkus Reviews, Audible, Psych Central, and more. Sarah is the founder of Broke By Books blog and runs a tarot reading business, Divination Vibration . Twitter: @missbookgoddess Instagram: @Sarahbookgoddess

View All posts by Sarah S. Davis

I wasn’t always a politics junkie, but over the last fifteen years, I’ve definitely become totally addicted to following politics and current affairs. During that time, and especially during the last ten years, sweeping changes have affected America. In an era where the news cycle is measured in hours, not days or weeks, it can be challenging to keep up to date on the underlying issues that have shaped American political history past and present. This epic list of 50 must-read books about American politics explores topics from a broad range of voices and perspectives, from feminism to fascism, parties to polling, and tribalism to globalism. These 50 best books should help you get up to speed with American politics.

The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate  by George Lakoff

“The ALL NEW   Don’t Think of an Elephant!  picks up where the original book left off—delving deeper into how framing works, how framing has evolved in the past decade, how to speak to people who harbor elements of both progressive and conservative worldviews, how to counter propaganda and slogans, and more.” (Amazon)

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America  by Colin Woodard

“An endlessly fascinating look at American regionalism and the eleven nations that continue to shape North America. According to award-winning journalist and historian Colin Woodard, North America is made up of eleven distinct nations each with its own unique historical roots. In American Nations , he takes readers on a journey through the history of our fractured continent offering a revolutionary and revelatory take on American identity and how the conflicts between them have shaped our past and continue to mold our future.” (Amazon)

Bad Feminist: Essays   by Roxane Gay

“In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman ( Sweet Valley High ) of color ( The Help ) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years ( Girls, Django in Chains ) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.” (Amazon)

Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work  by Gillian Thomas

“Gillian Thomas’s  Because of Sex  tells the story of how one law, our highest court, and a few tenacious women changed the American workplace forever. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act revolutionized the lives of America’s working women, making it illegal to discriminate ‘because of sex.’ But that simple phrase didn’t mean much until ordinary women began using the law to get justice on the job—and some took their fights all the way to the Supreme Court. These unsung heroines’ victories, and those of the other women profiled in  Because of Sex , dismantled a Mad Men world where women could only hope to play supporting roles, where sexual harassment was ‘just the way things are,’ and where pregnancy meant getting a pink slip.” (Amazon)

Citizen: An American Lyric  by Claudia Rankine

“Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media…The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry,  Citizen  is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named ‘post-race’ society.” (Amazon)

A Colony in a Nation  by Chris Hayes

“In  A Colony in a Nation ,  New York Times  best-selling author and Emmy Award–winning news anchor Chris Hayes upends the national conversation on policing and democracy. Drawing on wide-ranging historical, social, and political analysis, as well as deeply personal experiences with law enforcement, Hayes contends that our country has fractured in two: the Colony and the Nation. In the Nation, the law is venerated. In the Colony, fear and order undermine civil rights. With great empathy, Hayes seeks to understand this systemic divide, examining its ties to racial inequality, the omnipresent threat of guns, and the dangerous and unfortunate results of choices made by fear.” (Amazon)

The Best and the Brightest   by David Halberstam

“ The Best and the Brightest  is David Halberstam’s masterpiece, the defining history of the making of the Vietnam tragedy. Using portraits of America’s flawed policy makers and accounts of the forces that drove them,  The Best and the Brightest  reckons magnificently with the most important abiding question of our country’s recent history: Why did America become mired in Vietnam and why did it lose? As the definitive single-volume answer to that question, this enthralling book has never been superseded. It’s an American classic.” (Goodreads)

Dark Money: the Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right   by Jane Mayer

“In a riveting and indelible feat of reporting, Jane Mayer illuminates the history of an elite cadre of plutocrats—headed by the Kochs, the Scaifes, the Olins, and the Bradleys—who have bankrolled a systematic plan to fundamentally alter the American political system. Mayer traces a byzantine trail of billions of dollars spent by the network, revealing a staggering conglomeration of think tanks, academic institutions, media groups, courthouses, and government allies that have fallen under their sphere of influence. Drawing from hundreds of exclusive interviews, as well as extensive scrutiny of public records, private papers, and court proceedings, Mayer provides vivid portraits of the secretive figures behind the new American oligarchy and a searing look at the carefully concealed agendas steering the nation.” (Amazon)

Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World   by Jennifer Palmieri

“Framed as an empowering letter from former Hillary Clinton Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri to the first woman president, and by extension, to all women working to succeed in any field,  Dear Madam President  is filled with forward-thinking, practical advice for all women who are determined to seize control of their lives-from boardroom to living room.” (Amazon)

