Most of the time, it’s hard to keep up with the world of politics. You never know who’s telling the truth or who’s only good at saying big, empty words of promises.
Whether you’re trying to learn vital world issues that happened in the past, discerning who’s worthy of your vote, or even if you just want to keep up with the current affairs—you need to have the best material in hand.
So we asked experts to share the best political books that will help you stay informed.
Here are their top recommendations:
Dr. John M. Callahan, Ph.D.
Program Director for International Studies, New England College | President and CEO, the Field Marshall Strategies, LLC
The Tragedy of Great Power Politics by John Mearsheimer
Mearsheimer writes the ultimate tract on realism in international affairs, reaching the sad conclusion that peace among nations is a utopian dream.
The work uses examples from across the 20th century to demonstrate why politics among the great powers of the world always devolve into a situation of a coalition of the weaker balancing against the stronger.
He also addresses the primacy of land power and wealth in this context, and explains the rise of the U.S. in the 20th century, while positing that the 21st century will come to be dominated by the rivalry between the U.S. and China.
Presidential Command: Power, Leadership, and the Making of Foreign Policy from Richard Nixon to George by Peter W. Rodman, Henry Kissinger (Introduction)
Rodman, who served in several presidential administrations, provides insights on a series of critical questions about how leadership works at the highest level of government.
Related: 24 Best Leadership Books of All Time
Through the prism of the presidencies from Nixon through to George W. Bush, Rodman focuses on how presidents choose their senior cabinet officials, how they empower (or disempower) key leaders, how they handle failure, and how they choose to receive or reject the advice of their advisors and the bureaucracy.
Presidential Leadership and the Creation of the American Era (The Richard Ullman Lectures) by Joseph S. Nye
Joseph Nye draws on his long service in government and his wealth of academic study of the nature of power to describe what makes a good president and a successful presidency.
Three key elements of success are offered.
- The first is seeking incremental, rather than transformational objectives.
- The second is a need for contextual intelligence of the world and where policies fit in it.
- The third is a strong sense of ethics.
Dr. Jeffrey Peter Bradford
Director, Manhattan Strategic Studies Institute
The Power Game: How Washington Works by Hedrick Smith
A great survey of the Washington scene and dynamics driving politics in the early 1980s written by a commentator with credibility and an eye for detail.
The book talks about the impact television was beginning to have on the electoral cycle and makes for prescient and relevant reading in considering the internet and social media impacts on political discourse.
Related: How Social Media Affects Communication Skills?
The Political Animal: An Anatomy by Jeremy Paxman (2003-09-04) by Jeremy Paxman
Jeremy Paxman is a sage, television interviewer from Britain.
Although the book is British in orientation, Paxman’s characterization of the ‘life-cycle’ of the Politician from neophyte to head of state is relevant reading in any country.
Paxman’s humor also helps ground this book and make it relevant.
Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis by Graham Allison, Philip Zelikow
Allison’s work sought to explain one of the largest international crises of all-time from three different analytical perspectives.
- The first being that of a traditional historical narrative focused on the interplay of nations and their interests.
- The second looked at the crisis as the result of different organizations following standard procedures which clashed with one another.
- The third, the Bureaucratic Politics model has launched a thousand Ph.D. research programs and focused on the interplay of individuals.
The three lenses combined give a rich set of tools and explanation for the crisis.
Murata Professor of Ethics in Business, Babson College | Award-Winning Author on American History
Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. 1: 1884-1933 by Blanche Wiesen Cook
It’s an inspiring story of a girl who suffered painful rejection in childhood but became one of the bravest and most admired people of her time.
There is a great picture of her marriage with FDR in which she was both his political ally and his conscientious critic.
Even if you are deeply familiar with the story of the Depression and World War II, you’ll likely get a new take on the period from this biography of a woman whose unique position enabled her not only to offer acute observations of her world but also help to shape it.
Owner, Tidy Casa
The Dictator’s Handbook: Why Bad Behavior is Almost Always Good Politics by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Alastair Smith
The Dictator’s Handbook illustrates that the type of governments that get made and how they run all comes down to the number of backs that need scratching. It does a fantastic job breaking down how governments work with an approachable framework.
They go in-depth on the principles that any group of constituents from dictatorships to corporate boards.
They explain why a large democracy might pay millions to a dictatorship and what would determine if it makes sense for a dictatorship to oppress its people or keep them happy.
This book incredibly eye-opening not only for those interested in learning about actual dictatorships but also for modern governments and corporations.
Co-Founder, Laugh Staff
Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear by Frank I. Luntz
Luntz does a great job of taking the reader through why we vote for dreamers (Reagan, Obama) since we dream about better days, too.
He also pinpoints why the word ‘imagine’ is so strong, since each person’s imagination is uniquely based on their own experiences.
