Recommended Reading List (Full List)

Contract to Unite America: Ten Reforms to Reclaim Our Republic (2020) - By Neal Simon

  • "The alternate domination of one faction over another, natural to party dissension...is itself a frightful despotism." -- George Washington George Washington's nightmare has been realized. Despite his warning about the negative effects of party loyalties, the U.S. government has become paralyzed by partisanship, allowing national challenges to go unaddressed. As an independent candidate for U.S. Senate in 2018, Neal Simon witnessed the destructive nature of modern American politics. He experienced firsthand the perverse incentives that push candidates and lawmakers to ideological extremes. He watched as party leaders resisted pragmatic solutions to our nation's problems. He saw politicians prioritize loyalty to their party bases over progress for the American people. In this comprehensive analysis of United States politics, Simon shows how degradations in party primaries, campaign finances, and election rules have caused American self-government to collapse into gridlock and divisiveness. However, the American promise is so much greater. As the first U.S. president noted in his famed address, "The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their constitutions of government." Capitalizing on personal insight derived from Simon's political campaign along with extensive research, Contract to Unite America provides specific, practical solutions for an improved government and a better tomorrow.

Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy (2020) - By Richard L. Hasen

  • As the 2020 presidential campaign begins to take shape, there is widespread distrust of the fairness and accuracy of American elections. In this timely and accessible book, Richard L. Hasen uses riveting stories illustrating four factors increasing the mistrust. Voter suppression has escalated as a Republican tool aimed to depress turnout of likely Democratic voters, fueling suspicion. Pockets of incompetence in election administration, often in large cities controlled by Democrats, have created an opening to claims of unfairness. Old-fashioned and new-fangled dirty tricks, including foreign and domestic misinformation campaigns via social media, threaten electoral integrity. Inflammatory rhetoric about "stolen" elections supercharges distrust among hardcore partisans. Taking into account how each of these threats has manifested in recent years--most notably in the 2016 and 2018 elections--Hasen offers concrete steps that need to be taken to restore trust in American elections before the democratic process is completely undermined.

Uncounted: The Crisis of Voter Suppression in America (2020) - By Gilda R. Daniels

  • The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is considered one of the most effective pieces of legislation the United States has ever passed. It enfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters, particularly in the American South, and drew attention to the problem of voter suppression. Yet in recent years there has been a continuous assault on access to the ballot box in the form of stricter voter ID requirements, meritless claims of rigged elections, and baseless accusations of voter fraud. In the past these efforts were aimed at eliminating African American voters from the rolls, and today, new laws seek to eliminate voters of color, the poor, and the elderly, groups that historically vote for the Democratic Party. Uncounted examines the phenomenon of disenfranchisement through the lens of history, race, law, and the democratic process. Gilda R. Daniels, who served as Deputy Chief in the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and more than two decades of voting rights experience, argues that voter suppression works in cycles, constantly adapting and finding new ways to hinder access for an exponentially growing minority population. She warns that a premeditated strategy of restrictive laws and deceptive practices has taken root and is eroding the very basis of American democracy—the right to vote!

They Don't Represent Us: Reclaiming Our Democracy (2019) - By Lawrence Lessig

  • America’s democracy is in crisis. Along many dimensions, a single flaw—unrepresentativeness—has detached our government from the people. And as a people, our fractured partisanship and ignorance on critical issues drive our leaders to stake out ever more extreme positions. In They Don’t Represent Us, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig charts the way in which the fundamental institutions of our democracy, including our media, respond to narrow interests rather than to the needs and wishes of the nation’s citizenry. But the blame does not only lie with “them”—Washington’s politicians and power brokers, Lessig argues. The problem is also “us.” “We the people” are increasingly uninformed about the issues, while ubiquitous political polling exacerbates the problem, reflecting and normalizing our ignorance and feeding it back into the system as representative of our will.

Vote for Us: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting (2019) - By Joshua Douglas

  • In contrast to the anxiety surrounding our voting system, with stories about voter suppression and manipulation, there are actually quite a few positive initiatives toward voting rights reform. Professor Joshua A. Douglas, an expert on our electoral system, examines these encouraging developments in this inspiring book about how regular Americans are working to take back their democracy, one community at a time. Told through the narratives of those working on positive voting rights reforms, Douglas includes chapters on expanding voter eligibility, easing voter registration rules, making voting more convenient, enhancing accessibility at the polls, providing voters with more choices, finding ways to comply with voter ID rules, giving redistricting back to the voters, pushing back on big money through local and state efforts, using journalism to make the system more accountable, and improving civics education. At the end, the book includes an appendix that lists organizations all over the country working on these efforts. Unusually accessible for a lay audience and thoroughly researched, this book gives anyone fed up with our current political environment the ideas and tools necessary to affect change in their own communities.

