11 books that will make you smarter about politics

Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty ImagesPolitics can be difficult to follow, but these 11 books make it easier.
  • Politics can sometimes be difficult to follow, but it pays to be knowledgeable of pressing issues that deal with the current and future state of the US.
  • The following books are largely nonpartisan and discuss diverse eras, figures, and topics in American politics.
  • Here are 11 books that will help make you smarter about American politics.

Most people will agree that we’re in an unprecedented era of US politics, from our unorthodox president and the rise of social activism to the surge of women running for office.

Plus, midterm elections are this year, so brushing up on your politics is a good idea if you want to be a meaningful part of the national conversation.

Here are 11 books that will help you sharpen your political know-how, no matter which side of the political spectrum you fall on.


1. ‘What You Should Know About Politics…But Don’t’ by Jessamyn Conrad

AmazonConrad explores both sides of important American issues.

This nonpartisan primer on the most pressing issues in American politics breaks down everything from health care and the economy to climate change and energy sources, including who stands on which side of each issue and why.

Whether you lean left or right, you’ll find “What You Should Know About Politics” highly informative.


2. ‘Fascism: A Warning’ by Madeleine Albright

AmazonAlbright outlines how the twentieth century was defined by the clash between democracy and Fascism.

Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright released “Fascism: A Warning” in April 2018, and it quickly became a No. 1 New York Times best-seller. The book examines fascist rule in the 20th century, including its warning signs and after-effects.


3. ‘The Best and the Brightest’ by David Halberstam

AmazonThis novel dives into how America became involved in the Vietnam War.

Journalist David Halberstam spent three years researching and two years writing “The Best and the Brightest” to understand how the United States became mired in the Vietnam War. It also ended up serving as a guide to achieving power in America for a generation of future policy experts.


4. ‘Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln’ by Doris Kearns Goodwin

AmazonA look into Lincoln’s life and political ideologies.

The inspiration for the 2012 movie “Lincoln,” “Team of Rivals” profiles the 16th president’s rise from a prairie lawyer to an accomplished president. It examines how he helped achieve victory in the Civil War, despite his disgruntled cabinet. The book, by acclaimed historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, was a No. 1 New York Times best-seller.


5. ‘The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics’ by John Judis

Amazon‘The Populist Explosion’explores why it’s important to understand the US populist movement.

This fact-based discussion of the political force of populism – technically defined as support for the concerns of ordinary people – examines the prevailing anti-establishment viewpoint of citizens in the United States and Europe today. Written by a former editor of The New Republic, “The Populist Explosion” posits that populism will long endure on both sides of the political spectrum.


6. ‘Alexander Hamilton’ by Ron Chernow

Penguin Random HouseA modern biography of how Hamilton overcame all odds to shape newborn America.

Even if you’re not a Hamilton fan, Ron Chernow’s biography – which inspiredLin-Manuel Mirandato write the Broadway smash – paints a vivid picture of the early years of our nation and the intentions of the founding fathers. For those wondering how our government came to be what it is today, this tome is illuminating.


7. ‘Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do’ by Andrew Gelman

AmazonGelman’s novel includes data and easy-to-read graphics that explain the 2008 election.

There’s no denying that we’re a divided nation – between red and blue, conservative and liberal, poor and rich. “Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State” serves to debunk the stereotypes attributed to each side of the spectrum with hard data, including polling numbers.


8. ‘Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty’ by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

AmazonSome nations are successful, while others fall apart due to poverty, sickness, war, and famine.

If you’ve ever wondered why some nations thrive while others barely survive, check out “Why Nations Fail.” Based on 15 years of research, it examines the economics and politics of countries all over the world and how those policies resulted in success or failure.


9. ‘All the King’s Men’ by Robert Penn Warren

AmazonWarren’s novel outlines American political morality.

Considered by many as the greatest American political novel, Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men” details the rise of an ambitious Southern governor, supposedly based on former Louisiana Gov. Huey Long. It’s no surprise that this powerful 1940s classic won the Pulitzer Prize.


10. ‘The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court’ by Jeffrey Toobin

AmazonReveals the complex dynamic among the United States’ legal body.

This nonfiction look at the judicial branch is so compelling that it reads like fiction. Written by journalist Jeffrey Toobin, “The Nine” was named a New York Times best book of the year.


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

AmazonWoodard’s book highlights regionalism in America.

In “American Nations,” Colin Woodard looks beyond the factions of red and blue in our country and posits that the United States is divided into 11 distinct state cultures. He goes further to explain that these cultures provide deep insight into the way states vote.


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