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Steve's Ultimate Reading List for Liberals
By Steve Kangas
Out of the hundreds of political science books filling
my home library, the following ones are ones I consider classics.
Virtually all of them are written in plain English by authors
who are the among the top experts in their fields. Read these,
and I guarantee you a superb command of the latest and best liberal
arguments against conservatives.
Peddling Prosperity by Paul Krugman (New York:
W.W. Norton & Company, 1994). What Stephen Hawking did for
physics with A Brief History of Time, Krugman does for
economics with this readable primer for the rest of us. Although
Krugman's liberalism is not as progressive as my own, the value of this
book lies in its excellent explanation of economic concepts. In clear terms,
he explains why conservative economic theories have failed in
the last 60 years, while liberal ones have thrived. A superb
introduction to economics without the math.
Politics of Rich and Poor by Kevin Phillips (New
York: Random House, 1990). This is the famous book that kicked
off the "rich are getting richer, and the poor poorer"
debate of the 80s. Once ridiculed by conservatives as "class
warfare," this book's thesis of polarizing wealth in America
is now accepted by all serious economists of all political stripes.
Boiling Point by Kevin Phillips (New York: HarperCollins,
1993). Here, Phillips continues to explore the effects of income
inequality on the middle class, and the voter anger and revolt
that is growing in the 90s. Phillips is a scholar of the first
order, a Republican respected on both sides of the debate.
America: What Went Wrong? by Donald Barlett and
James Steele (Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1992). These two
Pulitzer-prize winning journalists describe how the game of wealth
in America is rigged for the rich. They show how corporations
use tax cuts, deregulation and government for their own ends,
leaving the middle class holding the bill.
America: Who Really Pays the Taxes? by Donald Barlett
and James Steele (New York: Touchstone, 1994). This is a terrific
resource for explaining exactly how the rich manipulate the tax
code and Congress to shift the tax burden onto the middle class.
Although filled with a lot of numbers that do not make for quick
and easy reading, it is useful for debunking any conservative
numbers argument that you may run into.
The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison
by Jeffrey Reiman (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990).
A masterpiece. Reiman shows how the
U.S. justice system selectively punishes the crimes of the poor
while ignoring the crimes of the rich. For example, in 1987, theft
and robbery cost Americans $12 billion, but white collar fraud
and embezzlement cost $107 billion. Some 19,000 Americans were
officially murdered that year, but countless hundreds of thousands were killed
by pollution, tobacco, unnecessary surgery, food additives, overprescription
of legal drugs, unsafe consumer products, job hazards and other
things which are foisted on us by overly profit-driven corporations.
Even when the rich get caught for more "traditional"
crimes, they get off much more lightly than the poor.
Earth in the Balance by Vice President Al Gore,
Jr. (New York: Penguin Books, 1993). An excellent introduction to
environmentalism that covers all the hot topics: overpopulation,
global warming, ozone destruction, toxic waste, endangered species
and more. If Gore is the true author of this book (that is, no
ghostwriters), then his scientific education is truly extraordinary.
Alas, in the credits, he acknowledges receiving much help from
the scientific community.
Vital Signs 1995 by the World Watch Institute (New
York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995). This is a yearly update
on global conditions and environmental trends. Hard statistics
on every environmental problem you can think of.
The Way We Never Were by Stephanie Coontz (New
York: HarperCollins, 1992). This fact-crammed book explodes just
about every myth of the American family out there. She shows that
the average 50s family did not resemble June and Ward Cleaver;
that the American family has never been as self-reliant as it
likes to think; and that poverty is the basic cause for the disintegration
of lower-class families. This book is the definitive liberal rejoinder
to critics of welfare and single motherhood.
(Note: there is no single "feminist" viewpoint,
and the following books sometimes vehemently disagree with each
other. Nonetheless, these are the most famous works of the last
decade, and should serve as the starting point for any debate.)
Backlash by Susan Faludi (New York: Doubleday, 1991).
Probably the most important feminist books of the last 20 years,
Faludi documents how women's growing equality has resulted in
a backlash, ranging from politics to business to the media. She
debunks so-called "statistics" that show that a single
middle-aged woman has greater chances of getting killed by a terrorist
than getting married.
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (New York: Doubleday,
1991). This bestseller demonstrates how standards of beauty keep
women subjugated, alienating themselves from their bodies and
their sexuality, and causing themselves considerable physical
harm in trying to attain unreasonable levels of perfection.
Fire With Fire by Naomi Wolf (New York: Fawcett
Columbine, 1994). Wolf makes the transition from radical to moderate
feminist in this book, arguing that feminism is failing because
of its victim mentality. Noting the considerable victories that
women have already won, she advocates that women embrace their
newfound power, rather than perpetuate the stereotype of woman-as-victim.
This book started a national debate within the feminist movement.