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America   by Nancy MacLean

“Behind today’s headlines of billionaires taking over our government is a secretive political establishment with long, deep, and troubling roots. The capitalist radical right has been working not simply to change who rules, but to fundamentally alter  the  rules of democratic governance. But billionaires did not launch this movement; a white intellectual in the embattled Jim Crow South did.  Democracy in Chains  names its true architect—the Nobel Prize-winning political economist James McGill Buchanan—and dissects the operation he and his colleagues designed over six decades to alter every branch of government to disempower the majority.” (Amazon)

Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom   by Condoleezza Rice

“From the former secretary of state and bestselling author—a sweeping look at the global struggle for democracy and why America must continue to support the cause of human freedom.” (Amazon)

Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics   by Cathy J. Cohen

“In  Democracy Remixed , award-winning scholar Cathy J. Cohen offers an authoritative and empirically powerful analysis of the state of black youth in America today. Utilizing the results from the Black Youth Project, a groundbreaking nationwide survey, Cohen focuses on what young Black Americans actually experience and think—and underscores the political repercussions…Through their words, these young people provide a complex and balanced picture of the intersection of opportunity and discrimination in their lives.  Democracy Remixed  provides the insight we need to transform the future of young Black Americans and American democracy.” (Amazon)

Dreams from My Father   by Barack Obama

“In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father—a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man—has been killed in a car accident. This sudden death inspires an emotional odyssey—first to a small town in Kansas, from which he retraces the migration of his mother’s family to Hawaii, and then to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, confronts the bitter truth of his father’s life, and at last reconciles his divided inheritance.”

Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power   by Rachel Maddow

“Written with bracing wit and intelligence, Rachel Maddow’s  Drift  argues that we’ve drifted away from America’s original ideals and become a nation weirdly at peace with perpetual war. To understand how we’ve arrived at such a dangerous place, Maddow takes us from the Vietnam War to today’s war in Afghanistan, along the way exploring Reagan’s radical presidency, the disturbing rise of executive authority, the gradual outsourcing of our war-making capabilities to private companies, the plummeting percentage of American families whose children fight our constant wars for us, and even the changing fortunes of G.I. Joe. ” (Amazon)

Fascism: A Warning   by Madeleine Albright

“The twentieth century was defined by the clash between democracy and Fascism, a struggle that created uncertainty about the survival of human freedom and left millions dead. Given the horrors of that experience, one might expect the world to reject the spiritual successors to Hitler and Mussolini should they arise in our era. In  Fascism: A Warning , Madeleine Albright draws on her experiences as a child in war-torn Europe and her distinguished career as a diplomat to question that assumption.” (Amazon)

From the Corner of the Oval: A Memoir   by Beck Dorey-Stein

“In 2012, Beck Dorey-Stein is working five part-time jobs and just scraping by when a posting on Craigslist lands her, improbably, in the Oval Office as one of Barack Obama’s stenographers. The ultimate D.C. outsider, she joins the elite team who accompany the president wherever he goes, recorder and mic in hand. On whirlwind trips across time zones, Beck forges friendships with a dynamic group of fellow travelers—young men and women who, like her, leave their real lives behind to hop aboard Air Force One in service of the president.”

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics   by Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, Minyon Moore, and Veronica Chambers

“The four most powerful African American women in politics share the story of their friendship and how it has changed politics in America. The lives of black women in American politics are remarkably absent from the shelves of bookstores and libraries.  For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics  is a sweeping view of American history from the vantage points of four women who have lived and worked behind the scenes in politics for over thirty years—Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, and Minyon Moore—a group of women who call themselves The Colored Girls.” (Amazon)

A Girl’s Guide to Joining the Resistance: A Feminist Handbook on Fighting for Good   by Emma Gray

“So—the presidential election of 2016 happened. You cried, you ranted, you marched. But how do you stay engaged for the long term? How do you keep fighting while also continuing your real life? How do you get involved when you feel far from the action? How do you stay vigilant without being furious all. the. time? Needing to take action after the election, Emma Gray, Executive Women’s Editor at  HuffPost , put on her journalist hat and set out to get answers to these questions from some of the most prominent thought leaders and activists of our time. She spoke with march organizers, and senators, long-time activists, and newcomers across political movements to find out the best ways to listen to those who have been doing this for a while, join in, and create sustainable action. In all of her conversations, one theme came up again and again: young women are essential to the resistance.” (Amazon)

The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Chris Whipple

“Through extensive, intimate interviews with eighteen   living chiefs (including Reince Priebus) and two former presidents, award-winning journalist and producer Chris Whipple pulls back the curtain on this unique fraternity. In doing so, he revises our understanding of presidential history, showing us how James Baker’s expert managing of the White House, the press, and Capitol Hill paved the way for the Reagan Revolution—and, conversely, how Watergate, the Iraq War, and even the bungled Obamacare rollout might   have been prevented by a more effective chief. Filled with shrewd analysis and never-before-reported details,  The Gatekeepers  offers an essential portrait of the toughest job in Washington.” (Amazon)

