Let The People Rule illustration

Books for understanding today’s politics

By Ideas Editor

Super Tuesday, when a third of all delegates are up for grabs in fourteen states, will no doubt be a game changer in clarifying the true frontrunners in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Need help riding out this nail-biter? Delve into this list of books for understanding today’s politics as voters head to polls across the country, from California to Texas, Tennessee to Massachusetts.


The Loud Minority

The Loud Minority: Why Protests Matter in American Democracy

The “silent majority”—a phrase coined by Richard Nixon in 1969 in response to Vietnam War protests and later used by Donald Trump as a campaign slogan—refers to the supposed wedge that exists between protestors in the street and the voters at home. The Loud Minority upends this view by demonstrating that voters are in fact directly informed and influenced by protest activism. 


The Divided States of America

The Divided States of America: Why Federalism Doesn’t Work

Federalism was the pragmatic compromise that brought the colonies together to form the United States. Yet, inequality was built into the system because federalism by its very nature meant that many aspects of an American’s life depended on where they lived. Over time, these inequalities have created vast divisions between the states and made federalism fundamentally unstable. In The Divided States of America, Donald Kettl chronicles the history of a political system that once united the nation—and now threatens to break it apart.


Let the People Rule

Let the People Rule: How Direct Democracy Can Meet the Populist Challenge

Propelled by the belief that government has slipped out of the hands of ordinary citizens, a surging wave of populism is destabilizing democracies around the world. As John Matsusaka reveals in Let the People Rule, this belief is based in fact. Over the past century, while democratic governments have become more efficient, they have also become more disconnected from the people they purport to represent. The solution Matsusaka advances is familiar but surprisingly underused: direct democracy, in the form of referendums.


Steadfast Democrats

Steadfast Democrats: How Social Forces Shape Black Political Behavior

Black Americans are by far the most unified racial group in American electoral politics, with 80 to 90 percent identifying as Democrats—a surprising figure given that nearly a third now also identify as ideologically conservative, up from less than 10 percent in the 1970s. Why has ideological change failed to push more black Americans into the Republican Party? Steadfast Democrats answers this question with a pathbreaking new theory.


Inside the Mind of a Voter

Inside the Mind of a Voter: A New Approach to Electoral Psychology

Could understanding whether elections make people happy and bring them closure matter more than who they vote for? What if people did not vote for what they want but for what they believe is right based on roles they implicitly assume? This book invites readers on a unique journey inside the mind of a voter using unprecedented data from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, South Africa, and Georgia throughout a period when the world evolved from the centrist dominance of Obama and Mandela to the shock victories of Brexit and Trump. 


How to be a Leader

How to Be a Leader: An Ancient Guide to Wise Leadership

Writing at the height of the Roman Empire, Plutarch suggested that people should pursue positions of leadership only if they are motivated by “judgment and reason”—not “rashly inspired by the vain pursuit of glory, a sense of rivalry, or a lack of other meaningful activities.” His wise counsel remains as relevant as ever.


How to win an election

How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians

A little-known classic in the spirit of Machiavelli’s Prince, How to Win an Election is required reading for politicians and everyone who enjoys watching them try to manipulate their way into office.