It’s election season again…get out your tums, aspirin, and a bottle of your favorite flavored brandy – your election survival kit, as we like to call it here at Sacred Chickens. The other thing we do here to keep calm and decide how to vote is read. No surprise.
Here’s a list of some of the books we find intriguing. Some of these books bring insight to current events, some we ingested long ago, and they have become part of our internal political microbiome. All of them illuminate some aspect of political life we think you’ll find helpful or at least interesting. What books are you going to read this election season?
Julie - I’ve read quite a few books over the last decade or so that have influenced my thought processes on politics. A couple that I read nearly ten years ago stuck with me and I still refer to them. Even though these books are not new releases, they still resonate. In fact, in a way, I think they’re even more interesting now than they were then because they provide some insight into the underpinnings of our current political landscape. I don’t mind skipping around in time a little. (On my current reading list I have a couple books, one much older, Chaos and Community, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and one extremely current, Why We’re Polarized, by Ezra Klein.) But the time period represented by the two books I’ve chosen is one in which I was changing, and these books gave me a lot of insight into the systems that molded me.
The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander
2010 (new edition released in 2020)
Written by a civil rights attorney and legal scholar, the book explores the racist underpinnings of the American justice system with fact after fact, statistic after statistic. Her clear, rational prose leaves no room for escape. The system is broken, broken on purpose, and it damages us all. This book makes a compelling case for change based on a heart-rending exploration of the past and present foundations of incarceration in this country. Whatever you think you know about the justice system, you will be surprised at what Alexander turns up in this thoughtful and harrowing book.
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, by Chris Hedges
Written by a Pulitzer prize winning author and former seminary student with a master’s degree in divinity, this book struck me as somewhat flawed when I first read it. In fact, although I found it thought-provoking and well-researched, I found the book somewhat over-the-top rhetorically. In retrospect, it was prophetic. The author drew a line from some of the most fundamentalist and fringe right wing religious groups straight to the politicians of the day. At the time, his insistence that these bands of fringe theocrats were dangerous and could achieve immense power in government seemed a bridge too far. Surely, I thought, the obvious dalliance with such groups was in name only, for political purpose, to be discarded when democracy itself was threatened. Maybe it’s time for another look at this book. While there’s still no way to judge whether or not Hedge’s psychological theories of why are true, the results predicted by the author have certainly come to pass.
Politics has always interested me, so naturally I have many more recommendations where these came from. Not only do I consider it a civic duty to be informed and to vote, I'm also interested in the legislation because simply put it affects each and every one of us in some way. We cannot pretend otherwise, because the personal is political. I take that very seriously, because it's true. You cannot get away from politics, because it affects every area of our lives in some way or another. I am also interested in the politics of the past, particularly the republics that came before us, which is why there is a book about the Roman Senate in here. Enjoy!
Conspirata by Robert Harris- this book is one that I have reviewed previously (which you can read here) and it centers around the life of Cicero, one of the more well known members of the Roman Senate. Given the state of our current Senate, I find this (Admittedly fictionalized) fascinating look into the inner political workings of the Roman Senate to be particularly fascinating. Even in calm political times, it's a book (and series!) that I think that those who are interested in political history and intrigue will be interested in.
Catch and kill by Ronan Farrow- this book details how farrow nearly single handedly gathered witness statements and reported on the Weinstein case effectively dealing many of Hollywood's biggest influencers a devastating blow, and exposing one of the biggest scandals in modern memory. In a time of lies, deceit, and disregard for the truth, Farrow reminds us that truth is imperative to our republic, and that no one is above the law.
Your Uncle Morty is going even further back into the history to find books about politics he’d like to recommend. A person in my condition has a slightly different view of time. One of my book choices returns to the mid twentieth century for subject matter, the other has a publication date a little later in the same century.
The Nuremberg Trial, by Ann Tusa and John Tusa
The reason I bring up this book is because it harkens back to a post-apocalyptic world when the rule of law, peace, and rational behavior had been lost for six long and bloody years, when the return of normalcy and stability were in no way a given. From our vantage point, it’s easy to think that the end of WWII brought everyone back to their senses in a snap, that the victors were in no way tainted by the experience of killing their fellow humans in appalling numbers, and that the anger and hatred that boiled up during the war would instantly abate with end of the hostilities, as though it were a pot taken off the stove. But it was not so. There were many on the allied side who endorsed rough justice, or no justice at all, either executing Nazi criminals on the spot or holding quickly arranged military courts in which the outcome would be inevitable. Because of these feelings, the trials held in Nuremberg were in no way certain. In fact, the idea that we should hold a trial at all was not endorsed by everyone. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson fought to for this return to justice, and he found he had to fight hard to convince a world that was simply tired of its own chaos. The first and subsequent Nuremberg trials represented a return to law and order, and real justice, with every defendant having a day in court. The trials represented a time when the allies said, with their actions, that in spite of what they’d been through, they would not resort to the tactics of their enemies. Not only that, it brought the light of day to the appalling nature and nauseating banality of the crimes.
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, by Richard Hofstadter
This book won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction in 1964. You may wonder what it’s doing on my list. Let me just say that the book was written as a response to McCarthyism, when as Hofstadter says, “intellectuals were not the only targets of McCarthy’s constant detonations – he was after bigger game – but intellectuals were often in the line of fire, and it seemed to give special rejoicing to his followers when they were hit.” The author explores tensions about what it means to be educated, the purposes of education, and what excellence in education means. He looks into the history of the anti-intellectualism that was valued by American protestants. This is not an easy read, but the tendencies and emotions involved in this historical overview have never quit brewing in the background of American intellectual life.