Great Political Reading

Some key political books that have been talked about extensively in the news, including books I’ve reviewed in my journal.

Voices of a People’s History of the United States
Howard Zinn
January, 2005
Here in their own words are Frederick Douglass, George Jackson, Chief Joseph, Martin Luther King Jr., Plough Jogger, Sacco and Vanzetti, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Mark Twain, and Malcolm X, to name just a few of the hundreds appearing in Voices of a People’s History of the United States, edited by Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove. Paralleling the 24 chapters of Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Voices of a People’s History is the long-awaited companion volume to the national bestseller.

Don’t Think of an Elephant: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate–The Essential Guide for Progressives
by George Lakoff
September, 2004
George Lakoff argues in Don’t Think of an Elephant that much of the success the Republican Party can be attributed to a persistent ability to control the language of key issues and thus position themselves in favorable terms to voters. While Democrats may have valid arguments, Lakoff points out they are destined to lose when they and the news media accept such nomenclature as "pro-life," "tax relief," and "family values," since to argue against such inherently positive terminology necessarily casts the arguer in a negative light. Lakoff offers recommendations for how the progressive movement can regain semantic equity by repositioning their arguments, such as countering the conservative call for "Strong Defense" with a call for "A Stronger America" (curiously, one of the key slogans of the Kerry camp).

Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think
George Lakoff
May 1, 2002
In Moral Politics, the first full-scale application of cognitive science to politics, George Lakoff analyzes the unconscious worldviews of liberals and conservatives, explaining why they are at odds over so many seemingly unrelated issues-like taxes, abortion, regulation, and social programs. The differences, Lakoff argues, are not mere matters of partisanship, but arise from radically different conceptions of morality and ideal family life-meaning that family and morality are at the heart of American politics, in ways that are far from obvious. For this edition, Lakoff adds a preface and an afterword explaining how "moral politics" makes sense of events like the impeachment of Bill Clinton and the 2000 presidential election.

What’s the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America
by Thomas Frank
June 2004
In asking “what ’s the matter with Kansas?”—how a place famous for its radicalism became one of the most conservative states in the union—Frank, a native Kansan and onetime Republican, seeks to answer some broader American riddles: Why do so many of us vote against our economic interests? Where’s the outrage at corporate manipulators? And whatever happened to middle-American progressivism? The questions are urgent as well as provocative.

The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States
by National Commission on Terrorist Attacks
July 22, 2004
The result of months of intensive investigations and inquiries by a specially appointed bipartisan panel, The 9/11 Commission Report is one of the most important historical documents of the modern era. And while that fact alone makes it worth owning, it is also a chilling and valuable piece of nonfiction: a comprehensive and alarming look at one of the biggest intelligence failures in history and the events that led up to it. The commission traces the roots of al-Qaeda’s strategies along with the emergence of the 19 hijackers and how they entered the United States and boarded airplanes. It details the missed opportunities of law enforcement officials to avert disaster. Using transcripts of cockpit voice recordings, the report describes events on board the planes along with the chaotic reaction on the ground from nearly every level of government. Going forward, the commission calls for a comprehensive overhaul of what it sees as a deeply flawed and disjointed intelligence-gathering operation.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction
by the writers of The Daily Show
September, 2004
American-style democracy is the world’s most beloved form of government, which explains why so many other nations are eager for us to impose it on them. But what is American democracy? In America (The Book), Jon Stewart and The Daily Show writing staff offer their insights into our unique system of government, dissecting its institutions, explaining its history and processes, and exploring the reasons why concepts like one man, one vote, government by the people, and every vote counts have become such popular urban myths. Topics include: Ancient Rome: The First Republicans; The Founding Fathers: Young, Gifted, and White; The Media: Can it Be Stopped?; and more!

Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror
by Michael Scheuer
July 15, 2004
The war on terror has created near unanimity on many points, at least within the American press and political leadership. One essential point of agreement: al Qaeda specifically and radical Islamism in general are stirred by a hatred of modernity. Or as President George W. Bush has articulated repeatedly, they hate freedom. Nonsense, responds the nameless author of this work and 2003’s Through Our Enemies’ Eyes (the senior U.S. intelligence official’s identity became an open secret by publication date). Indeed, he grimly and methodically discards common wisdom throughout this scathing and compelling take on counterterrorism.

