Political Animal


September 09, 2012 12:04 PM Books I’ve Been Reading

By Ryan Cooper

1. Rome, by Greg Woolf. A nice one-volume summary of the latest in Rome scholarship. Not being a historian, I much appreciate these kind of nickel summaries, with lots of “further reading” sections in case something strikes my fancy. Sometimes we don’t have time to read 5-volume histories of a single president.

2. The New New Deal, by Michael Grunwald. If I were the Obama campaign I would be buying this book and shipping them out en masse to anywhere I could think of. It’s quite the gripping story, actually, and shows absent anything else that the Recovery Act was a gigantic accomplishment.

3. Nixonland, by Rick Pearlstein. Good pop political history of the rise of conservatism as we know it today.

4. Wall Street, by Doug Henwood. The best book I’ve ever read on the Great Parasite, and how it really works. Self-consciously radical, and gets quite technical at times, but worth the effort. Available for free at the link!

5. Red Plenty, by Francis Spufford. Just started this one, but the first chapter alone is strange and awesome enough to make it worth a glance.

Any good ones I’m missing?


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


  • SYSPROG on September 09, 2012 12:51 PM:

    WHERE THEY STAND by Robert Merry. He looks at the Presidents and how they 'rate' according to new directions, policies, etal.

  • DG on September 09, 2012 12:55 PM:

    Rachel Maddow's "Drift" is outstanding, and should be required reading for both parties.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on September 09, 2012 1:00 PM:

    The New New Deal, by Michael Grunwald.

    Your reading list needs revision. Everyone knows that 'The New Deal' was a complete failure and that what got our country out of the Great Depression was WWII. Everyone knows that, since Obama has destroyed our economy, we need another 'big' war to revive our economy.

    When President Romney mobilizes our defense industry and our military to prepare for our ground invasions of Iran and The Soviet Union, our economy will rebound and become healthy again.

  • Anonymous on September 09, 2012 1:03 PM:

    I just finished "The Secret Speech", by Tom Rob Smith. It is historical fiction, but I think quite accurate in what actually happened in the CCCP during and after the famous speech by Kruschev in 1956. In particular, he ties together the speech with the subsequent revolt in Hungary. It's a year or 2 old.

    I am also reading American Sphinx, the character of Thomas Jefferson and The Seven Wonders by Steven Saylor. The Saylor book is part of his Roman series - fun, not serious.

  • MichaelF on September 09, 2012 1:04 PM:

    Just finished and really liked A Splendid Exchange by William Bernstein. It's a look back to the beginning of global trade.

  • POed Lib on September 09, 2012 1:20 PM:


    What will Romney be president of?

  • TCinLA on September 09, 2012 1:25 PM:

    "Nixonland" is indeed excellent, particularly for you youngsters who didn't live through that dark age at an age that allowed you to understand what was happening at the time. Highly recommended. As someone who was politically active in 1968, I can also recommend Charles Kaiser's "1968 In America;" fact-checking it with my own first-hand knowledge of having been a "troublemaker" at the time, he definitely has his facts and analysis working right.

    If you'd like to get a very interesting view of how the United States and Germany resolved their wartime differences and became the allies we are today, and would also like to know how it is you can track a parcel coming to you from the other side of the planet, may I recommend Richard Reeves' "Daring Young Men: The Heroism And Triumph Of The Berlin Airlift," the untold story of the Berlin Airlift, where Americans and Germans first started working together after the war and rediscovering that both were human, and where EDI (electronic data interchange), the ability to know what was being shipped and when it would arrive was developed, not to mention the ability of airplanes to operate in just about any weather - all things we now take perfectly for granted today, and all the result of what was done in the Berlin Airlift (not to mention if you know Richard Reeves' work, you know he's a good writer, and his revival of the work of Jake Schuffert, the cartoonist of the Berlin Airlift, is worth the price of the book alone).

    So far as Rome is concerned, you can learn a whole lot from the new series of historical novels set in Rome of both the Republic and Empire, by Steven Saylor (the mystery novels are great, as well as "Roma" and "Empire") and Robert Harris (his first two of a coming trilogy on the life of Cicero are fascinating - history you can consume and be entertained as well as edjumicated). As with most genre fiction, there's a lot of crap, but Rome novels do mostly stand on good historical research. You also cannot go wrong if you read Polybius' history of the Roman Republic, in which he studied why the Republic was successful in defeating Carthage (and was able to interview many of the people who had accomplished that, making him the first modern historian to use original source material), since it was one of the major influences on our own founding fathers in the creation of this new Roman Republic. Trust me, old Polybius knew that history is best read when it is written entertainingly.

