Political Animal


May 25, 2012 7:57 AM Books for the 99 Percent

By Ryan Cooper

These are just a few titles that I’ve been reading recently that I’ve found to be relevant to our life and times.

1. The Great Divergence, by Monthly alum Tim Noah. This isn’t a work of art so much as a kind of handy guidebook to how the elites are siphoning off an ever-increasing share of our economy. Everyone should read this enough times so the arguments and statistics are right at hand.

2. The Years of Lyndon Johnson, by Robert Caro. This is a lot to work through, but it’s an excellent history of Johnson and a rare non-tedious look inside our political institutions as they were, which provides an interesting contrast to things today. All four are worth a read, but to get the most important bits, start with Master of the Senate and then The Passage of Power.

3. Why Nations Fail, by Acemoglu and Robinson. This is ostensibly a “big history” book, but I’ve found its distinction between “extractive” and “inclusive” institutions to be so useful that it has changed my thinking on a whole host of issues. Lively, interesting, and worth a read.

4. Twilight of the Elites, by Chris Hayes. There are not many writers and pundits who have really grappled with the fact that our institutions have failing at their most basic tasks. Hayes has an explanation for why this failure is happening, and a good one, but the best part of the book is how it captures what it feels like to be living in such times. Not out yet, but pick up a copy come June 5th.

What books would you add to the list?

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • wvmcl2 on May 25, 2012 8:51 AM:

    "Collapse" by Jared Diamond. A series of case studies, all of them fascinating in themselves, with a common theme: human societies will stand by and watch the environmental underpinnings of their societies deteriorate, because it is too easy to deny the changes on a day-to-day basis.

  • c u n d gulag on May 25, 2012 9:10 AM:

    I read one of Cato's earlier LBJ bio's. He's very, very thorough. I think he knows more about LBJ than LBJ did. And it seems like he's spent more time writing about LBJ's life than LBJ did living it. :-)

    As for reading, it's mostly consisted of detective and historical fiction since my father got diagnosed with stage-4 cancer. And since he's died, I haven't had the inclination to read any non-fiction that doesn't involve baseball bio's.

    And with the election coming, I'll stay with the fiction, since we seem to live in times that are stranger than truth.

    After the election, I'll try to catch-up with what I've missed in the non-fiction realm.

  • stevio on May 25, 2012 9:16 AM:

    I'd add:

    "The Rise and fall of the Roman Empire"

  • ohollern on May 25, 2012 9:16 AM:

    I hear Dubya's got a book coming out soon about how to stimulate economic growth. Surely that one will belong on every educated person's bookshel, no?

  • delNorte on May 25, 2012 9:18 AM:

    A diarist over at DailyKos has been recommending "The Money Changers" by Upton Sinclair - written in 1908, but still relevant today. You can download a copy at gutenberg.org for free:


  • nitpicker on May 25, 2012 9:29 AM:

    Predator Nation is the best book about the financial crisis so far and, frankly, could be plucked from the stands, handed to the DOJ and be used as an indictment against many of our bankster overlords.

  • FreeDem on May 25, 2012 9:30 AM:

    Just about anything from George Lakoff. Many books, new and improved takes on one big idea; that humans think with their brains and science is learning ever more details of how that differs from expectations.

    More narrowly he focuses on the political mind and how metaphors (the actual structures of thought)of two different concepts of a family, lie at the heart of the political divide, why there seems to be two separate universes, how they have expanded and focused the right and moved it politically, and how the Left can and needs to reverse that trend.

  • arbitrista on May 25, 2012 9:32 AM:

    Michael Sandel's new book "What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets."

  • Phyllis Pircher on May 25, 2012 9:45 AM:

    Every political junkie should read "Classified Woman" by Sibel Edmonds. Why she wasn't killed early on is a mystery and her story as a whistleblower is amazing.

  • Jimo on May 25, 2012 10:07 AM:

    Well, you can avoid Krugman's "End This Depression Now".

    Whatever people may think of Krugman's views, if you go back 5 years and compare his forecasting of economics with that of any random right-winger, Krugman mops the floor with them.

