Reading List

American politics in a time of crisis

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With the unprecedented spread of the coronavirus it's more clear than ever that the US healthcare system is broken and the only humane response is to guarentee free healthcare to all.

Bernie's emergency response to the pandemic calls for protecting working people, low-income people, and the most vulnerable communities, through things like an immediate moratorium on evictions, foreclosures, and utility shut-offs, direct $2,000 cash payments to every person in the country every month of the crisis and the creation of an Oversight Agency to Fight Corporate Corruption and Price-Gouging.

This reading list of essential books on American politics looks at the neoliberal origins of our current crisis and the history of solidarity and resistance that we can draw on today.

"Touré Reed is the most brilliant historian of the black freedom movement of his generation. This book is the best grasp of our recent past and guide for a progressive future we have!" —Cornel West, author of Race Matters

“On the surface, this book is about the big-money politics that shaped Joe Biden’s career. At its core, though, it tells the essential story of how the Democratic Party became a tool of the ruling class.” – Krystal Ball, Hill.TV host

Prisoners of the American Dream is Mike Davis’s brilliant exegesis of a persistent and major analytical problem for Marxist historians and political economists: Why has the world’s most industrially advanced nation never spawned a mass party of the working class?

An extensive afterword by the Nation’s National Affairs correspondent, John Nichols, continues the story with Sanders’s entrance into the Senate, the drama of the 2016 Democratic Primary, his ongoing resistance to Trump, and the thrilling launch of his 2020 bid for the White House. A new foreword by Nina Turner, former president of Our Revolution and co-chair of the Sanders for President campaign, provides a rare glimpse of Bernie as a person. Outsider in the White House is the story of a passionate and principled political life.

In this groundbreaking discussion, Ed Morales explains how Latinx political identities are tied to a long Latin American history of mestizaje—“mixedness” or “hybridity”—and that this border thinking is both a key to understanding bilingual, bicultural Latin cultures and politics and a challenge to America’s infamously black–white racial regime. This searching and long-overdue exploration of the meaning of race in American life reimagines Cornel West’s bestselling Race Matters with a unique Latinx inflection.

This book attempts to spark public discussion by revealing the tainted origins of modern policing as a tool of social control. It shows how the expansion of police authority is inconsistent with community empowerment, social justice—even public safety. Drawing on groundbreaking research from across the world, and covering virtually every area in the increasingly broad range of police work, Alex Vitale demonstrates how law enforcement has come to exacerbate the very problems it is supposed to solve.

Surveying a period from the late seventeenth century—the era in which W.E.B. Du Bois located the emergence of “whiteness”—through the American Revolution and the Civil War to the civil rights movement and the emergence of the American empire, How Race Survived US History reveals how race did far more than persist as an exception in a progressive national history. This masterful account shows how race has remained at the heart of American life well into the twenty-first century.

A Planet to Win explores the political potential and concrete first steps of a Green New Deal. It calls for dismantling the fossil fuel industry, building beautiful landscapes of renewable energy, and guaranteeing climate-friendly work, no-carbon housing, and free public transit. And it shows how a Green New Deal in the United States can strengthen climate justice movements worldwide.

The twenty-first century has witnessed the rapid hardening of international borders. Security, surveillance, and militarization are widening the chasm between those who travel where they please and those whose movements are restricted. But that is only part of the story. As journalist Todd Miller reveals in Empire of Borders, the nature of US borders has changed. These boundaries have effectively expanded thousands of miles outside of US territory to encircle not simply American land but Washington’s interests.

From the colonial era to Trump, Steve Fraser recovers the repressed history of debtors’ prisons and disaster capitalism, of confidence men and the reserve armies of the unemployed. In language that is dynamic and compelling, he demonstrates that class is a fundamental feature of American political life and provides essential intellectual tools for a shrewd reading of American history.

Whether class or race is the more important factor in modern politics is a question right at the heart of recent history’s most contentious debates. Among groups who should readily find common ground, there is little agreement. To escape this deadlock, Asad Haider turns to the rich legacies of the black freedom struggle. Drawing on the words and deeds of black revolutionary theorists, he argues that identity politics is not synonymous with anti-racism, but instead amounts to the neutralization of its movements.

In this powerful blend of personal and historical narrative, Nick Estes skillfully weaves together transformative stories of resistance from these front lines, never losing sight of their enormous stakes. A major contribution.”  
– Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything

Jenny Brown uncovers a century of legal abortion in the United States until 1873, recalls women’s experiences in the illegal days, and shows how the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s really won abortion rights. She draws inspiration and lessons from the radicals of Redstockings, the Army of Three, and the Jane Collective, putting together a road map for today’s organizers from the black feminist argument for reproductive justice, the successful fight to make the morning-after pill available over the counter, and the recent mass movement to repeal Ireland’s abortion ban.

An unsparing account of the degradation of US democracy, American Breakdown is essential to our evaluation of its prospects. Arguing that Trump’s re-election seems just as likely as impeachment, Bromwich turns his attention to the new struggles within the Democratic Party on immigration, foreign policy, and the Green New Deal.

Since the birth of the nation, impulses of empire have been close to the heart of the United States. How these urges interact with the way the country understands itself, and the nature of the divergent interests at work in the unfolding of American foreign policy, is a subject much debated and still obscure. In a fresh look at the topic, Anderson charts the intertwined historical development of America’s imperial reach and its role as the general guarantor of capital.

With heart-wrenching reporting and incisive analysis, In These Times magazine has charted a staggering rise in inequality and the fall of the American middle class. Here, in a selection from four decades of articles by investigative reporters and progressive thinkers, is the story of our age. It is a tale of shockingly successful corporate takeovers stretching from Reagan to Trump, but also of brave attempts to turn the tide, from the Seattle global justice protests to Occupy to the Fight for 15.

Now, as protest movements again take on a central and urgent political role, Kauffman’s history offers both striking lessons for the current moment and an unparalleled overview of the landscape of recent activism. Written with nuance and humor, Direct Action is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the protest movements of our time.

The sixties were a time when radical movements learned to embrace twentieth-century Marxism. Revolution in the Air is the definitive study of this turning point, and examines what the resistance of today can learn from the legacies of Lenin, Mao and Che.

Bernie Sanders shocked the political establishment by winning 13 million votes and a majority of young voters in the 2016 Democratic primary. Since that upset, repeated polls have judged this democratic socialist to be the most popular politician in the United States. What lessons can be drawn from his surprising insurgent campaign?

With contributions from #BlackLivesMatter cofounder Patrisse Cullors, Ferguson activist and Law Professor Justin Hansford, Director of New York–based Communities United for Police Reform Joo-Hyun Kang, poet Martín Espada, and journalist Anjali Kamat, as well as articles from leading scholars Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Robin D. G. Kelley, Naomi Murakawa, Vijay Prashad, and more, Policing the Planet describes ongoing struggles from New York to Baltimore to Los Angeles, London, San Juan, San Salvador, and beyond.

In an updated edition, The “S” Word makes a case for socialist ideas as an indispensable part of American heritage. A new final chapter considers the recent signs of a leftward sea change in American politics in the face of increasing and historic levels of inequality.

Union membership in the United States has fallen below 11 percent, the lowest rate since before the New Deal. Labor activist and scholar of the American labor movement Stanley Aronowitz argues that the movement as we have known it for the last 100 years is effectively dead. And he explains how this death has been a long time coming—the organizing and political principles adopted by US unions at mid-century have taken a terrible toll. In the 1950s, Aronowitz was a factory metalworker.