I was recently looking for some good books on the major political issues of the day. If someone wanted to become familiar with the big issues in economics and politics and the environment, what should they read? In particular, I wanted books that would help college students understand how institutions might be changed to solve various economic and political problems.
I came up with the following list (with Brookens Library call numbers as part of the listing, to help students find these books in our university’s library):
Alperovitz, Gar (2005). America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy. Hoboken, NJ: J. Wiley. JK1726 .A428 2005.
Bolton, Giles (2007). Poor Story. an insider uncovers how globalisation and good intentions have failed the world’s poor. (HC 800 Z9 P6238 2007)
Bonilla-Silva, Eduard. (2003). Racism without racists: color-blind racism and the persistence of racial inequality in the United States. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. E184.A1 B597 2003.
Bornstein, David. (2007). How to change the world: Social entrepreneurs and the power of new ideas, updated edition. New York: Oxford University Press. HN18 .B6363 2007.
Brown, Sherrod. (2004). Myths of free trade: why American trade policy has failed. New York: New Press. HF1455 .B733 2004.
Edwards, Andres R. (2005). The Sustainability Revolution: Portrait of a Paradigm Shift. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers. (Not available at UIS Library).
Greenhouse, Steven. (2008). The big squeeze: tough times for the American worker. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. HD8072.5 .G74 2008.
Hamilton, Lee H. (2004). How congress works and why you should care. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. (not available at UIS Library).
Hawken, Paul. (2007). Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World. New York: Viking. GE195 .H388 2007.
Jones, Jeffrey D. (2007). The unaffordable nation: Searching for a decent life in America. New York: Prometheus Books. (HD6983 .J66 2007)
Lakoff, George. (2002). Moral Politics: How liberals and conservatives think (Revised Second Edition in Paperback). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (The earlier first edition of this book is available at the UIS library: HN90.M6 L351996)
Lichtman, Allan J. (2008). White Protestant Nation; The rise of the American conservative movement. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. JC573.2.U6 L53 2008.
McKibben, Bill (2004). Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. New York: Holt. (Not available at UIS Library). (paperbook version was published in 2008).
O’Rourke, P. J. (1991). Parliament of Whores: A Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. JK34 .O741991
O’Rourke, P. J. (2007). On “The Wealth of Nations”. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.
Obama, Barack (2004). Dreams from my father: a story of race and inheritance. New York: Times Books. E185.97.O23 A31995.
Orfield, Myron. (2002). American Metropolitics: New Suburban Reality. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press. HT334.U5 O72 2002.
Rank, Mark. (2004). One nation, underprivileged: Why American poverty affects us all. New York: Oxford University Press. HV91 .R363 2004
Redman, Eric (1973). The dance of legislation. New York: Simon and Schuster. KF4980 .R4.
Reich, Robert B. (2007). Supercapitalism: the transformation of business, democracy, and everyday life. JK275 .R45 2007
Sen, Amartya (1999). Development as Freedom. New York: Knopf. HD75 .S455 1999.
Stern, Andy (2006). A country that works: getting America back on track. New York: Free Press. HD8066 .S74 2006.
Stiglitz, Joseph E. (2006). Making globalization work. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. HF1359 .S753 2006.
Vollmann, William T. (2007). Poor People. New York: Ecco. HV4028 .V65 2007.
Wolff, Edward N. (2002). Top heavy: the increasing inequality of wealth in America and what can be done about it. New York: New Press. HJ4120 .W65 2002
I was concerned that this list of books didn't seem to have enough views from conservative or libertarian viewpoints. I'm pretty liberal or radical in most political questions (although I hold a few reactionary or conservative views here and there on particular issues). So, I started looking for conservative reading lists. I figured that the various well-funded conservative think-tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Cato Institute would have some good books, and so I started with their websites.
The Cato Institute has never impressed me with the scholarship of the work they present. In fact, it's usually easy to find serious problems in any report issued by the Cato institute, but sometimes they make some valid points or present some interesting data, and their stuff is always thought-provoking, even if it's substantially weak. As I look at the books they have recently published, I notice several that I might consider adding to my list. One thing I notice, however, is that every book from the institute seems to carry a certain Libertarian position against big government. If you compare the list to the books and reports published by a more liberal or moderate think-tank such as the Brookings Institute, the Rand Corporation, or the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, you can (I think) sense a real difference in the focus and quality of publications. The more non-partisan or liberal think tanks produce work that address a wider variety of issues and problems, and the policy recommendations generally seem (to me at least) to come from reasoned evaluation, rather than a consistent ideological position. The Heritage Foundation has a few books that aren't grinding that same ax against the government and taxes. The American Enterprise Institute actually seems to have a broader set of publications that apparently take a more scholarly and analytical position.
What about book clubs and what they are suggesting people read? The Conservative Book Club doesn't seem to feature any of the better books from scholars at the conservative think-tanks. Instead, it has books by the likes of Ann Coulter and Jonah Goldberg. You can get books from them such as "The Case Against Barack Obama" or "Conservative Comebacks to Liberal Lies" or "The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)." These books seem to me to be motivational books written by in-group leaders for their faithful to read as part of a faith-and-intuition-based identity movement around "conservatism," but I don't think these books really provide much intellectual or analytical foundation for sound conservative political philosophy. At least, I don't see how a book like "If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans" is going to encourage critical thinking and reasoned debate based upon empirical evidence and logical propositions. The Conservative Book Service seems slightly more sophisticated. They offer us "Black Belt Patriotism" by Chuck Norris. Oh yes, they carry Ann Coulter books, and have a whole section of books on the Clintons.
I compare this to the books offered by the Progressive Book Club. They also carry some books by authors on the silly fringes of the left (I doubt I could stomach Jim Hightower's "Swim Against the Current" even if I agreed with most of what he says in it). Yet, most of the books seem to be more thoughtful and scholarly. I would really like to read Richard Hofstadter's "The Paranoid Style in American Politics," and I've already read and can recommend Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma."
Why aren't there more conservative counterparts to the sorts of books carried by the Progressive Book Club or the reports issued by the liberal and moderate think tanks? Why are the conservative book clubs and think tanks so frustratingly dependent upon shallow books by people who can write opinion, but have poor skills in presenting good information? I wish the conservatives had more intellectual voices and more convincing books. Can anyone recommend some really good conservative books on current issues that I could add to my list? Aside from P.J. O'Rourke, who is a sort of intellectual conservative humorist (and a great writer), but not really a scholar by any means, I don't really have any solid conservative authors in my list.