    Still...nothing you won't get in ready his NYT columns over the last 5 years.

  • David Patin on May 25, 2012 12:28 PM:

    The unmaking of Israel by Gershom Gorenberg. Even if Israel were to decide to make peace with a two state solution, the excution may not be possible.

  • TCinLA on May 25, 2012 1:06 PM:

    Picked this one up for cheap at a recent local library sale. You definitely should get hold of it, because it shows that today's "weird" Republican Party is really not that different from 79-80 years ago in its real essence.

    "No Ordinary Time - Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II"

    Written 20 years ago (her first Pulitzer Prize), it's a fascinating study of how Roosevelt won the war and how he got a public opposed to the war to understand what was at stake4, and of the untiring influence of Eleanor Roosevelt, our greatest First Lady, in her efforts to make sure that what we won in the war was worth winning, i.e., democracy and freedom. And Goodwin shows it was done against Republican opposition (and their soul mates of the Southern Democrats, now the heart of today's GOP) that was as untiring in opposition to FDR in the middle of the war as it is today with Obama - it will give you a perspective on American politics that we really need so we can understand how this fight has been going on ever since March 1933.

    It's another of those Big History books written by someone who understands that history is better understood when the writing is good. Too bad more historians don't learn that.

  • Yellow Dog on May 25, 2012 1:07 PM:

    "Debt: the First 5,000 Years" by David Graeber. Looks and sounds dull, but is anything but. Convincingly explains early non-money credit systems that supported rather than exploited families and communities; explodes pernicious myths about bartering, markets and capitalism; and connects the debt system with the rise of slavery, misogyny and violence.

    Fascinating and illuminating.

  • Jack G on May 25, 2012 2:56 PM:

    "Drift" by Rachel Maddow is good.

    I wasn't planning to read it, but it was available for free from the local library. It's basically a history of the "military/industrial" black hole that we pour about a trillion dollars a year into. Also, how we got from congress having the constitutional power to declare war, to predator drones, Iraq, Libya and other president-initiated wars. She also writes about the deteriorating nuclear weapons infrastructure (and I thought just Russia had that problem!).

  • David W. on May 25, 2012 3:03 PM:

    I picked up a book recently recommended by MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris-Perry called "Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race But Changed the Nation," by Scott Farris. It describes how losing presidential campaigns have shaped the politics of today. I found the chapters on Goldwater and McGovern especially relevant to what's going on today and also learned a lot about people I knew very little about, including Henry Clay and Tom Dewey.

  • Dredd on May 25, 2012 5:45 PM:

    "Propaganda" by Edward L. Bernays, the father of public relations, and inventor of the press conference.

  • Ryan Cooper on May 25, 2012 5:51 PM:

    Thanks for the suggestions, folks! I'll definitely check these out when I get a free moment.

  • James E. Shelledy on May 25, 2012 11:11 PM:

    I recommend a book by a colleague at LSU, "Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds" by Robert Mann. Published by LSU Press, it is a detailed look at the TV commercial that changed the game, the genesis of today's fare. LBJ was hesitant to run it -- and only allowed it one airing. But it was the most watched, most effective ad in U.S. history. Mann looks at it from every angle -- the president's, the ad agency, the media's. It's as fascinating as it is relevant. Did I mention it is also an easy, delightful read?

  • James Brady on May 26, 2012 12:58 AM:

    I would add professor Robert Mann's informative and topical book," Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds:lBJ,Barry Goldwater and the Ad that Changed American Politics."Mann covers the birth of the one political ad that paved the way political campaigns are run today. This story is a must for all political junkies especially in light of the ads now being shown by the "Super Pacs" since Citizens United.

  • D. Parks on May 29, 2012 9:54 AM:

    I would also recommend Robert Mann's "Daisy Petals and Mushroom Clouds." It's a captivating book that gives insight to one of the most effective ads ever run in a U.S. political campaign. The way Mann looks at the ad from the perspectives of the president, ad agency and media allows the reader to analyze it from different points of view and in turn can help the reader better understand the way campaign ads are run today.