Lastly, he does a great job of taking the reader through the 10 rules of effective communication: simplicity, brevity, credibility, consistency, novelty, sound, aspiration, visualization, questing, and context.
Related: Effective Communication: How to Improve Your Communication Skills
CMO, Maple Holistics
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
Jonathan Haidt is one of the most interesting thinkers of our generation and in The Righteous Mind, he decided to ask an intriguing question:
What are the moral drives of people on each side of the political aisle?
What he discovers is beyond fascinating, it’s downright groundbreaking. More important than anything else, his findings are honest and free of any bias and he shows you, through meticulous research, the gray area between good and evil.
Related: Why is Critical Thinking Important?
1984 by George Orwell
There’s a reason 1984 flies off the shelf after every election, and it’s because no matter who you vote for, 1984 show us a political reality we can all agree is bad.
The ideas he discusses are so complex and so much a part of the human experience, and describes how refusing to have a political dialogue is intellectual, as well as societal suicide.
Phil La Duke
Global Business Consultant | Author, “I Know My Shoes Are Untied Mind Your Own Business! An Iconoclast’s View of Worker Safety“
Generation of Swine: Tales of Shame and Degradation in the ’80’s by Hunter S. Thompson
This book is filled with wit and wisdom and unfortunately eerie predictions of politics of today.
Thompson’s searing wit, cutting writing style, and unapologetic, in-your-face way of calling out the villains of the Reagan years is without peer.
It’s a collection of contemporary accounts by a first had observer to the foundation of modern politics. It’s also a wickedly enjoyable read.
Ten Days That Shook the World by John Reed
Jack Reed is the only American buried in the Red Square. In this book, he laboriously documents the Russian Revolution as it happens.
It can bog down in places, however, how can we discount an author who not only chronicles history as it unfolds but is an active participant?
It’s also a somber reminder of what happens when income inequality becomes untenable.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck’s subtle calls for social reform through the eyes of beleaguered Okies is as riveting and pertinent today as when it was written.
While Steinbeck may not seem political to the uninitiated his powerful glance into the lives of the poor and underserved.
He shows us the world through the eyes of characters who quickly feel like family. They are poor, driven from their homes, subject to injustices still too common among the poor.
His tale of this ragtag band sojourning to the promised land of California only to arrive at more injustice is as loud a cry for political change as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.
Public Speaking and Communications Coach
Pre-Post-Racial America: Spiritual Stories from the Front Lines by Sandhya Rani Jha
Written in the years following Barack Obama’s election in 2008, Pre-Post-Racial America answers the question of how we talk about race when all our problems were supposed to have been solved with the first Black president.
Jha grounds each topic in real stories, offering storytelling as a salve to the vicious divisiveness that race and ideology tend to raise in people.
It’s an essential read for the basics of racial justice, with terms like “racism” and “white supremacy” bolded and defined, and book-club-style questions at the end of each chapter for prompting discussion.
But it’s also a valuable tool for folks immersed in racial justice, modeling bridge-building with uncompromising moral courage. (The audiobook is read by the author and especially lovely.)
Transforming Communities: How People Like You are Healing Their Neighborhoods by Sandhya Rani Jha
A response to the overwhelming anger and numbness progressive folks felt in the wake of the 2016 election, Transforming Communities offers a warm and realistic treatise on how you absolutely can shape your community to be more just.
The book is organized into chapters about claiming power in ways that aren’t money or force, and each contains stirring and real examples of people and communities empowered in just those ways.
Every chapter begins with a quote from poetry or a great speech and ends with practical, current resources to learn more and do more about the issue at hand.
In between is a brilliant historian’s concise explanation of how we got here and clear advice for using the tool she provides.
The Third Reconstruction: How a Moral Movement Is Overcoming the Politics of Division and Fear by Rev Dr. William J. Barber II, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
Barber is a scholar, a minister in the historic Black church of the southeastern US, and a prominent leader of a growing movement known as the Christian Left.
The Third Reconstruction is part memoir, part historical analysis (arguing that we are in the midst of the Third Reconstruction, the first two being following the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement), and part prescription for how we move forward as a country amid divisive politics.
The book is rich in statistics, stories, and the kind of gentle but fiercely compelling application of politics for which Barber has become famous.
It is entirely religious, entirely political, and deeply nuanced in its understanding of how faith does affect politics no matter what while also believing religion and the state must be free of one another.
QA Engineer in Financial Markets
The New School of Economics: The Platform and Theory Behind the New Physiocrats by Philip Allan
There have been an increasing number of discussions surrounding Georgist thought in the past few years to the point where the major UK political parties have introduced an LVT as part of their political platform, while the discussion in Asia is also becoming increasingly active.
This book, the manifesto of the New Physiocratic League, explains the latest iteration of the Georgist platform.
It has already become the official platform of a minor UK political party, and has been working in conjunction with the Democratic Freedom Caucus in the US. A very interesting new development that will only become greater with time.