The Sorrows of Empire : Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic [The American Empire Project]
by Chalmers Johnson
January 13, 2004
Since September 2001, the United States has "undergone a transformation from republic to empire that may well prove irreversible," writes Chalmers Johnson. Unlike past global powers, however, America has built an empire of bases rather than colonies, creating in the process a government that is obsessed with maintaining absolute military dominance over the world, Johnson claims.

The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity: A Diplomat’s Memoir
by Joseph Wilson
April, 2004
[Description by Amazon.com] In 1991, President George H. W. Bush called Ambassador Joseph Wilson a "True American Hero." In 2003, senior officials in President George W. Bush’s White House tried to intimidate critics and punish Wilson for what he knew—and finally made public—about the administration’s lies before the invasion of Iraq. The disclosure of the undercover identity of Wilson’s wife, CIA operative Valerie Plame, was an unprecedented and potentially criminal act. THE POLITICS OF TRUTH tells the revealing story of this courageous American diplomat and his pivotal career in foreign policy, from telling Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait to confronting the White House leaks that have breached national security.

Plan of Attack
by Bob Woodward
April 2004
[Description by Amazon.com] Plan of Attack is the definitive account of a turning point in history as President George W. Bush, his war council, and allies launch a preemptive attack on Iraq, toppling Saddam Hussein and taking over the country. From in-depth interviews and documents, Bob Woodward provides an authoritative narrative of the Administration’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering over two years and examines the causes and consequences of the most controversial war since Vietnam.

Among the bombshells revealed by Woodward: Vice President Dick Cheney informed the Saudi ambassador to the United States of the president’s decision to go to war in Iraq before Secretary of State Colin Powell was told of the decision.

Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet
James Mann
April 2004
[Description by Amazon.com] When George W. Bush campaigned for the White House, he was such a novice in foreign policy that he couldn’t name the president of Pakistan. But he was advised by a group that called themselves the Vulcans—a group of men and one woman with long and shared experience in government, dating back to the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and first Bush administrations. After returning to power in 2001, the Vulcans—including Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, and Condoleeza Rice—were widely expected to restore U.S. foreign policy to what it had been in past Republican administrations. Instead, they put America on an entirely new course, adopting a far-reaching set of ideas and policies that changed the world and America’s role in it.

Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush
by John W. Dean
April 2004
[Description by Amazon.com] As Richard Nixon’s White House counsel during the Watergate scandal, John Dean famously warned his boss that there was "a cancer on the presidency" that would bring down the administration unless Nixon came clean. In his new book, " Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush ," Dean warns the country that the Bush administration is even more secretive and authoritarian than Nixon’s — in fact, he writes, it’s "the most secretive presidency of my lifetime."

Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror
by Richard A. Clarke
March 22, 2004
Few political memoirs have made such a dramatic entrance as that by Richard A. Clarke. During the week of the initial publication of Against All Enemies , Clarke was featured on 60 Minutes , testified before the 9/11 commission, and touched off a raging controversy over how the presidential administration handled the threat of terrorism and the post-9/11 geopolitical landscape. Clarke, a veteran Washington insider who had advised presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and George W. Bush, dissects each man’s approach to terrorism but levels the harshest criticism at the latter Bush and his advisors who, Clarke asserts, failed to take terrorism and Al-Qaeda seriously.

House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World’s Two Most Powerful Dynasties
by Craig Unger
March 16, 2004
A new book by journalist Craig Unger examines the intimate connections between the Bush family and the Saudi Arabian Royal Family, and in turn, the intimate connection between the Royal Family and Osama bin Laden and the militant strains of Islamic Fundamentalism behind the September 11 attacks.