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for American (2018) - By Nancy MacLean

  • An explosive exposé of the right's relentless campaign to eliminate unions, suppress voting, privatize public education, and change the Constitution. Behind today's headlines of billionaires taking over our government is a secretive political establishment with long, deep, and troubling roots. The capitalist radical right has been working not simply to change who rules, but to fundamentally alter the rules of democratic governance. But billionaires did not launch this movement; a white intellectual in the embattled Jim Crow South did. Democracy in Chains names its true architect - the Nobel Prize-winning political economist James McGill Buchanan - and dissects the operation he and his colleagues designed over six decades to alter every branch of government to disempower the majority.

How Democracies Die (2018) - By Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky

  • How Democracies Die is a book by Harvard University political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt about how elected leaders can gradually subvert the democratic process to increase their power.  Donald Trump’s presidency has raised a question that many of us never thought we’d be asking: Is our democracy in danger? Levitsky and Ziblatt have spent more than twenty years studying the breakdown of democracies in Europe and Latin America, and they believe the answer is yes. Democracy no longer ends with a bang—in a revolution or military coup—but with a whimper: the slow, steady weakening of critical institutions, such as the judiciary and the press, and the gradual erosion of long-standing political norms. The good news is that there are several exit ramps on the road to authoritarianism. The bad news is that, by electing Trump, we have already passed the first one. Drawing on decades of research and a wide range of historical and global examples, from 1930s Europe to contemporary Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela, to the American South during Jim Crow, Levitsky and Ziblatt show how democracies die—and how ours can be saved.

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World (2018) - By Anand Giridharadas

  • The New York Times bestselling, groundbreaking investigation of how the global elite’s efforts to “change the world” preserve the status quo and obscure their role in causing the problems they later seek to solve. An essential read for understanding some of the egregious abuses of power that dominate today’s news. Anand Giridharadas takes us into the inner sanctums of a new gilded age, where the rich and powerful fight for equality and justice any way they can—except ways that threaten the social order and their position atop it. They rebrand themselves as saviors of the poor; they lavishly reward “thought leaders” who redefine “change” in ways that preserve the status quo; and they constantly seek to do more good, but never less harm.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017) - By Timothy Snyder

  • The Founding Fathers tried to protect us from the threat they knew, the tyranny that overcame ancient democracy. Today, our political order faces new threats, not unlike the totalitarianism of the twentieth century. We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. On Tyranny is a call to arms and a guide to resistance, with invaluable ideas for how we can preserve our freedoms in the uncertain years to come.

You're More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen's Guide to Making Change Happen (2017) - By Eric Liu

  • We are in an age of epic political turbulence in America. Old hierarchies and institutions are collapsing. From the election of Donald Trump to the upending of the major political parties to the spread of grassroots movements like Black Lives Matter and $15 Now, people across the country and across the political spectrum are reclaiming power. Are you ready for this age of bottom-up citizen power? Do you understand what power truly is, how it flows, who has it, and how you can claim and exercise it? Eric Liu, who has spent a career practicing and teaching civic power, lays out the answers in this incisive, inspiring, and provocative book. Using examples from the left and the right, past and present, he reveals the core laws of power. He shows that all of us can generate power-and then, step by step, he shows us how. The strategies of reform and revolution he lays out will help every reader make sense of our world today. If you want to be more than a spectator in this new era, you need to read this book.

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits (2016) - By Greg Palast

  • A close presidential election in November could well come down to contested states or even districts–an election decided by vote theft? It could happen this year. Based on Greg Palast and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s investigative reporting for Rolling Stone and BBC television plus new reporting by Palast for the new edition—a portion of which will be a Rolling Stone cover story, covered in major progressive media outlets which will include radio, television, and webcasts, and featured on listservs from important civil rights and activist organisations—The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: A Tale of Billionaires & Ballot Bandits will be the most important book published this year—one that could save the election.

Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016) - By Jane Mayer

  • Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right is a non-fiction book written by the American investigative journalist Jane Mayer, about a network of extremely wealthy conservative Republicans, foremost among them Charles and David Koch, who have together funded an array of organizations that work in tandem to influence academic institutions, think tanks, the courts, statehouses, Congress, and the American presidency for their own benefit.