    Doris Kearns Goodwin's "No Ordinary Time" about how FDR led the country into and through World War II is excellent.

    As a history of the development of technology and its effect on society, Stephen Ambrose's "Nothing Like It In The World" a history of the creation of the Transcontinental Railroad (talk about government intervention in the economy on the side of private enterprise to transform society - this was the beginning), is written as only Ambrose can do and it holds your interest.

    There's lots more but these are good for now.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on September 09, 2012 1:50 PM:

    @POed Lib

    President Romney will be the CEO of The United Corporations Of AmeriKKKa.

  • David Ellis Dickerson on September 09, 2012 3:01 PM:

    I really enjoyed "Economix" by Michael Goodwin for a smart, detailed, and accessible understanding of economics in general and our present situation in particular. Lefty but sober and rational about it. The comic book format keeps it light, but it's not a lightweight book. They had a bunch of sample panels over at Mother Jones: http://www.motherjones.com/slideshows/2012/08/economics-comics-dark-money/economix

  • parsimon on September 09, 2012 3:10 PM:

    Any good ones I'm missing?

    For all I know, you've read these, but:

    Debt: The First 5000 Years, by David Graeber

    Twilight of the Elites, by Chris Hayes

    If you're interested and haven't seen it already, there's an extended book discussion panel on Spufford's Red Plenty, taking place over the course of a week or so, at the Crooked Timber website. From a few months ago, with guest posts/reviews from half a dozen commentators and a discussion thread on each one.

  • Shane Taylor on September 09, 2012 3:49 PM:

    The World That Never Was: a True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents
    By Alex Butterworth


    I doubt the author intended it as a dark, unredeemable history of anarchism, but that's what I took from it. Clearly, the same poison is in Occupy:


  • Gene O'Grady on September 09, 2012 4:03 PM:

    Following on your Rome selection, you might want to look at The Eye of the Needle (brand new, my copy not here yet) by Peter Brown, focusing on the interplay of Rome, wealth, and Christianity in the late Empire. Suspect it's quite relevant to our situation.

  • FlipYrWhig on September 09, 2012 4:31 PM:

    Thx to MichaelF for the recommendation of _A Splendid Exchange_. I knew about the Graeber already. Any other recent work in this area anyone wants to suggest?

  • Ashbee on September 09, 2012 4:37 PM:

    Im reading "Treasure Islands: Uncovering the Damage of Offshore Banking and Tax Havens" by Nicholas Shaxson.

    FASCINATING look into tax havens and pretty much an iron clad indictment of the whole system.


  • Big River Bandido on September 09, 2012 5:32 PM:

    I read Master of the Senate earlier this year; it was perhaps one of the most valuable political books I've ever read. As a result I bought Passage to Power, though it has to wait in line behind Washington's Crossing.

    If more progressives actually read stuff like that, they might understand the ruthlessness with which the political game is played. And they would understand how and why Democrats lose so badly on Capitol Hill, even when they win elections.

  • Anise on September 09, 2012 7:28 PM:

    It's Greg Woolf, not Greg Scott, who's the author of _Rome._

  • Mike on September 09, 2012 8:14 PM:

    If you like Nixonland, you'll enjoy Perlstein's "Before The Storm" which give a similar treatment to Goldwater's presidential run - it informs a lot of what you read in "Nixonland." It's a little slower read, but it covers the conservative wing's takeover of the Republican Party machinery - it's quite remarkable (and even more remarkable to realize how Nixon coopted it - as hateful as he was, he was a brilliant politician . . . )

  • Mike on September 09, 2012 8:14 PM:

    If you like Nixonland, you'll enjoy Perlstein's "Before The Storm" which give a similar treatment to Goldwater's presidential run - it informs a lot of what you read in "Nixonland." It's a little slower read, but it covers the conservative wing's takeover of the Republican Party machinery - it's quite remarkable (and even more remarkable to realize how Nixon coopted it - as hateful as he was, he was a brilliant politician . . . )

  • Rand Careaga on September 09, 2012 9:24 PM:

    Second the vote on Red Plenty. It's a remarkable hybrid of novel, history and tome that shouldn't work and somehow does. Of the books I've read published this century, this one, Wolf Hall and William T. Vollman's Europe Central have particularly impressed me, though they've little else in common. Spufford participated in a marvelous discussion of Red Plenty at "Crooked Timber" last year, easy to find by means of any reputable search engine.

