In case you hadn’t already realized based on my offhand comments and my previous political reviews, I’m pretty liberal. This should be even more clear given that today I’m reviewing one book by Barack Obama and two that were written as a reaction to Trump’s presidency.
One of my goals for 2018 is to read more non-fiction, and it turns out that my library has a really great politics section! (I have holds on so many other books, too. I actually need to calm down a little bit with the library books!) Without further ado, I’m bringing you mini-reviews of three political titles.
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
Publication Date: October 17, 2006
The Audacity of Hope is Barack Obama’s call for a new kind of politics—a politics that builds upon those shared understandings that pull us together as Americans. Lucid in his vision of America’s place in the world, refreshingly candid about his family life and his time in the Senate, Obama here sets out his political convictions and inspires us to trust in the dogged optimism that has long defined us and that is our best hope going forward.
I have a soft spot for Barack Obama. I campaigned for him in 2008. I voted for him in 2008 and 2012. Of all the presidents we’ve had during my lifetime, he’s my favorite. I figured that with all of the nonfiction I’ve been reading this year, I should read The Audacity of Hope.
It was fine, I guess, but it wasn’t really what I was expecting. Obama is intelligent, he’s inspiring, he’s a good writer… but it seemed like he was trying awfully hard not to offend anybody and ended up really saying very little. I don’t know that I would necessarily recommend this book to anybody but diehard Obama fans, but I’m willing to take a look at his other books.
Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen
Publication Date: September 5, 2017
How did we get here?
In this sweeping, eloquent history of America, Kurt Andersen shows that what’s happening in our country today—this post-factual, “fake news” moment we’re all living through—is not something new, but rather the ultimate expression of our national character. America was founded by wishful dreamers, magical thinkers, and true believers, by hucksters and their suckers. Fantasy is deeply embedded in our DNA.
Over the course of five centuries—from the Salem witch trials to Scientology to the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, from P. T. Barnum to Hollywood and the anything-goes, wild-and-crazy sixties, from conspiracy theories to our fetish for guns and obsession with extraterrestrials—our love of the fantastic has made America exceptional in a way that we’ve never fully acknowledged. From the start, our ultra-individualism was attached to epic dreams and epic fantasies—every citizen was free to believe absolutely anything, or to pretend to be absolutely anybody. With the gleeful erudition and tell-it-like-it-is ferocity of a Christopher Hitchens, Andersen explores whether the great American experiment in liberty has gone off the rails.
Fantasyland could not appear at a more perfect moment. If you want to understand Donald Trump and the culture of twenty-first-century America, if you want to know how the lines between reality and illusion have become dangerously blurred, you must read this book.
It might have taken me a week and a half to read it (much longer than my usual 2-3 days) but I was actually surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! Andersen is witty, he’s intelligent, and he seems to easily describe a lot of the current problems in America.
Read this book if you’re interested in facts and figures about how many Americans believe outlandish conspiracy theories but doubt proven scientific facts. Read this book if you want to know how we got to this point. Read this book if you’re fed up with Trump harping on about fake news.
Read this book.
How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky & Daniel Ziblatt
Publication Date: January 16, 2018
A bracing, revelatory look at the demise of liberal democracies around the world–and a road map for rescuing our own
Donald Trump’s presidency has raised a question that many of us never thought we’d be asking: Is our democracy in danger? Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel 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.
I was fresh out of a slump when I picked up this book and holy heck, I could hardly put it down! It’s so interesting and so well-written. Levitsky & Ziblatt deliver their message very clearly while providing examples from both American history and the history of other countries. It can get a little bit repetitive at times, but I’ll forgive it. I can’t recommend this book enough for anybody who’s even remotely interested in politics.
Have you read any of these books? Do you want to have a (hopefully) calm and rational discussion about them? Let’s talk in the comments!
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