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As we begin 2021, we look back on the past several years of historic political and social events. We have become witnesses to a turbulent political landscape, resulting in dramatic shifts in both public and private life. In times of great change, we often turn to books to try to better understand the current moment. What does this mean for our future? Who does this affect and how? How did we get to where we are now? To help in this exploration, we’ve compiled a list of great reads that dive into the layered and complex topic of politics today. Enjoy!
The Storm Before the Calm by George Friedman
In his riveting book, noted forecaster and bestselling author George Friedman turns to the future of the United States. American history must be viewed in cycles—particularly, an eighty-year “institutional cycle” that has defined us (there are three such examples—the Revolutionary War/founding, the Civil War, and World War II), and a fifty-year “socio-economic cycle” that has seen the formation of the industrial classes, baby boomers, and the middle classes. These two major cycles are both converging on the late 2020s—a time in which many of these foundations will change. The United States will have to endure upheaval and possible conflict, but also, ultimately, increased strength, stability, and power in the world. With provocative and entertaining analysis, Friedman gives readers a fascinating look at what’s to come.
From the bestselling author of Saving Capitalism and The Common Good, The System shows how wealth and power have interacted to install an elite oligarchy, eviscerate the middle class, and undermine democracy. Robert B. Reich exposes how those at the top propagate myths about meritocracy, national competitiveness, corporate social responsibility, and the “free market” to distract most Americans from their accumulation of extraordinary wealth and power. This thought-provoking book provides concrete steps to demystify politics so that we might instill fundamental change and demand that democracy works for the majority once again.
Anand Giridharadas takes us into the inner sanctums of a new gilded age, where the rich and powerful fight for equality and justice any way they can—except ways that threaten the social order and their position atop it. Giridharadas asks hard questions: Why, for example, should our gravest problems be solved by the unelected upper crust instead of the public institutions it erodes by lobbying and dodging taxes? His groundbreaking investigation has already forced a great, sorely needed reckoning among the world’s wealthiest, and it points toward an answer: Rather than rely on scraps from the winners, we must take on the grueling democratic work of building more robust, egalitarian institutions and truly changing the world—a call to action for elites and everyday citizens alike.
What does it mean to be American? In this starkly illuminating and impassioned book, Pulitzer Prize finalist Laila Lalami recounts her unlikely journey from Moroccan immigrant to U.S. citizen, using it as a starting point for her exploration of the rights, liberties, and protections that are traditionally associated with American citizenship. She poignantly illustrates how white supremacy survives through adaptation and legislation, keeping the modern equivalent of white male landowners at the top of the social hierarchy. Conditional citizens, she argues, are all the people with whom America embraces with one arm and pushes away with the other. Brilliantly argued and deeply personal, Conditional Citizens weaves together Lalami’s own experiences with explorations of the place of nonwhites in the broader American culture.
The former federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, has spent much of his life examining our legal system, pushing to make it better, and prosecuting those looking to subvert it. Bharara believes in our system and knows it must be protected, but to do so, he argues, we must also acknowledge and allow for flaws both in our justice system and in human nature. Bharara uses the many illustrative anecdotes and case histories from his storied, formidable career to shed light on the realities of the legal system. Inspiring and inspiringly written, Doing Justice gives us hope that rational and objective fact-based thinking, combined with compassion, can help us achieve truth and justice in our daily lives.
Rahm Emanuel, former two-term mayor of Chicago and White House chief of staff for President Barack Obama, offers a firsthand account of how cities, rather than the federal government, stand at the center of innovation and effective governance. Drawing on his own experiences in Chicago, and on his relationships with other mayors around America, Emanuel provides dozens of examples to show how cities are improving education, infrastructure, job conditions, and environmental policy at a local level. The Nation City maps out a new, energizing, and hopeful way forward.
Collusion by Luke Harding
December 2016. Luke Harding, the Guardian reporter and former Moscow bureau chief, quietly meets former MI6 officer Christopher Steele in a London pub to discuss President-elect Donald Trump’s Russia connections. A month later, Steele’s now-famous dossier sparks what may be the biggest scandal of the modern era. Drawing on new material and his expert understanding of Moscow and its players, Harding takes the reader through every bizarre and disquieting detail of the “Trump-Russia” story—an event so huge it involves international espionage, off-shore banks, sketchy real estate deals, the Miss Universe pageant, mobsters, money laundering, poisoned dissidents, computer hacking, and the most shocking election in American history.
From the United States and Britain to continental Europe and beyond, liberal democracy is under siege, while authoritarianism is on the rise. In Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of Soviet atrocities who was one of the first American journalists to raise an alarm about antidemocratic trends in the West, explains the lure of nationalism and autocracy. In this captivating essay, she contends that political systems with radically simple beliefs are inherently appealing, especially when they benefit the loyal to the exclusion of everyone else. Elegantly written and urgently argued, Twilight of Democracy is a brilliant dissection of a world-shaking shift and a stirring glimpse of the road back to democratic values.
Tightrope by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Drawing us deep into an “other America,” the authors tell this story, in part, through the lives of some of the people with whom Kristof grew up in rural Yamhill, Oregon. It’s an area that prospered for much of the twentieth century but has been devastated in the last few decades as blue-collar jobs disappeared.
About a quarter of the children on Kristof’s old school bus died in adulthood from drugs, alcohol, suicide, or reckless accidents. While these particular stories unfolded in one corner of the country, they are representative of many places the authors write about, ranging from the Dakotas and Oklahoma to New York and Virginia. With their superb, nuanced reportage, Kristof and WuDunn have given us a book that is both riveting and impossible to ignore.
Finding Latinx by Paola Ramos
Young Latinos across the United States are redefining their identities, pushing boundaries, and awakening politically in powerful and surprising ways. In this empowering cross-country travelogue, journalist and activist Paola Ramos embarks on a journey to find the communities of people defining the controversial term, “Latinx.” Drawing on intensive field research as well as her own personal story, Ramos chronicles how “Latinx” has given rise to a sense of collectivity and solidarity among Latinos unseen in this country for decades. A vital and inspiring work of reportage, Finding Latinx calls on all of us to expand our understanding of what it means to be Latino and what it means to be American. The first step toward change, writes Ramos, is for us to recognize who we are.