The 13 Essential Books on American Politics, According to Candidates
Including: The one volume that Obama and Bannon agree on
Fire and Fury. Trumpocracy. How Democracies Die.
Just a few of the provocative titles gracing best-seller lists (and probably a prominent display at your local bookstore) at the moment.
Clearly, Americans are searching for real insight in the age of “fake news.”
To help you wade through the fluff, we reached out to politicians both red and blue — most of them first-time candidates in 2018 — for their recommendations on the 13 best books about American politics.
To kick it off? In Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff’s Barnes and Noble-clearing account of the Donald Trump White House, the author offers an intriguing reading suggestion from none other than Steve Bannon:
“In the early days of the transition, Bannon had encouraged the Trump team to read David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest,” Wolff writes.
“[It] was a handbook about the characteristics of American power and routes to it. Not just the right schools and right backgrounds, although that, too, but the attitudes, conceits, affect, and language that would be most conducive to finding your way into the American power structure … A college-age Barack Obama was smitten with the book, as was Rhodes Scholar Bill Clinton.”
Hold on. Bannon, Obama and Clinton have something in common? That’s reason enough to pick up the book, even if you’re not accustomed to taking book recommendations from a man who allegedly filled his bathtub with acid.
For advice from more reputable sources, try the suggestions below, as curated by candidates that range from a self-styled progressive Republican to Paul Ryan’s most formidable opponent, known to most as “Iron Stache.”
Lindsay Brown (R)
Running for: U.S. House, New Jersey, District 7
Book recommendation: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
“Haidt is a moral psychologist who has spent much of his career studying human value systems and why we are so emotionally charged by what we perceive as moral transgressions and morality. In [this book], he lays out the evolutionary basis for morality and our current two-party political system, explaining why politics make us so emotional (and why politics are driven by emotion) and why we dehumanize members of the other party. Ultimately, what Haidt conveys is that humans have a shared set of core values but each camp is talking about those values in a completely different language.”
Brown’s other suggestions: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, White Working Class by Joan C. Williams, Shattered by Amie Parnes and Jonathan Allen, and Don’t Think of an Elephant! by George Lakoff
Fayrouz Saad (D)
Running for: U.S. House, Michigan, District 11
Book recommendation: Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count
“It is a very detailed description of what lead us to the current district drawings we have and how the Republican party organized to gerrymander state and federal districts. It is insightful but also helped me understand the state of our political environment, how we got here and how much work Democrats still have ahead of them to take back state and federal seats.”
Dean Phillips (D)
Running for: U.S. House, Minnesota, District 3
Book recommendation: Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
“An outstanding collection of stories about the relationships between Burr, Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin, Adams, Madison and Washington and the challenges they faced in navigating the newly established United States through uncharted waters in the late 18th century. It’s a reminder of both the fragility and durability of the American experiment as well as how our first political parties formed, and it illuminates issues with which we continue to grapple over 200 years later.”
Dave Min (D)
Running for: U.S. House, California, District 45
Book recommendation: Capital in the Twenty-First Century
“Piketty highlights the impacts of income inequality, and is applicable to the issues our country faces today. We must work to create a more level playing field for our working families and make sure that everyone has a fair shot at the American Dream, of which economic mobility is the cornerstone.”
Morgan Zegers (R)
Running for: New York State Assembly, District 113
Book recommendation: Jack Kemp: The Bleeding-Heart Conservative Who Changed America
“Jack Kemp was a prominent Republican in Washington, but above all, he was a proud American. [This book] highlights his ability to reach an end goal by building coalitions and bringing people together. Kemp’s ability to get results is laid out in this biography and encourages the reader to take on the same problem-solving mentality that is much-needed at this time in American politics.”
Haley Stevens (D)
Running for: U.S. House, Michigan, District 11
Book recommendation: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
“In order to understand the present, we must know the past. Morris’s account of Roosevelt’s remarkable life and rise to political prominence at the turn of the last century is a must-read account of a legendary president and the events that influenced his approach to leadership.”
Carlos Menchaca (D)
New York City Council Member, District 38
Book recommendation: Making a Global Immigrant Neighborhood: Brooklyn’s Sunset Park
“Hum’s book paints a very detailed picture of how Sunset Park — one of the neighborhoods I represent at the New York City Council — became the very diverse community it is today. The book explains how Chinese and Latino immigrants have become key players in the development and advancement of the neighborhood. What’s happening in Sunset Park is not an isolated case, therefore, this book is a must-read for those interested in finding out how our immigrant communities are shaping our neighborhoods and ultimately influencing our city policies.”
Randy Bryce (D)
Running for: U.S. House, Wisconsin, District 1
Book recommendation: Giannis Antetokounmpo: The Inspiring Story of One of Basketball’s Rising Superstars
Bryce recommends this biography “because politics could use more sportsmanship these days.”
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