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50 Must-Read Books About American Politics

50 Must-Read Books About American Politics

By Book Riot

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About the list

It can be difficult to keep up with the latest news in American politics, but that doesn't mean you can't still get educated. For a list of books that will help you freshen up on all things politics, check out these titles. We're sure you'll find something you love

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The All New Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate

2014 | George Lakoff, Chris Sorensen

Since it became an international bestseller in 2004, Don't Think of an Elephant! has been the definitive handbook for progressives who want to articulate their goals and values to voters, understand how conservatives think and why people often vote against their best interests, and frame the political debate. Completely revised and updated to tackle today's issues, the 10th Anniversary Edition not only explains what framing is and how it works but also reveals why, after a brief stint of winning the framing wars in the 2008 elections, the Democrats have gone back to losing them, and what can be done about it. In this powerful new volume, George Lakoff delves into the issues that will dominate the midterm elections in 2014, the coming presidential elections, and beyond. He examines the current progressive and conservative frames on climate change, inequality, immigration, education, abortion, marriage, healthcare, national security, energy, and more. He explores why some issues have been difficult to frame, guides readers on how to frame complex issues without losing important context, and drives home the important differences between framing and spin. Do you think facts alone can win a debate? Do you think you know what makes a Tea Party follower tick? Do you think you understand how to communicate on key issues that can improve peoples' lives? Whether you answer yes or no, the insights in Don't Think of an Elephant! will not only surprise you, but also give you the tools you need to develop frames that work, and eradicate frames that backfire.

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Because of Sex

2016 | Gillian Thomas

“Meticulously researched and rewarding to read...Thomas is a gifted storyteller.” —The New York Times Book Review Best known as a monumental achievement of the civil rights movement, the 1964 Civil Rights Act also revolutionized the lives of America’s working women. Title VII of the law made 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. Among them were Ida Phillips, denied an assembly line job because she had a preschool-age child; Kim Rawlinson, who fought to become a prison guard—a “man’s job”; Mechelle Vinson, who brought a lawsuit for sexual abuse before “sexual harassment” even had a name; Ann Hopkins, denied partnership at a Big Eight accounting firm because the men in charge thought she needed "a course at charm school”; and most recently, Peggy Young, UPS truck driver, forced to take an unpaid leave while pregnant because she asked for a temporary reprieve from heavy lifting. These unsung heroines’ victories, and those of the other women profiled in Gillian Thomas' 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. Through first-person accounts and vivid narrative, Because of Sex tells the story of how one law, our highest court, and a few tenacious women changed the American workplace forever.

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Citizen

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2014 | Claudia Rankine

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* Finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry * * Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry * Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism * Winner of the NAACP Image Award * Winner of the L.A. Times Book Prize * Winner of the PEN Open Book Award * ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New Yorker, Boston Globe, The Atlantic, BuzzFeed, NPR. Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, Slate, Time Out New York, Vulture, Refinery 29, and many more . . . A provocative meditation on race, Claudia Rankine's long-awaited follow up to her groundbreaking book Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric. Claudia Rankine's bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV-everywhere, all the time. 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.

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A Colony in a Nation

2017 | Christopher Hayes

America likes to tell itself that it inhabits a postracial world, yet nearly every empirical measure--wealth, unemployment, incarceration, school segregation--reveals that racial inequality has barely improved since 1968, when Richard Nixon became our first "law and order" president. With the clarity and originality that distinguished his prescient bestseller, Twilight of the Elites, Chris Hayes upends our national conversation on policing and democracy in a book of wide-ranging historical, social, and political analysis. Hayes contends our country has fractured in two: the Colony and the Nation. In the Nation, we venerate the law. In the Colony, we obsess over order, fear trumps civil rights, and aggressive policing resembles occupation. A Colony in a Nation explains how a country founded on justice now looks like something uncomfortably close to a police state. How and why did Americans build a system where conditions in Ferguson and West Baltimore mirror those that sparked the American Revolution? A Colony in a Nation examines the surge in crime that began in the 1960s and peaked in the 1990s, and the unprecedented decline that followed. Drawing on close-hand reporting at flashpoints of racial conflict, as well as deeply personal experiences with policing, Hayes explores cultural touchstones, from the influential "broken windows" theory to the "squeegee men" of late-1980s Manhattan, to show how fear causes us to make dangerous and unfortunate choices, both in our society and at the personal level. With great empathy, he seeks to understand the challenges of policing communities haunted by the omnipresent threat of guns. Most important, he shows that a more democratic and sympathetic justice system already exists--in a place we least suspect. A Colony in a Nation is an essential book--searing and insightful--that will reframe our thinking about law and order in the years to come.

