10 books that will help you navigate politics
Now more than ever, it’s important to stay in the know about politics. But we’ll admit that some days, watching the news or scrolling through Twitter can result in one big frustrating, confusing headache.
We contact our elected officials to voice our opinions. We march and strike to show our solidarity. And we donate to worthy causes like Planned Parenthood and the hardworking ACLU. But even still, some days it doesn’t feel like enough.
There’s something else you can do: You can try to understand why and how we got here.
Want to learn more about politics, but aren’t sure where to start? Pick up one of these books. Most of these titles are intended to appeal to everyone, regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum. We recommend you approach them with an open mind and a willingness to learn more about people, history, and politics.
1. The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt
Set your beliefs aside for a moment as psychologist Jonathan Haidt challenges conventional thinking about morality, politics, and religion. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion was first published in 2012, but Haidt’s analysis is especially relevant following the 2016 presidential election.
2. It’s Even Worse Than It Looks by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein
Mann and Ornstein are congressional scholars who pinpointed two big problems in U.S. Congress. One, that our political parties are seriously mismatched. And two, that both parties don’t always play by the same rules. It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the Politics of Extremism examines how our lawmakers abandoned the idea of compromise in favor of hyperpartisanship.
3. The Unwinding by George Packer
In The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America, George Packer gets personal. He introduces readers to a wide variety of real Americans, telling the intimate stories of everyone from the son of a tobacco farmer to a Silicon Valley billionaire. In doing so (and without passing judgment), he paints a very real picture of everything that’s wrong with American society. Though dark at times, you can’t help but be inspired by the grittiness of their stories.
4. Because of Sex by Gillian Thomas
We would be remiss not to include a title about sexual discrimination in the workplace. Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work is an informative, well-researched piece about Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. From suing for sexual harassment to fighting for maternity leave, Gillian Thomas profiles women who changed the workplace forever.
5. Sleeping Giant by Tamara Draut
The working class received a lot of attention during the 2016 presidential election, and many cite Hillary’s loss due to low popularity among the group. If you want to learn more about the working class’s struggles, how they got left behind, and how they’re fighting back, Sleeping Giant: How the New Working Class Will Transform America is a great introduction.
6. The Fractured Republic by Yuvaul Levin
Politicians and voters on both sides seem to be nostalgic for a “better” time. For liberals it’s the mid-twentieth century, when public programs boomed to solve social problems. And for conservatives, it’s the Reagan Era of deregulation and lower taxes. Yuvaul Levin argues that this nostalgia blinds our ability to see how America has really changed. In The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism, he attempts to bring readers back to the present and modernize politics.
7. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
J.D. Vance’s book is part memoir, part historical analysis, and part meditation on the loss of the American dream. Many tout Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis as the book that explains the rise of Trump’s popularity. When read with empathy, it offers valuable insight into the mind of Middle America.
8. What We Do Now edited by Dennis Johnson
It’s a question that many people asked after the 2016 presidential election: What do we do now? If you’re ever feeling lost or helpless, pick up What We Do Now: Standing Up for Your Values in Trump’s America. The collection of essays hit bookstores just a few days before Trump’s inauguration to offer hope, heart, and real strategies about what to do next.
9. Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen
At this point, the term “fake news” is old news. But how did we get here? In Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History, Kurt Andersen dissects our post-truth world. He argues that it stems from our instinct to believe in make-believe — yes, really.
10. Unbelievable by Katy Tur
Quick, describe the 2016 presidential election in one word. To borrow one that Trump repeated in every stump speech and on every network, it was pretty unbelievable. Which is exactly what Katy Tur titled her memoir about her experience on the road covering the election. The NBC News correspondent followed Trump across the country for a year and a half and faced endless criticism from the candidate. Does Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History lean to the left? Yes. But it also tells the truth — and highlights the facts — which is more important than ever right now.