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s America by Rebecca Traister

“With eloquence and fervor, Rebecca tracks the history of female anger as political fuel—from suffragettes marching on the White House to office workers vacating their buildings after Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Here Traister explores women’s anger at both men and other women; anger between ideological allies and foes; the varied ways anger is perceived based on its owner; as well as the history of caricaturing and delegitimizing female anger; and the way women’s collective fury has become transformative political fuel—as is most certainly occurring today. She deconstructs society’s (and the media’s) condemnation of female emotion (notably, rage) and the impact of their resulting repercussions.” (Amazon)

How to Be an American: A Field Guide to Citizenship   by Silvia Hidalgo

“The current political climate has left many of us wondering how our government actually operates. Sure, we learned about it in school, but if put to the test, how many of us can correctly explain the branches of government? The history of politics? The differences and connections between local government and federal government? Enter  How to Be an American.  While author and illustrator Silvia Hidalgo was studying for her citizenship test, she quickly found that the materials provided by the government were lacking. In order to more easily absorb the information, Hidalgo started her own illustrated reference to civics facts and American history essentials. She’s collected her findings in How to Be an American , a freshly designed and illustrated two-color guide to all things America.” (Amazon)

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment   by Francis Fukuyama

“The  New York Times  bestselling author of  The Origins of Political Order  offers a provocative examination of modern identity politics: its origins, its effects, and what it means for domestic and international affairs of state.” (Amazon)

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America , edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding

“When 53 percent of white women voted for Donald Trump and 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton, how can women unite in Trump’s America? Nasty Women includes inspiring essays from a diverse group of talented women writers who seek to provide a broad look at how we got here and what we need to do to move forward.” (Amazon)

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness   by Michelle Alexander

“Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement.  The New Jim Crow  is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as ‘brave and bold,’ this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that ‘we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.'” (Amazon)

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court  by Jeffrey Toobin

“Acclaimed journalist Jeffrey Toobin takes us into the chambers of the most important—and secret—legal body in our country, the Supreme Court, revealing the complex dynamic among the nine people who decide the law of the land. An institution at a moment of transition, the Court now stands at a crucial point, with major changes in store on such issues as abortion, civil rights, and church-state relations. Based on exclusive interviews with the justices and with a keen sense of the Court’s history and the trajectory of its future, Jeffrey Toobin creates in  The Nine  a riveting story of one of the most important forces in American life today.” (Amazon)

Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America   by Rick Perlstein

“Told with vivid urgency and sharp political insight,  Nixonland  recaptures America’s turbulent 1960s and early 1970s and reveals how Richard Nixon rose from the political grave to seize and hold the presidency of the United States. Perlstein’s epic account begins in the blood and fire of the 1965 Watts riots, nine months after Lyndon Johnson’s historic landslide victory over Barry Goldwater appeared to herald a permanent liberal consensus in the United States. Yet the next year, scores of liberals were tossed out of Congress, America was more divided than ever, and a disgraced politician was on his way to a shocking comeback: Richard Nixon. Between 1965 and 1972 America experienced no less than a second civil war. Out of its ashes, the political world we know now was born.” (Amazon)

On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope   by DeRay McKesson

“In August 2014, twenty-nine-year-old activist DeRay Mckesson stood with hundreds of others on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, to push a message of justice and accountability. These protests, and others like them in cities across the country, resulted in the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Now, in his first book, Mckesson lays down the intellectual, pragmatic, and political framework for a new liberation movement. Continuing a conversation about activism, resistance, and justice that embraces our nation’s complex history, he dissects how deliberate oppression persists, how racial injustice strips our lives of promise, and how technology has added a new dimension to mass action and social change. He argues that our best efforts to combat injustice have been stunted by the belief that racism’s wounds are history, and suggests that intellectual purity has curtailed optimistic realism. The book offers a new framework and language for understanding the nature of oppression. With it, we can begin charting a course to dismantle the obvious and subtle structures that limit freedom.” (Amazon)

One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy   by Carol Anderson

“In her  New York Times  bestseller  White Rage , Carol Anderson laid bare an insidious history of policies that have systematically impeded black progress in America, from 1865 to our combustible present. With  One Person ,  No Vote , she chronicles a related history: the rollbacks to African American participation in the vote since the 2013 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Known as the  Shelby  ruling, this decision effectively allowed districts with a demonstrated history of racial discrimination to change voting requirements without approval from the Department of Justice.” (Amazon)