Nation on the Take: How Big Money Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It (2016) - By Wendell Potter and Nick Penneman

  • American democracy has become coin operated. Special interest groups increasingly control every level of government. The necessity of raising huge sums of campaign cash has completely changed the character of politics and policy making, determining what elected representatives stand for and how their time is spent. The marriage of great wealth and intense political influence has rendered our country unable to address our most pressing problems, from runaway government spending to climate change to the wealth gap. It also defines our daily lives: from the cars we drive to the air we breathe to the debt we owe. In this powerful work of reportage, Wendell Potter and Nick Penniman, two vigilant watchdogs, expose legalized corruption and link it to the kitchen-table issues citizens face every day. Inciting our outrage, the authors then inspire us by introducing us to an army of reformers laying the groundwork for change, ready to be called into action. The battle plan for reform presented is practical, realistic, and concrete. No one--except some lobbyists and major political donors--likes business as usual, and this book aims to help forge a new army of reformers who are compelled by a patriotic duty to fight for a better democracy.

When Money Talks: The High Price of "Free" Speech and the Selling of Democracy (2015) - By Derek Cressman

  • Special-interest money is destroying our democratic process. But now that the Citizens United decision has thrown out campaign spending limits as abridgments of free speech, Americans want to know what they can do about it. Derek Cressman gives us the tools, both intellectual and tactical, to fight back. There's nothing inherently unconstitutional in limiting the amount of speech, Cressman insists. We do it all the time—for example, cities control when and where demonstrations can take place or how long people can speak at council meetings. Moreover, he argues that while you choose to patronize Fox News, MSNBC, the New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal, political advertising is forced upon you. It's not really free speech at all—it's paid speech. It's not at all what the Founders had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment. Cressman examines how courts have foiled attempts to limit campaign spending, details what a constitutional amendment limiting paid speech should say, and reveals an overlooked political tool concerned citizens can use to help gain the amendment's passage. Seven times before in our history we have approved constitutional amendments to overturn wrongheaded rulings by the Supreme Court—there's no reason we can't do it again.

Corporations are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy From Big Money & Global Corporations (2012) - By Jeff Clements

  • In Corporations Are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy From Big Money & Global Corporations, Jeff Clements describes how the Supreme Court in Citizens United v. FEC and related cases has fabricated unprecedented rights and power for corporations and money, at the expense of human beings and democracy itself. Now, five years after Citizens United, this new, updated edition shows how Americans are coming together to overturn the decision and renew the promise of freedom and democracy for people everywhere.

Who Stole the American Dream? (2012) - By Hedrick Smith

  • Who Stole the American Dream? is a non-fiction book by the American author and journalist Hedrick Smith. It describes the consolidation of wealth in the United States, and the dismantling of the middle class. As a result, the American Dream—a national ethos, or a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work—is becoming increasingly unattainable.

Local Elections and the Politics of Small-Scale Democracy (2012) - By J. Eric Oliver, Shang E. Ha, and Zachary Callen

  • Local government is the hidden leviathan of American politics: it accounts for nearly a tenth of gross domestic product, it collects nearly as much in taxes as the federal government, and its decisions have an enormous impact on Americans' daily lives. Yet political scientists have few explanations for how people vote in local elections, particularly in the smaller cities, towns, and suburbs where most Americans live. Drawing on a wide variety of data sources and case studies, this book offers the first comprehensive analysis of electoral politics in America's municipalities. Arguing that current explanations of voting behavior are ill suited for most local contests, the book puts forward a new theory that highlights the crucial differences between local, state, and national democracies. Being small in size, limited in power, and largely unbiased in distributing their resources, local governments are “managerial democracies” with a distinct style of electoral politics. Instead of hinging on the partisanship, ideology, and group appeals that define national and state elections, local elections are based on the custodial performance of civic-oriented leaders and on their personal connections to voters with similarly deep community ties. Explaining not only the dynamics of local elections, Oliver's findings also upend many long-held assumptions about community power and local governance, including the importance of voter turnout and the possibilities for grassroots political change.

A People's History of the United States (2003) - By Howard Zinn

  • A People's History of the United States is a 1980 nonfiction book, revised in 2003, by American historian and political scientist Howard Zinn. In the book, Zinn presented what he considered to be a different side of history from the more traditional "fundamental nationalist glorification of country". Zinn portrays a side of American history that can largely be seen as the exploitation and manipulation of the majority by rigged systems that hugely favor a small aggregate of elite rulers from across the orthodox political parties.
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