The Coming of the Third Reich
by Richard J. Evans
February 1, 2004
In 1900 Germany was the most progressive and dynamic nation in Europe, the only country whose rapid technological and social growth and change challenged that of the United States. Its political culture was less authoritarian than Russia’s and less anti-Semitic than France’s; representative institutions were thriving, and competing political parties and elections were a central part of life. How then can we explain the fact that in little more than a generation this stable modern country would be in the hands of a violent, racist, extremist political movement that would lead it and all of Europe into utter moral, physical, and cultural ruin? There is no story in twentieth-century history more important to understand, and Richard Evans has written the definitive account for our time.

The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill
by Ron Suskind
January 13, 2004
The George W. Bush White House, as described by former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, is a world out of kilter. Policy decisions are determined not by careful weighing of an issue’s complexities; rather, they’re dictated by a cabal of ideologues and political advisors operating outside the view of top cabinet officials. The President is not a fully engaged administrator but an enigma who is, at best, guarded and poker-faced but at worst, uncurious, unintelligent, and a puppet of larger forces.

American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush
by Kevin Phillips
January 1, 2004
The Bushes are the family nobody really knows, says Kevin Phillips. This popular lack of acquaintance—nurtured by gauzy imagery of Maine summer cottages, gray-haired national grandmothers, July Fourth sparklers, and cowboy boots—has let national politics create a dynasticized presidency that would have horrified America’s founding fathers. They, after all, had led a revolution against a succession of royal Georges.

Dude, Where’s My Country?
By Michael Moore
October 7, 2003
His book is intended to serve as a handbook for how people with liberal opinions (which is most of America, Moore contends, whether they call themselves "liberals" or not) can take back their country from the conservative forces in power. Moore uses his trademark brand of confrontational, exasperated humor skillfully as he offers a primer on how to change the worldview of one’s annoying conservative blowhard brother-in-law, and he crafts a surprisingly thorough "Draft Oprah for President" movement.

The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception
by David Corn
September 30, 2003
As Washington editor for the Nation, Corn has had his eyes and ears open for what he construes as lies from the Bush White House, and here he has assembled what many will see as an impressive body of evidence. Corn states that Bush has "mugged the truth-not merely in honest error, but deliberately, consistently and repeatedly to advance his career and his agenda." Corn carefully documents alleged falsehoods dating back to the campaign trail covering a full range of issues-from Enron to education, global warming to stem cell research. But this is no simplistic anti-Bush rant; it also faults the media for not underlining the apparent lies and the public for not caring enough.

Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America
by Lou Dubose, Molly Ivins
September 23, 2003
As the only president in U.S. history to slash taxes and go to war simultaneously, Bush wins consistently low marks from Ivins for pursuing "crony capitalism" to its inevitably depressing extremes. While many of the topics covered here have been covered extensively (Enron, the war in Iraq), Ivins does a good job of building on what’s already been written (proving Bush’s close ties to former Enron chief Ken Lay, and laying out the fundamentalist, apocalyptic view of Iraq and the Middle East that drives Bush’s foreign policy). Ivins is particularly good in taking arcane federal regulations and showing how the Bush administration’s lax oversight has hurt ordinary Americans, making their jobs, homes, water, and food less safe.

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right
by Al Franken
August 29, 2003
Having previously dissected the factual inaccuracies of a single bellicose talk show host in Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot , Al Franken takes his fight to a larger foe: President George W. Bush, the Bush Administration, Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, and scores of other conservatives whom, he says, are playing loose with the facts. It’s a lot of ground to cover, as evidenced by the 43 chapters in Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them , but the results are often entertaining and insightful. Franken occupies a unique place in the modern political dialogue as perhaps the media’s only comedy writer and performer who is also a Harvard fellow as well as a liberal political commentator.

The Great Big Book of Tomorrow: A Treasury of Cartoons
by Tom Tomorrow
August 18, 2003
Tomorrow’s "This Modern World" has been a reliable source of vitriolic political satire in alternative weeklies for 15 years, and, more recently, on Salon.com. Tomorrow’s distinctive style involves photocopying images in sources ranging from 1950s advertising art to recent photos and setting them in text-heavy, multipanel strips. As distinctive as the strip looks, it is the content that separates Tomorrow from the pack.