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century   by Timothy Snyder

“Timothy Snyder is one of the most celebrated historians of the Holocaust. In his books  Bloodlands  and  Black Earth , he has carefully dissected the events and values that enabled the rise of Hitler and Stalin and the execution of their catastrophic policies. With  Twenty Lessons , Snyder draws from the darkest hours of the twentieth century to provide hope for the twenty-first. As he writes, ‘Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism and communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.’  Twenty Lessons  is a call to arms and a guide to resistance, with invaluable ideas for how we can preserve our freedoms in the uncertain years to come.” (Goodreads)

A People’s History of the United States   by Howard Zinn

“Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research,  A People’s History   of the United States  is the only volume to tell America’s story from the point of view of—and in the words of—America’s women, factory workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, the working poor, and immigrant laborers. As historian Howard Zinn shows, many of our country’s greatest battles—the fights for a fair wage, an eight-hour workday, child-labor laws, health and safety standards, universal suffrage, women’s rights, racial equality—were carried out at the grassroots level, against bloody resistance.

“Covering Christopher Columbus’s arrival through President Clinton’s first term,  A People’s History of the United States  features insightful analysis of the most important events in our history.” (Amazon)

The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage  by Jared Yates Sexton

“The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore  is a firsthand account of the events that shaped the 2016 Presidential Election and the cultural forces that powered Donald Trump into the White House. Featuring in-the-field reports as well as deep analysis, Sexton’s book is not just the story of the most unexpected and divisive election in modern political history. It is also a sobering chronicle of our democracy’s political polarization—a result of our self-constructed, technologically-assisted echo chambers.” (Goodreads)

The Red and the Blue: The 1990s and the Birth of Political Tribalism   by Steve Kornacki

“In  The Red and the Blue , cable news star and acclaimed journalist Steve Kornacki follows the twin paths of Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich, two larger-than-life politicians who exploited the weakened structure of their respective parties to attain the highest offices. For Clinton, that meant contorting himself around the various factions of the Democratic party to win the presidency. Gingrich employed a scorched-earth strategy to upend the permanent Republican minority in the House, making him Speaker… With novelistic prose and a clear sense of history, Steve Kornacki masterfully weaves together the various elements of this rambunctious and hugely impactful era in American history, whose effects set the stage for our current political landscape.” (Amazon)

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion   by Jonathan Haidt

“Drawing on his twenty five years of groundbreaking research on moral psychology, Haidt shows how moral judgments arise not from reason but from gut feelings. He shows why liberals, conservatives, and libertarians have such different intuitions about right and wrong, and he shows why each side is actually right about many of its central concerns. In this subtle yet accessible book, Haidt gives you the key to understanding the miracle of human cooperation, as well as the curse of our eternal divisions and conflicts.” (Amazon)

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes

“Through deep access to insiders from the top to the bottom of the campaign, political writers Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes have reconstructed the key decisions and unseized opportunities, the well-intentioned misfires and the hidden thorns that turned a winnable contest into a devastating loss. Drawing on the authors’ deep knowledge of Hillary from their previous book, the acclaimed biography  HRC ,  Shattered  offers an object lesson in how Hillary herself made victory an uphill battle, how her difficulty articulating a vision irreparably hobbled her impact with voters, and how the campaign failed to internalize the lessons of populist fury from the hard-fought primary against Bernie Sanders.” (Amazon)

So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo

“In  So You Want to Talk About Race,  Editor at Large of The Establishment Ijeoma Oluo offers a contemporary, accessible take on the racial landscape in America, addressing head-on such issues as privilege, police brutality, intersectionality, micro-aggressions, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the ‘N’ word. Perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between people of color and white Americans struggling with race complexities, Oluo answers the questions readers don’t dare ask, and explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans.” (Amazon)

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right   by Arlie Russell Hochschild

“In  Strangers in Their Own Land , the renowned sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild embarks on a thought-provoking journey from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into Louisiana bayou country—a stronghold of the conservative right. As she gets to know people who strongly oppose many of the ideas she famously champions, Russell Hochschild nevertheless finds common ground and quickly warms to the people she meets—among them a Tea Party activist whose town has been swallowed by a sinkhole caused by a drilling accident—people whose concerns are actually ones that all Americans share: the desire for community, the embrace of family, and hopes for their children.” (Goodreads)

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln   by Doris Kearns Goodwin

“Acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin illuminates Abraham Lincoln’s political genius in this highly original work, as the one-term congressman and prairie lawyer rises from obscurity to prevail over three gifted rivals of national reputation to become president.” (Goodreads)

Under Fire: Reporting from the Front Lines of the Trump White House   by April Ryan

“Veteran White House reporter April Ryan thought she had seen everything in her two decades as a White House correspondent. And then came the Trump administration. In  Under Fire , Ryan takes us inside the confusion and chaos of the Trump White House to understand how she and other reporters adjusted to the new normal. She takes us inside the policy debates, the revolving door of personnel appointments, and what it is like when she, as a reporter asking difficult questions, finds herself in the spotlight, becoming part of the story.” (Amazon)

