PoliticalEdu’s October Book Recommendations
Each month, I recommend 5 books that I believe this site’s readers will enjoy. These recommendations fall into five categories: New non-fiction, new-fiction, history, political science, and other. Books likely will have a political bent — this site does focus on politics after all — and will hopefully help all of us learn something knew while better understanding the country and its history. PoliticalEdu may receive a commission for purchases made through the below links. This does not in any way effect my recommendations or thoughts, but it does help maintain the site.
Here are my October book recommendations!
Unbelievable | My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History by Katy Tur
Tur’s book documents her 18 months reporting on Donald Trump, attending his rallies in 40 states, and falling victim to his wrath on many occasions. You might remember Trump referring to Tur, during a campaign rally, nonetheless, as a “disgraceful…third-rate” reporter who’s “not nice.” His verbal assault on a female reporter who bothered to fact-check him and hold him to account during his roller coaster campaign so angered the candidate that at one rally, he riled his mob-like attendees into such a fury that the Secret Service had to escort Tur to her car.
I recommend this book for anyone who wants the behind-the-scenes story of reporter harrassed by an American presidential candidate and his supporters. The anecdotes told – the spitting, the abuse – open one’s eyes to the base nature of Trump’s supporters and the primal appeal of a candidate who had no respect for democratic values. We take civility for granted and assume that while most politicians may harangue the media time to time, all understand its value in a free society. “Unbelievable” is the perfect read for those wondering whether “it can happen here.”
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate
Based on a true story in which a Memphis-based adoption organization kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families, Wingate’s novel rivets the reader, pulls her through a variety of emotions, and ultimately reminds us that the heart “never forgets where we belong.”
Memphis, 1939: A family finds itself ripped apart with 5 children separated from their parents and brought into a Tennessee orphanage. The children believe, and hold onto the belief, that they will soon be reunited with their parents. Unfortunately, they learn that the truth is darker and through the orphanage’s cruelty, the children must band together to maintain spirits and not be crushed by a lack of hope.
Aiken, South Carolina, present day: A young lawyer born in wealth and successful as a federal prosecutor with a loving family finds herself digging into the family history and uncovering a long-hidden past whose darkness “will ultimately lead either to devastation…or redemption.”
The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong
An admittedly saddening portrayal of how the nation’s highest tribunal — supposedly one dedicated to remaining apolitical and letting the Constitution guide all reasoning — is a political body with justices swayed by moral convictions that override the text and meaning of our founding document. Judicial laziness, distortion of facts, weak and convoluted legal reasoning, and morals befitting elderly gentleman leading to decisions that curtail speech and lead to community-level censorship that makes a mockery of both liberty all leave me in gloom that so high a body finds itself no better than the common lawmaker or lay legal reasoner.
That notwithstanding, I thoroughly enjoyed the inside look at the Supreme Court to learn about how justices reach decisions and write opinions, the reliance on clerks, and the politicking underway even in the supposedly dispassionate halls of constitutional justice. It’s a great read that’s difficult to put down; you’ll surely walk away smarter (and more cynical).
Sizing up the Senate: The Unequal Consequences of Equal Representation by Frances Lee and Bruce Oppenheimer
(My personal favorite of the October book recommendations). Each state, regardless of its population, has two senators. This seeming equality – the equal representation of states in the legislature’s upper chamber – actually makes the Senate the most malapportioned legislature in the democratic world on a “one person, one vote” basis. This book examines the consequences of the design choice that held together the constitutional convention.
Lee and Oppenheimer show “that the Senate’s unique apportionment scheme profoundly shapes legislation and representation. The size of a state’s population affects the senator-constituent relationship, fund-raising and elections, strategic behavior within the Senate, and, ultimately, policy decisions. They also show that less populous states consistently receive more federal funding than states with more people. In sum, Lee and Oppenheimer reveal that Senate apportionment leaves no aspect of the institution untouched.”
For anyone interested in the Senate and its perverse design that gives the 580,000 residents of Wyoming the same voice as the 39,250,000 people of California, this book will open your eyes and likely frustrate you more than a little bit. (Read more on how the Senate’s design skews policy outcomes here >>)
The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols
American society is, as a whole, devaluing experts and expertise. This happens in a wide variety of fields, from medicine (with patients assuming that the likes of WebMD make a doctor expendable or incorrect) to universities (where students, increasingly treated as customers, care more about a “college experience” than becoming budding experts in a desired field). Naturally, such devaluation of experts has negative consequences. It enables the dumbing down of our society and the political success of charlatans such as Donald Trump.
Nichols book does a superb job of tracing the death of expertise from its psychological underpinning to its modern day manifestation. Cause and effect analysis allows him to provide needed advice to laypeople and experts themselves so as to bridge the increasing gap between them so the two can be trusted — and trust the other. An enjoyable read, the book pulls no punches: Nichols excoriates laypeople for the inane assumption of God-like capability; he also castigates experts for removing themselves to ivory towers and not doing enough to maintain the credibility of their field. This is a must read for anyone concerned about America’s political development when the president touts his love for the “poorly educated.” (You can read the full review here >>)
So, what do you think? Any reactions or comments to the October book recommendations? Any other recommended readings? Let me know in the comments!