Whether you rocked the vote or decided that this year you’d rather close your eyes, cover your ears, and hum Miley Cyrus loudly until it all just went away, I bet you’re a little worn out from all the midterm election hype and hoopla. Trust me, I hear you, and I understand.
However, politics aren’t always as boring as Mitch McConnell’s stump speech; and after all, there’s nothing like a little literary palette cleanser to wash away the terrible taste of pandering, pomp, circumstance, and more than a little propaganda you've been subjected to this election cycle. And, although I can’t promise that you’ll turn the last page and find yourself yearning for another trip to your local polling place, I can guarantee that you won’t regret your time spent with these fantastic political novels and works of nonfiction nearly as much as Governor Jay Nixon regrets this Election Day tweet.
Including chilling satire that will leave you fearing for your future; celebrated classics that call into question the very nature of democracy; a YA masterwork channeling the stinging self-loathing of high school; the raw power of the secret service; and a drug-fueled, gonzo-style, behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of the political campaign, these books will leave you jonesing for another go at Election Day.
Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S Thompson
Let me give it to you straight — you've never read political journalism like this before. Hunter S. Thompson brings honesty (mixed with psychadellics and more than a little booze) to a whole new level when reporting from the McGovern/Nixon campaign trail in 1972. Whether you long for the days when politicians actually answered a question or the nights when reporters gave it to you straight, you'll find it all and so much more in Thompson's gritty, in-your-face journalistic memoir from one of the late 20th century's most infamous elections.
The President’s Daughter by Ellen Emerson White
Meg, the awkward, charming teenage daughter of the first female president of the United States takes the stage as protagonist in this utterly perfect YA drama. With an eye for detail and beautifully rich character development, Ellen Emerson White brings together the story of a teenage girl's struggle with political fame and the daily realities of high school life in perfect harmony. This novel still sits on my nightstand in my childhood bedroom, and I re-read it every time I go home — it's just that good.
Seeing by José Sarramago
José Saramago's scathing satire of the modern surveillance state begins with an election in which 70 percent of the ballots cast are blank and ramps up the tension through utterly plausible government intervention until all bets are off and the future of the entire state is undoubtedly at stake. Rich with symbol and undeniably apropos in this day and age, Saramago's perfectly rendered prose will leave you more than ready to make your voice heard.
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
To truly understand the impact that fiction can have on the political landscape, not to mention the horror and atrocity that blisters the face of American history, you must (re-)read Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Not only one of the most powerful works of fiction ever to shape the American consciousness, but also a bestseller in its day, Uncle Tom's Cabin has a perfectly structured plot and strong, vibrant characters that bring the story to life. While the novel does have its failings, as a work of fiction Uncle Tom's Cabin is nonetheless a masterclass in both popular literature and political activism.
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
You know you have that one book — that one book that changed the meaning of literature forever through sheer force of literary mastery. For me, All The King's Men is that book. Taking up the story of a young, idealistic politician corrupted by a desire for power and transforming the trite premise into a broad, sweeping narrative that truly exemplifies the meaning of the term "great American novel." As a work of fiction it's not to be missed, and as a cautionary tale it ought to be mandatory for all wannabe politicians... maybe we can get that on next year's ballot.
Primary Colors by Joe Klein
When it was published anonymously in 1996, Joe Klein's political novel, widely believed to be an insider's account of Bill Clinton's road to the White House, raised more than a few eyebrows. Eventually making its way to Hollywood as the basis for the screenplay of the same name, Primary Colors is more than just a wild and witty behind-the-scenes look at the modern political machine. Klein's savvy prose and perfect pacing make this novel a great read even if you're not always trying to guess who's who.
Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Widely acknowledged as one of the leading lights in American historical non-fiction, Doris Kearns Goodwin has profiled presidents, tycoons and even the sport of baseball itself; however, A Team of Rivals remains her most enduring and influential work. For those of you wondering why you'd ever take on a tome like this outside of the classroom, consider this: Steven Spielberg built his modern masterpiece Lincoln around the content in this classic, and President Obama has acknowledged the impact Goodwin's work has had on his own cabinet selection. With Goodwin's smooth and simple prose, you'll surely find this text easier to parse then some of those mailers that stacked up during election season.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
If ever there was an autobiography more crucial to the American psyche than The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I've never read it. This jarring, painful, and historically vital work brings to life the civil rights struggle of the 1960s through the scathing honesty of Malcolm X and the sharp editorial eye and precise, dignified prose of Alex Haley.
Democracy in America by Alexis de Toqueville
If you've ever taken an American history course, or an American literature course, or really read anything published in The New Yorker and taking as its object the Revolutionary War period, you've doubtless encountered Alexis De Tocqueville. This adventurous French philosopher and historian got to know our country at a time when we didn't even know ourselves, and much like Taylor Swifts tweets, which somehow never fail to capture the spirit of a generation, De Tocqueville's broad and sweeping generalizations on the American experience are rarely proven wrong. While the language is a little flowery and the structure lacks a driving narrative force, the brilliant insights and witty turn of phrase make this an absolute must for any aspiring politico.
The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
As a staple of college dorm rooms the world over, Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine gives rage against the machine grace, clout, and all new meaning. Klein's thoughtful, well structured exploration of the myth of the free market provides an alternative history of capitalism that is as eye-opening as it is excruciating. If you're ready to take the red pill and step outside the matrix, this is the book for you.
All the President's Men by Carl Bernstein
Ask any modern reporter how she got their start in the industry, and chance's are she'll give you one answer: All the President's Men. This story of the reporting behind the Watergate scandal that lead to the resignation of Richard Millhouse Nixon is in the business of changing lives — I simply dare you not to be inspired. Oozing with integrity this book has it all, brains, guts, midnight rendezvous with strange men in dark parking lots and truly excellent writing.
So whether you're looking to shock your system with a little Gonzo goodness or seek out your better angels through the inspirational ideas of Woodward and Bernstein, these literary takes on politics will halt your flight from the ballot box and leave you wanting more.