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America   by George Packer

“American democracy is beset by a sense of crisis. Seismic shifts during a single generation have created a country of winners and losers, allowing unprecedented freedom while rending the social contract, driving the political system to the verge of breakdown, and setting citizens adrift to find new paths forward. In  The Unwinding , George Packer tells the story of the past three decades by journeying through the lives of several Americans, including a son of tobacco farmers who becomes an evangelist for a new economy in the rural South, a factory worker in the Rust Belt trying to survive the collapse of her city, a Washington insider oscillating between political idealism and the lure of organized money, and a Silicon Valley billionaire who arrives at a radical vision of the future.” (Amazon)

War on Peace: The End of Diplomacy and the Decline of American Influence   by Ronan Farrow

“Drawing on newly unearthed documents, and richly informed by rare interviews with warlords, whistle-blowers, and policymakers—including every living former secretary of state from Henry Kissinger to Hillary Clinton to Rex Tillerson— War on Peace  makes a powerful case for an endangered profession. Diplomacy, Farrow argues, has declined after decades of political cowardice, shortsightedness, and outright malice—but it may just offer America a way out of a world at war.” (Amazon)

We Should All Be Feminists   by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“In this personal, eloquently-argued essay—adapted from the much-admired TEDx talk of the same name—Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century, one rooted in inclusion and awareness. Drawing extensively on her own experiences and her deep understanding of the often masked realities of sexual politics, here is one remarkable author’s exploration of what it means to be a woman now—and an of-the-moment rallying cry for why we should all be feminists.” (Amazon)

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy   by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“‘We were eight years in power’ was the lament of Reconstruction-era black politicians as the American experiment in multiracial democracy ended with the return of white supremacist rule in the South. In this sweeping collection of new and selected essays, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the tragic echoes of that history in our own time: the unprecedented election of a black president followed by a vicious backlash that fueled the election of the man Coates argues is America’s ‘first white president.'”(Amazon)

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

“In this ‘candid and blackly funny’ ( The New York Times ) memoir, Hillary Rodham Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. She takes us inside the intense personal experience of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major party in an election marked by rage, sexism, exhilarating highs and infuriating lows, stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and an opponent who broke all the rules.” (Amazon)

What It Takes: The Way to the White House   by Richard Ben Cramer

An American Iliad in the guise of contemporary political reportage, What It Takes penetrates the mystery at the heart of all presidential campaigns: How do presumably ordinary people acquire that mixture of ambition, stamina, and pure shamelessness that makes a true candidate? As he recounts the frenzied course of the 1988 presidential race—and scours the psyches of contenders from George Bush and Robert Dole to Michael Dukakis and Gary Hart—Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Richard Ben Cramer comes up with the answers, in a book that is vast, exhaustively researched, exhilarating, and sometimes appalling in its revelations.” (Amazon)

What You Should Know about Politics… But Don’t: A Nonpartisan Guide to the Issues That Matter by Jessamyn Conrad

“In a world of sound bites, deliberate misinformation, and a political scene colored by the blue versus red partisan divide, how does the average educated American find a reliable source that’s free of political spin?  What You Should Know About Politics…But Don’t  breaks it all down, issue by issue, explaining who stands for what, and why—whether it’s the economy, income inequality, Obamacare, foreign policy, education, immigration, or climate change. If you’re a Democrat, a Republican, or somewhere in between, it’s the perfect book to brush up on a single topic or read through to get a deeper understanding of the often mucky world of American politics.” (Amazon)

What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America by Thomas Frank

“ What’s the Matter with Kansas?  unravels the great political mystery of our day: Why do so many Americans vote against their economic and social interests? With his acclaimed wit and acuity, Thomas Frank answers the riddle by examining his home state, Kansas—a place once famous for its radicalism that now ranks among the nation’s most eager participants in the culture wars.” (Amazon)

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House   by Alyssa Mastromonaco

“Alyssa Mastromonaco worked for Barack Obama for almost a decade, and long before his run for president. From the then-senator’s early days in Congress to his years in the Oval Office, she made Hope and Change happen through blood, sweat, tears, and lots of briefing binders… Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?  is an intimate portrait of a president, a book about how to get stuff done, and the story of how one woman challenged, again and again, what a ‘White House official’ is supposed to look like.” (Amazon)

The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote   by Elaine Weiss

“Nashville, August 1920. Thirty-five states have ratified the Nineteenth Amendment, twelve have rejected or refused to vote, and one last state is needed. It all comes down to Tennessee, the moment of truth for the suffragists, after a seven-decade crusade…Following a handful of remarkable women who led their respective forces into battle, along with appearances by Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Frederick Douglass, and Eleanor Roosevelt, The Woman’s Hour is an inspiring story of activists winning their own freedom in one of the last campaigns forged in the shadow of the Civil War, and the beginning of the great twentieth-century battles for civil rights.” (Amazon)