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The Best and the Brightest

1993 | David Halberstam

David Halberstam's masterpiece, the defining history of the making of the Vietnam tragedy, with a new Foreword by Senator John McCain. "A rich, entertaining, and profound reading experience."--The New York Times 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 we lose? As the definitive single-volume answer to that question, this enthralling book has never been superseded. It is an American classic. Praise for The Best and the Brightest "The most comprehensive saga of how America became involved in Vietnam. . . . It is also the Iliad of the American empire and the Odyssey of this nation's search for its idealistic soul. The Best and the Brightest is almost like watching an Alfred Hitchcock thriller."--The Boston Globe "Deeply moving . . . We cannot help but feel the compelling power of this narrative. . . . Dramatic and tragic, a chain of events overwhelming in their force, a distant war embodying illusions and myths, terror and violence, confusions and courage, blindness, pride, and arrogance."--Los Angeles Times "A fascinating tale of folly and self-deception . . . An] absorbing, detailed, and devastatingly caustic tale of Washington in the days of the Caesars."--The Washington Post Book World "Seductively readable . . . It is a staggeringly ambitious undertaking that is fully matched by Halberstam's performance. . . . This is in all ways an admirable and necessary book."--Newsweek "A story every American should read."--St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

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2016 | Jane Mayer

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Why is America living in an age of profound economic inequality? Why, despite the desperate need to address climate change, have even modest environmental efforts been defeated again and again? Why have protections for employees been decimated? Why do hedge-fund billionaires pay a far lower tax rate than middle-class workers? The conventional answer is that a popular uprising against “big government” led to the ascendancy of a broad-based conservative movement. But as Jane Mayer shows in this powerful, meticulously reported history, a network of exceedingly wealthy people with extreme libertarian views bankrolled a systematic, step-by-step plan to fundamentally alter the American political system. The network has brought together some of the richest people on the planet. Their core beliefs—that taxes are a form of tyranny; that government oversight of business is an assault on freedom—are sincerely held. But these beliefs also advance their personal and corporate interests: Many of their companies have run afoul of federal pollution, worker safety, securities, and tax laws. The chief figures in the network are Charles and David Koch, whose father made his fortune in part by building oil refineries in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany. The patriarch later was a founding member of the John Birch Society, whose politics were so radical it believed Dwight Eisenhower was a communist. The brothers were schooled in a political philosophy that asserted the only role of government is to provide security and to enforce property rights. When libertarian ideas proved decidedly unpopular with voters, the Koch brothers and their allies chose another path. If they pooled their vast resources, they could fund an interlocking array of organizations that could work in tandem to influence and ultimately control academic institutions, think tanks, the courts, statehouses, Congress, and, they hoped, the presidency. Richard Mellon Scaife, the mercurial heir to banking and oil fortunes, had the brilliant insight that most of their political activities could be written off as tax-deductible “philanthropy.” These organizations were given innocuous names such as Americans for Prosperity. Funding sources were hidden whenever possible. This process reached its apotheosis with the allegedly populist Tea Party movement, abetted mightily by the Citizens United decision—a case conceived of by legal advocates funded by the network. The political operatives the network employs are disciplined, smart, and at times ruthless. Mayer documents instances in which people affiliated with these groups hired private detectives to impugn whistle-blowers, journalists, and even government investigators. And their efforts have been remarkably successful. Libertarian views on taxes and regulation, once far outside the mainstream and still rejected by most Americans, are ascendant in the majority of state governments, the Supreme Court, and Congress. Meaningful environmental, labor, finance, and tax reforms have been stymied. Jane Mayer spent five years conducting hundreds of interviews-including with several sources within the network-and scoured public records, private papers, and court proceedings in reporting this book. In a taut and utterly convincing narrative, she traces the byzantine trail of the billions of dollars spent by the network and provides vivid portraits of the colorful figures behind the new American oligarchy. Dark Money is a book that must be read by anyone who cares about the future of American democracy.

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