The following books are recommended if you have an interest in history, politics, philosophy, economics, or religion. The books may have influenced my personal views or may just be books that I found interesting or enjoyed. The list in no way attempts to provide any political and/or ideological balance and the ideas expressed in any particular book do not necessarily reflect my own.
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.
During the Cold War it became a dirty word in the United States, but "socialism" runs like a red thread through the nation's history, an integral part of its political consciousness since the founding of the republic. In this unapologetic corrective to today's collective amnesia, John Nichols calls for the proud return of socialism in American life.
For more than two centuries, our political life has been divided between a party of progress and a party of conservation. In The Great Debate, Yuval Levin explores the origins of the left/right divide by examining the views of the men who best represented each side of that debate at its outset: Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine.
Jim Wallis argues that America's separation of church and state does not require banishing moral and religious values from the public square. God's Politics offers a vision for how to convert spiritual values into real social change and has started a grassroots movement to hold our political leaders accountable by incorporating our deepest held convictions about war, poverty, racism, abortion, capital punishment, and other moral issues into our nation's public life.
The searing cultural history of the last half-century, The Age of American Unreason in a Culture of Lies, focuses on the convergence of social forces - usually treated as separate entities - that has created a perfect storm of anti-rationalism. Combining historical analysis with contemporary observation and sparing neither the right nor the left, Jacoby asserts that Americans today have embraced "junk thought" that makes almost no effort to separate fact from opinion.
In this tour of the history of arguments for and against the existence of God, Schneider embarks on a remarkable intellectual, historical, and theological journey through the centuries of believers and unbelievers - from ancient Greeks, to medieval Arabs, to today's most eminent philosophers and the New Atheists.
We now live in two Americas. One - now the minority - functions in a print-based, literate world that can cope with complexity and can separate illusion from truth. The other - the majority - is retreating from a reality-based world into one of false certainty and magical thinking. The impact of this divide on our democracy remains to be seen, but it doesn't look good.
Paul Krugman, today's most widely read economist, examines the past eighty years of American history, from the reforms that tamed the harsh inequality of the Gilded Age and the 1920s to the unraveling of that achievement and the reemergence of immense economic and political inequality since the 1970s.
From the timeless wisdom of the ancient Greeks to Christianity, the Enlightenment, existentialism, and postmodernism, Luc Ferry's instant classic brilliantly and accessibly explains the enduring teachings of philosophy - including its profound relevance to modern daily life and its essential role in achieving happiness and living a meaningful life.
The unholy alliance of the Political Right and the Religious Right threatens to generate a popular aversion to God and religion by identifying religious values with a pro-war, pro-business, anti-science, and anti-environmental stance. Lerner challenges the Left to give up its deeply held fear of religion and to distinguish between a domination-oriented, Right-Hand-of-God tradition and a more hope-oriented Left-Hand-of-God worldview.
Today, a new form of barbarism reigns. Many believers are blind to it, and their churches are too weak to resist. Politics offers little help in this spiritual crisis. What is needed is the Benedict Option, a strategy that draws on the authority of Scripture and the wisdom of the ancient church. The goal: to embrace exile from mainstream culture and construct a resilient counterculture.
Our current climate of partisan fury is not new, and in The Soul of America Meacham shows us how what Abraham Lincoln called the "better angels of our nature" have repeatedly won the day. While the American story has not always - or even often - been heroic, we have been sustained by a belief in progress even in the gloomiest of times.
Here is the book that transformed a generation: an unforgettable narration of a summer motorcycle trip across America's Northwest, undertaken by a father and his son. A story of love and fear - of growth, discovery, and acceptance - that becomes a profound personal and philosophical odyssey into life's fundamental questions, this uniquely exhilarating modern classic is both touching and transcendent, resonant with the myriad confusions of existence.
In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father - a figure he knows more as a myth than as a man - has been killed in a car accident. This sudden death inspires an emotional odyssey - first to a small town in Kansas, from which he retraces the migration of his mother's family to Hawaii, and then to Kenya, where he meets the African side of his family, confronts the bitter truth of his father's life, and at last reconciles his divided inheritance.
A compelling biography of Michael Harrington, the author of The Other America published in 1962, which transformed American public policy and is credited with launching the War on Poverty. Harrington was one of the most influential leftists in 1960s America and was a founding member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
Affirmative action, same-sex marriage, physician-assisted suicide, abortion, national service, the moral limits of markets - Sandel relates the big questions of political philosophy to the most vexing issues of the day, and shows how a surer grasp of philosophy can help us make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions as well.
Lakoff spells out what cognitive science has discovered about reason, and reveals that human reason is far more interesting than we thought it was. Reason is physical, mostly unconscious, metaphorical, emotion-laden, and tied to empathy - and there are biological explanations behind our moral and political thought processes.
The Limits of Power offers an unparalleled examination of the profound triple crisis facing America: an economy in disarray that can no longer be fixed by relying on expansion abroad; a government transformed by an imperial presidency into a democracy in name only; and an engagement in endless wars that has severely undermined the body politic.
Stephen Greenblatt has crafted both an innovative work of history and a thrilling story of discovery, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it. The copying and translation of On the Nature of Things by Lucretius is credited with launching the Renaissance.
On the one hand, Eagleton demolishes what he calls the "superstitious" view of God held by most atheists and agnostics and offers in its place a revolutionary account of the Christian Gospel. On the other hand, he launches a stinging assault on the betrayal of this revolution by institutional Christianity.
In this manifesto, McKibben offers the biggest challenge in a generation to the prevailing view of our economy. For the first time in human history, he observes, "more" is no longer synonymous with "better" - indeed, for many of us, they have become almost opposites. McKibben's animating idea is that we need to move beyond "growth" as the paramount economic ideal and pursue prosperity in a moral local direction.