bookish · politics

Read, Organize, Mobilize: 12 Books On Issues Americans Care About

The United States has a new president-elect, and half the country is reeling. But we have a few months before he takes office, and now that the mudslinging and scandal-mining is slowing down (at least until the midterm elections), perhaps we can focus on issues instead of candidates. Whatever your party affiliation or lack thereof, these books provide valuable insight on policy issues that Americans care about.

1. Health Care Reform: America’s Bitter Pill by Steven Brill

The topic is dry, but the book is anything but. Most Americans agree that the health care system is still in dire need of change. Learn about the problems in health care before and after the ACA, and what might happen next.

affordable care act obamacare america's bitter pill by steven brill

2. Terrorism: Black Flags by Joby Warrick

Spoiler alert: Hillary Clinton did not create ISIS. Awarded the Pulitzer prize, this book should clear things up and help civilians (that is, most of us) understand the violent epicenter of global terror.

black flags the rise of isis by joby warrick pulitzer prize winner

3. Economic Growth: America Needs Talent by Jamie Merisotis

Jobs is a four-letter word essential to every political campaign. We need ’em, they promise ’em. So, what now? Read this for some ideas.

america needs talent attracting educating deploying the 21st century workforce by jamie merisotis

4. Climate Change: How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate by Andrew Hoffman

The scientific consensus is clear, so what’s the hold-up? For anyone whose debates have ever spiraled into insult-flinging, this book should restore some confidence in the power of discussion. OTOH, if you’re on the fence or new to the issue, Climate Change: What Everyone Needs To Know is essential reading.

climate change how culture shapes the climate debate by andrew hoffman

5. Immigration: Undocumented by Aviva Chomsky

Dealing intelligently with our immigration dilemma requires both scholarly context and compassion. Full disclosure: the book is pretty one-sided, but it’s a side well worth considering, and it is deeper than your average rhetoric.

undocumented how immigration became illegal by aviva chomsky

6. Distribution of Wealth: Saving Capitalism by Robert B. Reich

Attention Bernie Bros: Senator Sanders has high praise for this book. “If you want to understand why income and wealth inequality are the economic, political, and moral issues of our time, you must read this book.” (I hope you read that in his voice.)

saving capitalism for the many not the few by robert b reich

7. Gun Control: The Second Amendment by Michael Waldman

Me, I hate guns. But my friend used hers to scare away a stalker who had been creeping around her house for over a year, without hurting anyone. There are reasons to advocate for responsible gun ownership, and too many reasons to call for restrictions. How should courts interpret this foundational law?

second amendment a biography by michael waldman

8. Voting Rights: The Fight to Vote by Michael Waldman

Another one by Waldman, this time dealing with the history of voting rights in America. Most compelling is the discussion on present-day issues: voter access, campaign corruption, polling technology, disenfranchisement, etc. Americans have always had to demand the vote, and we’ve still got hollering to do.

the fight to vote by michael waldman

9. Policing And Prisons: From The War On Poverty To The War On Crime by Elizabeth Hinton

How does the United States have the world’s highest incarceration rate, rivaling China and Russia? Why are police killing unarmed black civilians, and disgruntled civilians killing police? Why is shutting down private prisons a big deal? The roots of our broken system go deep, and this book will help with the digging.

from the war on poverty to the war on crime by elizabeth hinton

10. Reproductive Rights: After Roe by Mary Ziegler

It seems like we’ve always been deeply entrenched in Choice versus Life, but in fact, we haven’t. What happened, and how and why should we build and re-build bridges?

after roe the lost history of the abortion debate by mary ziegler

11. Marijuana Legalization: Weed the People by Bruce Barcott

Four more states have legalized it. You might be wondering what this means for crime, DUI, your kids, and your state’s economy. This book, like America itself, leans pro-legalization, but it takes the problems therein seriously. Highly (see what I did there?!) recommended.

weed the people the future of legal marijuana in america by bruce barcott

12. Indigenous People’s Rights: Grabbing Back by Alexander Reid Ross

The #NoDAPL protests have drawn national attention, including from leading politicians and assembled celebrities. Though these essays were published before NoDAPL, advocates will be interested to learn about success stories from around the world.

grabbing back essays against the global land grab by alezander reid ross

Now, here’s the plan: everyone buy these, then pass ’em along. Once you and everyone you know have read them, send ’em to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, and perhaps a couple of other addresses. Seriously, we need to bother the hell out of our elected officials — then elect some new ones, and bother them too. As representatives, it’s literally their job to be bothered by us, thus making it our job to bother them.

There are, of course, some issues best discussed face to face. I didn’t include marriage equality and LGBTQA rights, for example, nor any reads to help non-Muslims understand Islam. I skipped the flood of books coming out that struggle to understand rural America (read: who are these people who voted for Trump, anyway?). I predict a number of books analyzing news media and its role in elections, which is a tiresome but critical subject.

Sometimes, imo, it’s best to log out of social media, resist the quick articles and blogs, and engage deeply the old-fashioned way: books, investigative research, travel, and conversation. Books are a good start; they can open the mind and heart while keeping the reader safe and comfortable. They can give us courage to exit our comfort zones, too.

A version of this post originally published on #AmReading


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