This holiday season, don’t get your friends and loved ones what they want… get them what they need! Divided We Fall’s holiday book list will help you and yours do your part to reclaim civility and restore sanity to our politics. Settle down by the fire with one of these books and let the discourse (as well as the warmth and perhaps the alcohol) sink in!
Robert Wilkes’ Reading List
These books will help you acquire the skills and knowledge to make powerful arguments and state your case on Divided We Fall. I look forward to reading your additions to or subtractions from my list.
- The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt, 2012. This book is truly an original approach to understanding our moral foundations and how they drive our politics. I have recommended this book to many people. All have loved it and thanked me. You will too.
- The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Eric Hoffer, 1951. Written more than a half century ago, this book is as vivid and true as the day it was published. Having read this book you will recognize when people are swept up in a belief system and are impervious to fact and argument. It’s happening all around us today. It could be you.
- A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles, Thomas Sowell, 1987. Sowell examines the historical development and evolution of liberal and conservative political philosophies. Anything by Sowell is worth reading.
- The Citizen’s Constitution: An Annotated Guide, Seth Lipsky, 2009. This book will take you article by article through the Constitution and help you understand the history and context of the document and what it all means today. If you are going to debate on American politics, you need to know the Constitution.
- How to Think, Alan Jacobs, 2017. Jacobs makes the argument that most people have lost the ability to think. We want to be liked and accepted into our affinity group and that tends to make us think like them. Jacobs will help you think for yourself.
- Mastering Logical Fallacies, Michael Whitney and Henry Zhang, 2016. There are 61 logical fallacies described in the book, including Appeal to Common Belief, Begging the Question, Cherry Picking, and Magical Thinking. Wonderful preparation for shredding an interlocutor’s argument on Divided We Fall.
- Animal Farm, 1984, Politics and the English Language, and The Road to Wigan Pier, George Orwell, 1937 to 1949. The world is lucky to have had George Orwell’s writing to defend liberty. No one demonstrates the constant threat we face of losing our freedom to tyrannical government and the horrors that ensue. I included the lesser known “Wigan Pier” because Orwell went down in the coal mines and into the coal miner shanties to describe their misery. No wonder the UK went socialist after WWII. This helps us understand the uses of government to help the poor as well.
- Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, Amy Chua, 2018. Chua is brilliant at developing entirely new perspectives on events you thought you understood. She also shows the significance of tribalism in the world and even in America.
- The Origins of Political Order and Political Order and Political Decay, Francis Fukuyama, 2011 and 2014. Fukuyama describes the prerequisites needed in order to form nation states and what institutional foundations are necessary to have a modern, free nation. These are long books, but worth the effort. You will understand why Africa is still in shambles and why Denmark went from Viking barbarians to a happy place.
- The Content of our Character, Shelby Steele, 1990. Written almost 30 years ago, this book is still as topical and important in today’s highly charged racial environment. The book helped me understand the difficult situation black Americans face in our society, and what is needed to lift them up to equality. The answer may surprise you.
Joe Schuman’s Reading List: In Response
Almost 2,000 years ago Epictetus stated that books are the training weights of the mind. Get your workout in this holiday season with one of these fantastic reads. You won’t regret it!
- The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt, 2012. Many of you have gotten to know Robert Wilkes as the token Conservative of Divided We Fall for the last year and a half. But he has been my personal political pen pal for the better part of five years. We disagree on a lot. But one thing on which we radically agree is the unique and authoritative perspective that Jonathan Haidt provides through “The Righteous Mind.” Robert recommended the book to me—I believe he even purchased my copy—and he is right to say that I loved it and thank him for the recommendation.
- Culture War? The Myth of Polarized America, Disconnect: The Breakdown of Representation in American Politics, and Unstable Majorities: Polarization, Party Sorting, and Political Stalemate, Morris Fiorina, 2004 to 2017. No author has influenced the work of Divided We Fall more than Professor Morris Fiorina, who we were lucky enough to interview this year. Fiorina will change everything you thought you knew about American politics. His central thesis is a surprising one: America is not polarized. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Dive in the deep end with Fiorina. You won’t regret it.
- Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World, Hans Rosling, 2018. Facts matter. That is the truth that Rosling defended through a lifetime of work and captured in his last book, “Factfulness.” The world is consistently getting better, as measured by a robust set of development metrics, but a vast majority of people believe the world is poorer, sicker, and more dangerous than it actually is. This book is an important reminder that we must recognize what is working before we talk about what needs to change. Today’s reformers would do well to remember this lesson.