A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order   by Richard Haass

“An examination of a world increasingly defined by disorder and a United States unable to shape the world in its image, from the president of the Council on Foreign Relations… A World in Disarray  is a wise examination, one rich in history, of the current world, along with how we got here and what needs doing. Haass shows that the world cannot have stability or prosperity without the United States, but that the United States cannot be a force for global stability and prosperity without its politicians and citizens reaching a new understanding.” (Amazon)

Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump by Dan Pfeiffer

“From Obama’s former communications director and current co-host of  Pod Save America  comes a colorful account of how politics, the media, and the Internet changed during the Obama presidency and how Democrats can fight back in the Trump era.” (Amazon)

Looking for more books about American politics and current events? Check out our Reading List for the 2018 Midterm Elections , guide to 4 Books to Get You Started on Contemporary International Politics , list of  5 Reasons to Read Outside Your Political Ideology , and  23 Resistance Poems to Express Your Rage .

written the book politics

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The Best Classic Books (That Are Actually Worth a Read)


The 11 Best Books on Politics

Here’s my list of the 11 best books on politics, in no particular order.

  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari – An impersonal account of human nature and behavior and the structures that form human society. Imagine if an alien visited Earth for a few thousand years and then had to write a report to explain humans back home.
  • The Prince by Machiavelli – Written almost 500 years ago, this book is just as relevant now as ever. Machiavelli spent his career as an advisor to royalty. This book was his realistic and amoral advice to any would-be ruler or person in power.
  • Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud – The culmination of decades of Freud’s work. Freud got many things wrong but he also got many things right. This book exemplifies the best in him while minimizing some of his odder conclusions and proclivities.
  • The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt – Haidt puts forth an argument for a personality-driven model of political beliefs. Hugely important to understand why people believe what they believe.
  • The True Believer by Eric Hoffer – Hoffer’s classic looks at the nature of mass movements, why they happen, and how they organize. Reportedly, this was Eisenhower’s favorite book.
  • The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama – Fukuyama’s magnum opus, a sprawling history of all human political systems and why some succeed and others fail.
  • Democracy in America by Alexis de Toqueville – The classic observations of a French aristocrat on the nascent American experiment. Many of de Tocqueville’s reflections on American culture are still relevant today.
  • On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder – A short primer on the causes and tendencies that lead to tyranny and what we can do to stop them.
  • The Republic by Plato – The origination of political science and a brilliant critique of government that is still important today.
  • Democracy for Realists by Larry Bartels and Christopher Aachen – An upsetting but sobering read on the data of democratic performance. A lot of counterintuitive and unsavory conclusions here.
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin – Lincoln was forced into a situation where his advisors and cabinet members came from different parties and hated each other. Incredibly, Lincoln used this to his advantage.

See all book lists

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The Best Political Novels

List of Fiction Classics About Goverment and Politics in America

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  • M.S., Agricultural Economics, Virginia Tech
  • B.A., Journalism, University of Georgia

Some of the best political writing can't be found in newspapers or magazines or any nonfiction in general. The best political novels in American history offer sweeping and sometimes dystopian views of government and the people who run it.

The books that appear below are works of fiction. But they tap into real fears and fundamental truths about America, its people, and its leaders. They're not all about Election Day intrigue but deal instead with some of the most sensitive issues faced by mankind: How we think about race, capitalism, and war.

'1984' by George Orwell

Orwell's reverse utopia , published in 1949, introduces Big Brother and other concepts like newspeak and thoughtcrime. In this imagined future, the world is dominated by three totalitarian superpowers.

The novel served as the basis for Apple Computer's TV ad that introduced the Macintosh in 1984; that ad became an issue in the 2007 Democratic primary battle.

'Advise and Consent' by Allen Drury

A bitter battle ensues in the Senate during confirmation hearings for the secretary of state nominee in this Pulitzer Prize-winning classic by Drury.

The former reporter for The Associated Press wrote this novel in 1959. It quickly became a bestseller and has withstood the test of time. It was the first book in a series and was also made into a 1962 movie starring Henry Fonda.

'All the King's Men' by Robert Penn Warren

As relevant today as when it was written in 1946, Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about American politics traces the rise and fall of demagogue Willie Stark, a fictional character who resembles the real-life Huey Long of Louisiana.

'Atlas Shrugged' by Ayn Rand

Rand's magnum opus is "a premier moral apologia for capitalism," just as her novel "The Fountainhead" was. Tremendous in scope, it is the story of the man who said he would stop the world's engine.

A Library of Congress survey found it to be the "second-most influential book for Americans." If you want to understand libertarian philosophy, consider starting here. Rand's books are popular among conservatives .