Stop Bush in 2004 : How Every Citizen Can Help
by Michael John Dobbin
You will learn all the effective ways of taking action during the campaign including activism directed at the Bush Campaign, The Democratic Campaign, The Media, Students, and The Economy. You will learn how to choose the actions that are best for you and which actions are the most important.

Living History
by Hillary Rodham Clinton
June 2003
Beginning with a brief outline of her childhood, college years, introduction to politics, and her courtship with Bill Clinton, Clinton covers a wide variety of topics: life on the campaign trail, her troubled tenure as leader of the President’s Task Force on National Health Care Reform, meeting with foreign leaders, and her work on human rights, to name a few. By necessity, she also addresses the various scandals that plagued the administration, from Travelgate to Whitewater to impeachment, though she does not go into great detail about each one; rather, she seems content to simply state her case and move on without trying to settle too many old scores.

Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth
by Joe Conason
May 25, 2003
In Big Lies, Conason dissects 10 of the most persistent, and–according to him–glaringly incorrect, arguments made by conservatives. Each chapter begins with a quotation ("Liberals control the media and misuse their influence to promote left-wing politics," "Conservatives are the only true champions of free enterprise"), which is then picked apart using statistical evidence and detailed historical research and rejected. The modern right wing, in the opinion of Conason, is not the bastion of virtue and defender of the common man it claims to be.

The Clinton Wars
by Sidney Blumenthal
May 20, 2003
No mere presidential history, the battles chronicled here transcend politics as usual, bitter partisan campaigns whose roots Blumenthal forcefully argues extend beneath lingering class and generational resentments into the darkest heart of America’s Southern racist past. Hillary Clinton’s accusations of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" garnered cynical chuckles in its heyday; Blumenthal (whose own teasing White House nickname was "Grassy Knoll") merely cuts its treachery down to size, documenting the usual suspects, dates, and places with amply footnoted vengeance.

A Patriot’s Handbook: Songs, Poems, Stories and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love
by Caroline Kennedy
May 7, 2003
The rich and sometimes discordant strains of American self-scrutiny fill this wide-ranging anthology. Kennedy (The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis) arranges the more than 200 selections according to themes like "The Flag," "Freedom of Speech," "Work, Opportunity and Invention" and "The Individual," and devotes equal space to the official, the devotional and the oppositional. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are reprinted in full, along with a large selection of presidential inaugurals and farewells and excerpts from landmark Supreme Court decisions.

What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News
by Eric Alterman
February 4, 2003
Alterman picks apart charges made by Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, George Will, Sean Hannity, and others. But the perspectives of less-incendiary figures, including David Broder and Howard Kurtz, are also dissected in Alterman’s quest to prove that not only do the media lack a liberal slant but that quite the opposite is true. Much of Alterman’s argument comes down to this: the conservatives in the newspapers, television, talk radio, and the Republican party are lying about liberal bias and repeating the same lies long enough that they’ve taken on a patina of truth.

Pigs at the Trough : How Corporate Greed and Political Corruption Are Undermining America
by Arianna Huffington
January 14, 2003
Nationally syndicated columnist Huffington’s greatest dilemma while writing this scathing indictment of the corporate and political culture that brought the "new economy" ’90s crashing down must have been how to choose among the plethora of examples of greed, corruption, hypocrisy and political manipulation. So unsavory are the CEO villains, so unfathomable is their greed and monstrously callous is their disregard for the thousands of employees who lost jobs and savings because of them, that even the most worldly activist and most cynical political observers will be shocked by what they read here.

Stupid White Men …and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!
by Michael Moore
February 19, 2002
Stupid White Men, Michael Moore’s screed against "Thief-in-Chief" George Bush’s power elite, hit No. 1 at Amazon.com within days of publication. Why? It’s as fulminating and crammed with infuriating facts as any right-wing bestseller, as irreverent as The Onion , and as noisily entertaining as a wrestling smackdown. Moore offers a more interesting critique of the 2000 election than Ralph Nader’s Crashing the Party (he argued with Nader, his old boss, who sacked him), and he’s serious when he advocates ousting Bush.

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