I read a lot of books this year; most were not released this year. What follows is my favorite books I’ve read that were released this year. I should point out that I almost never read novels; I prefer non-fiction. Though I do read all genres of non-fiction, I didn’t get to many other releases from this year that weren’t political science oriented. [I will include a link to a review of each book that I found insightful even if I don’t agree with ’em.]
ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror
By Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan. Simon & Schuster. [Review/NYT]
I defy anyone to read this book and to not come away more confused and conflicted about Syria/Iraq. I write that as a compliment: Weiss and Hassan paint a complex and gray picture that is like reality which is deeply gray. To understand the rise of ISIS you have to understand de-baathification, shia/sunni divide, prison radicalization, occupation, conspiracies, Middle East history, and human frailty and persuasion. These two illuminate what is going on and it is bleak: ISIS will be with us for awhile; so will the fight against ISIS. I recommend this book to every American who wants to understand the world a little more.
Political Realism: How Hacks, Machines, Big Money, and Back-Room Deals Can Strengthen American Democracy
By Jonathan Rauch. Brookings Institution. [Review/the Wall Street Journal]
I have been looking for a book like this and I didn’t even know it. Astute and objective observers of contemporary politics in America are confronted with an ugly truth: the rise of amateurism and the complete annihilation of trust regarding the establishment. Rauch argues, forcefully and profoundly that this is bad for democracy by highlighting how politics actually work instead of how we, the populace, continue to think they work. I loved this short study.
Objective Troy: A Terrorist, A President, and the Rise of the Drone
By Scott Shane. Tim Duggan books. [Review/Lawfare]
This was my favorite read of the year because it is literally 100% exactly what I have been considering and thinking about and wanting to understand for the last couple of years. Dirty Wars came out and it was revelatory about the drone usage of Obama. Shane delineates just how the Obama administration legally considered using a drone strike against Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen who flew to Yemen. This fascinating account of how an all-American boy like Awlaki became, effectively, the number 1 enemy of the state. I can’t imagine a more detailed and considered account of Awlaki, the rise of drones, and the inner workings of the Obama admin then this book.
Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted
By Ian Millhiser. Nation books. [Review/Slate]
I read this one early in the year to compliment my formal class i was taken regarding SCOTUS. This book was deeply depressing; historically focused; and elegantly written. I read this book rather quickly because it was full of information that was so gripping. The main thesis: SCOTUS has consistently and rather blatantly ruled against equality of people; and the worker/labor movement. The Court is deeply partisan, political, and although punctuated by eras of true progressivism, has been handing out constitutional interpretations that have been mostly aligned with the ruling elites of the time. A couple of words doesn’t do this book justice: read it to understand the fight that the American people have always had to engage in regarding everything from the minimum wage to housing and legal and safe abortion.
The Stronghold: How Republicans Captured Congress but Surrendered the White House
By Thomas Schaller. Yale University Press. [Review/PublishersWeekly]
This book was released in January and I read it after listening to a fascinating interview of Schaller by Sam Seder on The Majority Report. Schaller through analyzing electoral histroy, demographics, and interviewing political insiders and operatives, comes to the conclusion that the GOP has basically become a Congressional party, in general, and a House-centric party, in particular. By focus testing candidates to win in more conservative state races, this has crippled the GOPs chances of taking back the White House. The catch here, if you will, is that Schaller now sees this as intentional in some ways. A party that just wants to block and weaken government, doesn’t care if they don’t take back the White House; they want to block legislation and make things run even worse than they do. A revealing insight into, effectively, the only major political party in the world that denies climate change.