'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley

Huxley explores a utopian world state where children are born in laboratories and adults are encouraged to eat, drink, and be merry as they take their daily dose of "soma" to keep them smiling.

'Catch-22' by Joseph Heller

Joseph Heller mocks war, the military, and politics in this classic satire —his first novel—which also introduced a new phrase to our lexicon.

'Fahrenheit 451' by Ray Bradbury

In Bradbury's classic dystopia, firemen don't put out fires. They burn books, which are illegal. And citizens are encouraged not to think or reflect, but instead "be happy."

Buy the 50th-anniversary edition for an interview with Bradbury on the book's classic status and contemporary relevance.

'Lord of the Flies' by William Golding

Golding's classic tale shows how thin the veneer of civilization might be as it explores what happens in the absence of rules and order. Is man essentially good or not? Check out these quotations from our contemporary literature articles.

'The Manchurian Candidate' by Richard Condon

Condon's controversial 1959 Cold War thriller tells the story of Sgt. Raymond Shaw, an ex-prisoner of war and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Shaw was brainwashed by a Chinese psychological expert during his captivity in North Korea and has come home programmed to kill a U.S. presidential nominee. The 1962 movie was taken out of circulation for 25 years following the 1963 assassination of JFK.

'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

Lee explores attitudes towards race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s through the eyes of 8-year-old Scout Finch and her brother and father.

This novel focuses on the tension and conflict between prejudice and hypocrisy on one hand, and justice and perseverance on the other.

There are lots of other great political novels, including some that were written anonymously about supposedly fictional characters who resemble real politicians. Check out "Primary Colors" by Anonymous; "Seven Days in May" by Charles W. Bailey; "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison; and "O: A Presidential Novel" by Anonymous.

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Penguin Random House

17 Political Tell-All Books

Election season is in full swing, and emotions are running high. whether you’re looking to find your vote, discover important issues, or simply read scandalous exposes on domestic politics, these political tell-all books are for you., by mark leibovich.

This Town Book Cover Picture

Paperback $17.00

Buy from other retailers:, the obamians, by james mann.

The Obamians Book Cover Picture

The Audacity to Win

By david plouffe.

The Audacity to Win Book Cover Picture

Paperback $18.00

The great suppression, by zachary roth.

The Great Suppression Book Cover Picture

Hardcover $26.00

We’re still right, they’re still wrong, by james carville.

We're Still Right, They're Still Wrong Book Cover Picture


By kevin page.

Unaccountable Book Cover Picture

Paperback $20.00

The deep state, by mike lofgren.

The Deep State Book Cover Picture

Trump and Me

By mark singer.

Trump and Me Book Cover Picture

Primary Colors

By anonymous and joe klein.

Primary Colors Book Cover Picture

Double Down

By mark halperin and john heilemann.

Double Down Book Cover Picture

The Making of Donald Trump

By david cay johnston.

The Making of Donald Trump Book Cover Picture

Paperback $16.99

It’s the middle class, stupid, by james carville and stan greenberg.

It's the Middle Class, Stupid! Book Cover Picture

Paperback $24.00

Assholes: a theory of donald trump, by aaron james.

Assholes: A Theory of Donald Trump Book Cover Picture

Hardcover $15.95

The party is over.

The Party Is Over Book Cover Picture

The WikiLeaks Files

By wikileaks.

The WikiLeaks Files Book Cover Picture

Paperback $19.95

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Politics Published in Year: 2022

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Mike Johnson Wrote the Foreward for a Racist, Homophobic, Anti-Poor Book That Endorsed Pizzagate and Denigrated a Prisoner of War

written the book politics

By Bess Levin

Mike Johnson Wrote the Forward for a Racist Homophobic AntiPoor Book That Endorsed Pizzagate and Denigrated a Prisoner...

With George Santos ’s expulsion drama taking up all the attention in Congress this week, you might have forgotten that the new leader of the House, Mike Johnson, has a history of deeply homophobic remarks that have come out on a near-daily basis since he was elected, as well as equally shitty takes on things like abortion , mass shootings , and democracy . But he does! And on a whole bunch of other stuff as well.

CNN’s KFile reports that Johnson wrote the foreward for and then promoted a 2022 book written by Scott McKay  called The Revivalist Manifesto, which:

  • Says poor voters are “unsophisticated and susceptible to government dependency” and easy to manipulate with “Black Lives Matter ‘defund the police’ pandering”;
  • Describes Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as the “queer choice” for the Cabinet job, calls him “openly, and obnoxiously, gay,” and refers to him as “Gay Mayor Pete Buttigieg”
  • Claims the Biden administration purposely let undocumented immigrants into the US for voting purposes;
  • Says Barack Obama ’s “chief selling point was that he was black”;
  • Writes of the debunked conspiracy theory that Democratic officials ran a pedophile ring out of a pizza shop: “The Pizzagate scandal was born, and though some of the most outlandish allegations made in it were clearly disproven, other elements were not; the whole thing just seemed to be dismissed as debunked, and no explanation was ever given”;
  • Suggests Supreme Court Chief justice John Roberts had ties to sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein;
  • Declares John McCain used five and a half years as a prison of war during Vietnam “as a political get-out-of-jail-free card.”