  • Jan on September 09, 2012 9:29 PM:

    The book Rome is by Greg Woolf, not Greg Scott.

  • tarylcabot on September 09, 2012 10:23 PM:

    Not sure if you like audiobooks - they're one of my great pleasures on my daily 1 hours/day commute.

    Just finished "Steve Jobs" - intro is read by Isaacson. The rise-and-fall are quite good. The triumphal return not as much.

    A few months back, i listened to Keith Richards "Life" read by Keith, Johnny Depp, some guy i never heard of, Depp again, and finally Keith again (a couple of minor inserts from Tom Waits & Keith's brain surgeon as well).

  • nitpicker on September 09, 2012 10:55 PM:

    While it's a pretty big book, Ron Chernow's Washington: A Life is an unbelievably well written and meticulously researched single-volume biography of George Washington.

  • dilbert dogbert on September 10, 2012 12:16 AM:

    Rand Careaga on September 09, 2012 9:24 PM:

    Second the vote on Red Plenty. It's a remarkable hybrid of novel, history and tome that shouldn't work and somehow does.

    Strange that you have not heard of Crooked Timber. Read the book first to prevent spoilers then read the discusions.
    I am slogging my way through it and enjoying it even though I read the CT comments first.

  • alix on September 10, 2012 1:58 AM:

    The Last Policeman by Ben Winters. The premise is that the Asteroid is about to hit-- six more months until Earth is obliterated. The protagonist is a detective, kind of thrilled with his new job in the Homicide Dept. Wouldn't you know that as soon as he got the job he wanted, an asteroid was going to strike?
    What I like is the sense of doom, of how people will be and think if they know there is no future (not just for them... for anyone). There's one character who talks about how his little son is a great hockey player, and is going to end up in the NHL. Then he stops and laughs. "In an alternate universe."
    Very thought-provoking in the way Children of Men were-- how very much humans need to believe there's a future for the species... but also how amazing it is that we have this sense that "We" extend beyond our own lives, so the asteroid isn't just our death, but the death of our hopes.
    It's the first of a trilogy. I hope they figure out a way to blast that asteroid in book 3! I like a happy ending.

  • bob h on September 10, 2012 7:53 AM:

    1. Rome, by Greg Scott. The main point Scott makes is that the fall of the Roman Republic was due to dysfunction in its Senate.

    A couple of weeks ago I read a new book on Hoover's history of surveillance of Americans from 1919 to his death and down to the present day. It is no-put-down, but for the life of me I cannot remember the author or title.

  • Bob P on September 10, 2012 8:31 AM:

    Joseph Stiglitz's The Price of Inequality. A comprehensive analysis of the way things are.

  • Roddy McCorley on September 10, 2012 9:20 AM:

    Mike, you beat me to it. Allow me to also recommend Perlstein's "Before the Storm," which I consider indispensable to understanding where our current Republican party (an oxymoron, I believe) came from. The short, short version is that it was a reaction to Eisenhower's moderation. Which is rather ironic considering how many of my fellow liberals point to Ike and wonder what the hell happened to the GOP.

  • Rand Careaga on September 10, 2012 10:03 AM:

    @Dilbert Dogbert: I've been looking in on Crooked Timber for years. That fact may have been obscured in my last post by the missing italic close tag (I neglected to preview because I was distracted by the execrable captcha ritual).

  • BuffOrpington on September 10, 2012 12:11 PM:

    Reading Michael Perino's "The Hellhound of Wall Street," about Ferdinand Pecora's congressional hearings investigating the causes of the 1929 crash. It reads like a good novel and authoritative nonfiction at the same time (lots of footnotes for those interested in original source materials). The parallels to our own time are uncanny, except (sadly) for the absence of a present-day Pecora holding the bankers' feet to the fire.

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