While I’ve been writing on the blog about key issues concerning American politics, it’s always good to get multiple perspectives. This list avoids the more well-known classics (Plato, Aristotle, A. Smith, K. Marx, J. Keynes, M. Friedman), and tries to introduce lesser-known and more modern intellectuals:
Recommended for right libertarians (“classical liberals”), Thatcherites, and neoconservatives:
- Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky
- Please put aside your perceptions of Dr. Chomsky if you’ve heard of him, whether as a conspiracy theorist, apologist for Khmer Rouge’s crimes against humanity, or a self-hating Jewish antisemite as many of these are myths and distortions. Recommended as a starting point.
- Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It by Lawrence Lessig
- A good book on “dark money” and its influence on American elections. Recommended as a starting point.
- One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society by Herbert Marcuse
- A book on the ideology of manufacturing “needs” and commodification. Recommended as a starting point.
- Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty
- Well-known and should be looked at as a critique of late capitalism.
- The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein
- A historical overview of anti-environmentalist thought as well as modern policies related to environmentalism.
Recommended for Leninists and state socialists:
- The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System by Milovan Dijilas
- This book analyzes the new bureaucratic systems created by the Soviet state, including the nomenklatura, the ruling class in the one-party state. Recommended as a starting point,
- The Revolution Betrayed: What is the Soviet Union and Where is It Going? by Leon Trotsky
- Who better than a founder of the Soviet Union to explain its defects? Recommended as a starting point.
- Mao: the Unknown Story by Jung Chang, Jon Halliday
- This describes many of the atrocities during Mao’s one-party rule over the People’s Republic of China. Recommended as a starting point.
- My Disillusionment in Russia by Emma Goldman
- One of many authors of her time living outside Russia, Goldman had harsh criticisms of Lenin and the Bolsheviks’ overthrow of the more populist socialist revolution.
Recommended for Americans:
- “Two Concepts of Liberty” by Isaiah Berlin
- Refutes the prevalent notion that the state is not just a tool of oppression and illustrates how it can be used to help ordinary citizens. Recommended as a starting point.
- Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics by Woodrow Wilson
- Pretty much a primer on presidential vs parliamentary systems, especially given the historical context and the unique American perspective when this debate was much more relevant. Recommended as a starting point.
- The Political Parties: Their Organization and Activity in the Modern State (Les partis politiques) by Maurice Duverger
- Primer on presidential politics, especially Duverger’s Law, the electoral principle behind two-party systems. Recommended as a starting point.
- Direct Democracy: The Politics of Initiative, Referendum, and Recall by Thomas Cronin
- Primer on direct democracy. Recommended as a starting point.
- Selections from Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci
- Gramsci is a largely forgotten figure in American political circles, but his analysis of Mussolini’s fascist regime holds important insights for the present and future.
- Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes by Juan Linz
- Good look at modern regimes and bureaucratization of modern politics.
Recommended for non-Americans:
- Observing America: the commentary of British visitors to the United States, 1890-1950 by Robert Frankel
- Insights for those from other industrialized nations on American politics, including famous intellectuals such as Stead, Wells, Laski, and Chesterton among others. Recommended as a starting point.
- A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
- A good book on many missing events and people of American history. Recommended as a starting point.
- “The Responsibility of Intellectuals” by Noam Chomsky
- Good overview and critique of American intellectual culture. Recommended as a starting point.
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- A good look at the prison-industrial complex’s role as the successor to apartheid-era discrimination laws.
- The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission by Michel Crozier, Samuel Huntington, Joji Watanuki
- This report contradicts most perceptions of American democracy as an unintelligent and disorganized political power. It also highlights the deeply disturbing trend of technocratic authoritarianism in American politics.
- “Powell Memorandum” by Lewis Powell Jr.
- This memo to the US Chamber of Commerce shows the clear collusion between government officials and corporate owners. This will be interesting for those interested in the relationship of capital and policy.
Recommended for university students, union organizers, and activists:
- Unions for Beginners by David Cogswell
- The basis of all activity on the political Left begins with organized labor. Anyone who is serious about radical change should learn the basics of work laws in their society. Recommened as a starting point.
- “Beyond Vietnam” by Martin L. King Jr.
- This is a critical work for anyone who needs to understand the goals of the modern American left. Recommended as a starting point.
- The Making of the English Working Class by Edward P. Thompson
- A comprehensive history on class consciousness among those who need it the most. Recommended as a starting point.
- Anarchism for Beginners by Marcos Mayer
- A surprisingly thorough work on the history of anarchism and leftist thinkers, combined with visuals to make it more appealing.
- Publications: Jacobin, Z Magazine, Labor Notes, In These Times, Dissent, Socialist Worker
Recommended for educators:
- Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Friere
- The work on critical pedagogy, the philosophy that encourages engaging social consciousness in the classroom. Recommended as a starting point.
- Free at Last: The Sudbury Valley School by Daniel Greenberg
- This is an excellent model for anyone who wishes to expand upon the philosophy of progressive/Deweyite education. The best way to teach democracy is to experience it firsthand. Recommended as a starting point.
- Zinn Education Project begun by Howard Zinn
- This is not a book, but a set of resources for educators to teach students about American history through a diverse set of perspectives. No matter what side of the aisle you might be from, this is certainly a good resource for teaching history. Recommended as a starting point.
- The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges–and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates by Daniel Golden
- Golden’s critique of the meritocratic façade of American higher education is a good book for anyone who wants to understand the fundamentally nepotistic structure of the education system.
- Democracy and Education: an introduction to the philosophy of education by John Dewey
- The preeminent scholar who inspired modern progressive education, Even after almost a century, Dewey’s works still bring insights into the current flaws of the education system.