In an election year as crazy and crucial as this one, it might be a little difficult or even embarrassing to admit that you’ve never really been into politics or maybe just don’t know a lot about U.S. politics and political history. Don’t worry, not everyone is a natural-born political junkie who devours esoteric four-volume tomes about the life and politics Lyndon B. Johnson. But maybe you’re ready to up your political savvy by a bit more.
Never fear, you don’t have to lock yourself in a dusty library and have a bunch of old monotone white dudes force-read you constitutional law textbooks. Happily, the world is full of people who fell asleep during U.S. History 101 and realized the need for more entertaining, or, at least, more readable books about U.S. politics.
Your 11th grade history teacher may have traumatized you with boring textbooks and memorizing the names and deeds of every American president in order by mustache length or whatever, but I promise you politics can actually be interesting. With the right book you can get your learn on and manage to stay awake for longer than two paragraphs at a time. These authors put the funny, the thrilling, and the cool back into the politics.
1. America’s Constitution: A Biography by Akhil Reed Amar
You know those little books of the entire text of the U.S. Constitution that protesters sometimes like to hand out? Well-intentioned as you might be, you’re probably never going to actually sit down and read it. The Constitution makes for pretty dry (and pretty darn confusing) reading, but that doesn’t mean that reading about the Constitution can’t be exciting. Akhil Reed Amar actually manages to make that dry but crucial document not just readable but actually thrilling.
2. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
It doesn’t get old. OK, so it actually is a bit old now at 26 years old, which is basically ancient in book years these days, but the histories of the voiceless that this book uncovered and the lasting impact it’s had on the field of history is timeless. It also gives a great overview of the foundations and operations of the U.S. political system, without boring you to death textbook style. Can’t go wrong with this modern-ish classic.
3. Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
Sarah Vowell is hilarious and all of her books take a quirky, unique look at American political history. Assassination Vacation, for example, offers up riveting and important political history through a tour of the locations where important political figures have been assassinated throughout history. Yeah. See? You don’t have to be a politics junkie to read and enjoy political books.
4. The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin
If the cover of The Nine kind of makes you think of a John Grisham novel, you wouldn’t be too far off. While it is a nonfiction book, and a smart look at the United States Supreme Court by a guy who’s got some pretty darn good credentials, it is so not your average scholarly snore-fest of a book. It’s as thrilling as a political thriller but way more informative about its subject matter. So, if you don’t know a lot about the Supreme Court and are looking for a primer that won’t put you to sleep, well, you found it.
5. Palestine by Joe Sacco
Confused and uncertain when it comes to the Palestine-Israel conflict? Some of that uncertainty and confusion will likely still be there even after you read this, but at least you get to learn or thing or two and read a brilliant and beautiful graphic novel at the same time.
6. They Take Our Jobs! And 20 Other Myths About Immigration by Aviva Chomsky
So maybe all those big books with tiny-print about immigration and immigration policy bore you to tears. Or maybe, you just need a good introductory primer to help you sort out the main points and separate the myths from the facts about immigration in the U.S. Happily, this is exactly what Chomsky’s book does. More than just a debunking of myths, her book uses these myths as a launching pad to explain the finer points of the history, economics, and the international conversation about immigration.
7. Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
You saw the epic speech Lin-Manuel Miranda rapped when the cast of Hamilton won a Grammy. Maybe you’ve even already seen the musical. Either way, Hamilton is easily of the best ways to get a dose of American political history. At the very least, it'll get you hype to learn more about the democratic foundations of the U.S. and you'll probably always picture the founding fathers and the like rapping to sick beats in any other book you read about them from now on. That alone makes it worth it. The book, complete with footnotes, comes out April 16 this year.
8. The Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik
One of the best ways to get a bit of a primer on politics when you’re pretty sure you’re not actually that into politics is to read good biographies of some of the coolest politicians in the field. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is easily among the coolest. How else do you earn a moniker like “Notorious RBG?” Her life is riveting and through the dissents and cases that have made up her long career, you’ll get a look at some of the biggest political moments in our recent history.
9. Unbought & Unbossed by Shirley Chisholm
Speaking of biographies as more interesting cheat sheets to politics... the story of the first Black woman to run for President of the United States, during a hot-tempered and unfriendly decade no less, is naturally interesting as hell. It turns out, it’s also a really great way to get a handle on how the federal legislature works (and even state-level politics seeing as Chisholm was also the first Black female member of Congress).
10. Sister Citizen by Melissa Harris-Perry
You’ve probably heard the familiar refrain that “the personal is political,” right? Well, even if you haven’t, Melissa Harris-Perry’s Sister Citizen will give you a good idea of what that means and why it’s true. I mean, the word politics actually comes from a Greek word, meaning “"of, for, or relating to citizens.” So...ya. Sister Citizen will change the way you think about politics.