- The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, Yuval Levin 2013. The book’s title says it all. This is a great starter kit to understanding classical liberalism and conservatism. You can read our digest on the book here.
- Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville, 1835. Frequently quoted, but not read in full nearly enough, “Democracy in America” is a must read for anyone who wishes to be conversant in American politics and history. De Tocqueville details the origins of the great American experiment in 800+ pages of vivid detail. It is worth every one of them. Read it. And then you can quote it.
- Open to Debate: How William F. Buckley Put Liberal America on the Firing Line, Heather Hendershot, 2016. Hendershot expertly outlines the life and legacy of William F. Buckley, commonly regarded as a founder of the modern Conservative movement in the United States and the impact of his work creating The National Review and his talk show, Firing Line. Agree or disagree with his politics, Buckley was always open to debate, a trait our public intellectuals seem to be lacking today.
- Letters to a Young Contrarian, Christopher Hitchens, 2001. Hitchens describes his views on criticism, consensus, and truth based on a lifetime in opposition. He reminds us that “the life of an oppositionist is supposed to be difficult” and that we should “seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence.” These any many more quips fill the pages of this mercifully short book—a pocket guide and companion for anyone traveling the lonely road in opposition.
- Moderates: The Vital Center of American Politics, David Brown, 2016. Brown’s book is an important retort against critiques of “mealy-mouthed moderates” and wishy-washy centrism. Brown shows how moderates have held this national together since its inception. You can read our take here.
- Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, Doris Kearns Goodwin, 2005. Master historian Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 900+ page tour de force describes the life and legacy of one of our nation’s most important historical figures: Abraham Lincoln, the man who preserved the Union. Lincoln’s legacy is more relevant today than ever and his wisdom remains prescient, having warned us that “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we lose our freedoms it will be because we have destroyed ourselves from within.”
- Profiles in Courage, John F. Kennedy, 1956. Kennedy profiles eight Senators who defied the opinions of their parties and constituents to do what they felt was right. This book reminds us what political courage looks like.
Joe Schuman is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Divided We Fall. He works to set the vision of the organization and to build the team to meet that mission. Joe works as a civilian for the Department of Defense promoting innovation and emerging technology. Joe is also an Officer in the Air National Guard and a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In his spare time he can be found reading non-fiction, playing piano, and running triathlons.
There really is not any good, comprehensive treatment of the issue of political economy and the purpose of a republic, largely because, I believe, as the basis of the USA economy shifted to favor financiers and rentiers, the academy was corrupted by them to ignore the actual history of USA industrialization and instead propagate the myths of free market, free enterprise economics. This is especially true of past half century, of which the Reagan Revolution is a nadir of American political economy.
Frank Bourgin, The Great Challenge: The Myth of Laissez-Faire in the Early Republic
Probably the most important, as it directly challenges “The Myth of Laissez-Faire” with a consideration of what transpired in the Constitutional Convention, the fight for ratification, and legislation of the first few Congresses.
A. Hunter Dupree, Science in the Federal Government: A History of Policies and Activities to 1940
The history of the government institutions that actually explored, surveyed, and organized a continental wilderness, and created and promoted the technologies of the modern age.
Gabor S. Boritt, Lincoln and the Economics of the American Dream
Beautifully written biography that focuses on Lincoln’s economic beliefs and policies. By detailing the nineteenth Whig Party policies of a protective tariff, internal improvements, and regulating finance, this book shatters the false historical narrative purveyed by conservatives and libertarians that US economic history is free enterprise all the time.
Lawrence Goodwyn, The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America
Simply unequaled in its discussion of greenback economic policies, as well as the nineteenth century history of USA populism.
Jon Larson, Elegant Technology: Economic Prosperity Through Environmental Renewal
The best overview of economics I know of, since it entirely ignores all the mathematical modeling and fixation on monetarism that typifies the economics profession today. Available online at https://elegant-technology.com/ETdefBASE.html
Sam Pizzigati, The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970.
If you need a book to give you hope, this history of how economic populism and political protest shaped the New Deal is it.
Ganesh Sitaraman, The Crisis of the Middle-class Constitution: Why Economic Inequality Threatens Our Republic
Sitaraman comes the closest to addressing the question of what the political economy of a republic should be.
Thomas Frank, Listen Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?
There is simply no way to understand what’s wrong with the national leadership of the Democratic Party if you do not read this book.
This is an amazing compilation. Thanks for this post. There are many among these books I haven’t read. I’d definitely refer to this list when buying my next read. Please keep posting more such compilations of essential reads in social and political philosophy, with of course, your commentary. Thanks.