In the foreward, Johnson writes: “Scott McKay presents a valuable and timely contribution with The Revivalist Manifesto because he has managed here to articulate well what millions of conscientious, freedom-loving Americans are sensing.” The congressman, per CNN, also actively promoted the book on his public social media platforms and even interviewed McCay in an episode of the podcast that he cohosts with his wife . During the episode, Johnson said, “I obviously believe in the product, or I wouldn’t have written the foreword. So I endorse the work.” Again, all of this happened last year.

After CNN’s story was published, a spokesman for the Speaker told the outlet that Johnson had never read the passages CNN highlighted, and that he “strongly disagrees” with them. McKay called the article a “hit piece.”

In Fox News’ alternate reality , DeSantis beat Newsom last night

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Judge hears Florida's argument that school book bans are protected government speech

written the book politics

Trying to get a better understanding of Florida's argument that public school libraries are meant to convey the government's message and that book removals are protected government speech , U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor posed a hypothetical.

During a Wednesday hearing in Tallahassee, the Trump-appointed judge asked a representative of Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody's office if, for example, the state believed an official could selectively remove school library books written by Democrat politicians.

Attorney Bridget O'Hickey replied in the affirmative. If Floridians didn't like it, she added, they could vote that official out.

Moody's office is defending Education Secretary Manny Diaz Jr. and members of the Florida Board of Education in a lawsuit filed over the removal of "And Tango Makes Three" from schools in Escambia and Lake counties. It's a children's book, based on a true story, about two male penguins that raise a chick together.

On Wednesday, Winsor heard arguments from both sides on whether the case should be dismissed.

While hurling multiple arguments at the plaintiffs — who are authors Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell as well as a third grade student who wants to access the book — the county and state defendants are putting a lot of weight in the government speech one. Moody even filed a legal brief promoting it in a separate book removal lawsuit that the state wasn't even named in.

That's despite a multitude of First Amendment experts and advocates raising concerns about the idea — some calling it "authoritarianism."

Florida makes controversial case: ‘That's authoritarianism’: Florida argues school libraries are for government messaging

Florida No. 1 in book banning: Florida is the nation's book banning leader, according to national free speech group

The government's 'government speech' argument

Winsor also asked O'Hickey if she thought the government speech doctrine applied to public libraries.

She indicated that was the state's take, but said it applied more forcefully to public school libraries. O'Hickey pointed to recent government speech court decisions, including one about park statues.

Meanwhile, plaintiff attorney Anna Neill said extending that doctrine so far was "extremely dangerous."

Winsor repeatedly stated throughout the hearing that the case law regarding government speech and school libraries was undeveloped, calling the lack of cases on it "peculiar." Talking through it on the bench, he weighed two extremes, wondering about a middle-ground.

One was if a court decision went all in for the government speech argument, possibly creating something like the hypothetical situation he presented to the state attorney.

Winsor expressed reservations about the other side of the coin too, critical of it leading to a situation where every decision about every book had to be subjected to First Amendment scrutiny. He speculated that a school district deciding not to put a pro-Adolf Hitler book on its shelves or removing antiquated books from the '50s with racist ideologies would also be considered "viewpoint discrimination."

The plaintiffs allege that about the removal of "And Tango Makes Three," saying it was targeted because of its exploration of a same-sex relationship, violating the First Amendment. They also say it violates students’ right to receive information and is unconstitutionally vague and broad.

The state's been tied into the case because of the Parental Rights in Education law, called "Don't Say Gay" by critics, which restricts classroom instruction on gender identity and instruction.

For months after the first version of the law took effect in July 2022, multiple counties removed books with LGBTQ themes because of it, like "And Tango Makes Three."

Then, in legal filings, Moody said it didn’t apply to school library books. Free speech group PEN America alerted school districts to this via September letters. 

Lake County’s school board brought “And Tango Makes Three” back, but it remains banned in Escambia County schools. The litigation, of course, continues against both.

Winsor said he intends to issue a ruling on the motion to dismiss the case "hopefully before too long."

This reporting content is supported by a partnership with Freedom Forum and Journalism Funding Partners. USA Today Network-Florida First Amendment reporter Douglas Soule is based in Tallahassee, Fla. He can be reached at  [email protected] . On X:  @DouglasSoule .


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