Who Stole Feminism? By Christina Hoff Sommers (New
York: Simon & Schuster, 1994). Although Hoff Sommers is a
liberal feminist who believes in the equal rights of women, she
has come under attack for this book, which argues that the feminist
movement has gone too far. Feminists leaders who claim that "all
sex is rape" or describe modern physics as "Newton's
rape manual" have only hurt the cause of women by turning
off mainstream Americans. She advocates returning feminism to
a more moderate philosophy of sexual equality.
Guns and the Constitution by Dennis Hennigan, E. Bruce Nicholson
and David Hemenway (Northampton, Mass.: Aletheia Press, 1995). It's
astonishing that such a short book (76 pages) can destroy an entire school of
thought. This book shows how the gun lobby completely misinterprets the
Second Amendment, which, according to the Supreme Court, does not protect
an individual's right to own a gun. It also contains a brilliant chapter that
makes the liberal case for gun control, using all the latest statistics
and studies. Especially valuable is its deconstruction of the crank scholarship
of pro-gun criminologist Gary Kleck.
Your Money or Your Life by Marc Roberts (New
York: Doubleday, 1993). The problem with most books on health care
reform is that they are written by highly partisan sources --
doctors who want to preserve their salaries, insurance companies
who want to preserve their profits, patients who want to increase
their services, etc. Roberts gives an exceptionally fair and even-handed
analysis of the health care crisis -- a complicated subject he
manages to explain clearly in 161 pages.
A People's History of the United States: 1492 - Present by
Howard Zinn (HarperCollins, 1995). Most American history is whitewashed,
either presenting it as a glorious success story, or from a white male
point of view. Zinn corrects this by telling the viewpoints of
women, blacks, Native Americans, the poor, the working class, and
other forgotten voices. An extremely powerful rebuttal to
conservative historical revisionism.
Money Talks by Dan Clawson, Alan Neustadtl and
Denise Scott (New York: HarperCollins, 1992). An eye-opening analysis
of how corporate political action committees really work.
Liberals will be dismayed to learn just how easily Democrats as
well as Republicans have sold out to rich corporations, killing
democracy in the process. The researchers not only investigated
309 corporate PACs, but extensively interviewed 38 of them under
conditions of anonymity. What was said during these interviews
will have you calling for instant reform.
The Media Monopoly by Ben Bagdikian (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1992 ). Easily the most famous book among
media scholars in the last 23 years. Ridiculed as "alarmist"
when it first came out, it is today praised as a masterpiece for
the unerring accuracy of its predictions. Bagdikian, "the
dean of American journalism," warned that deregulation of
the media under Reagan's FCC was leading to corporate ownership
and monopolization of the media. These parent corporations are
conservative and highly active in lobbying Washington, despite
the media's reputation for being "liberal." Since 1983,
the number of corporations controlling media have shrunk from
50 to 20, with no sign of stopping. Once the media monopoly is
complete, information in this country will be centralized and
we will have effectively abandoned a free press.
Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (various publications).
FAIR is dedicated to combating corporate monopolization of the
media, and exposes the often heavy corporate and conservative
bias in mainstream news reporting.
The Power Game by Hedrick Smith (New York: Ballantine
Books, 1988). "How Washington Works" is the subtitle
of this book, and no one describes it better than veteran journalist
Hedrick Smith. Reviewing Washington's evolution from Kennedy to
Reagan, Smith not only provides a detailed history of how we got
into this mess, but a brilliant analysis of what makes Washington
tick. One of his shrewder observations: the perception
of power is just as effective as power itself.
They Only Look Dead by E.J. Dionne, Jr. (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 1996). Another of America's best journalists,
Dionne describes why the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress
stemmed from the self-destruction of Democrats, not the conversion
of America to conservatism. He shows the political forces that
killed the Gingrich Revolution, and why progressives will return
to power. Written before the Republicans' 1995 budget disaster
and Clinton's resurgence in the polls, this book turned out to
be highly prophetic.
Up from Conservatism: Why the Right Is Wrong for America
by Michael Lind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996).
The premier independent intellectual of his generation tells the story
of his evolution away from right-wing orthodoxy, explains why
the Right is wrong for America, and paints a vivid insider's portrait
of the conservative movement he knows up close. Dealing with
issues of trade, religion, culture, sex, and race, Lind warns readers
that the fulfillment of the real Republican agenda will produce a
class-divided country in which the government is subordinate to a few
wealthy families and powerful corporations.
Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory by Donald Green and
Ian Shapiro (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994). This is a more advanced
book, but it is useful for rebutting a theory that many conservatives and
libertarians heavily depend upon: rational choice theory (sometimes called
public choice theory). This theory attempts to describe how voters make
choices, based on many (conservative) economic principles. The authors show that
rational choice theory explains nothing and is in need of a replacement.
Democracy and Its Critics by Robert Dahl (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1989). This book brilliantly defends democracy from its many
critics on the right. It's a more advanced book, but it won the 1990
Woodrow Wilson Foundation Book Award given by the American Political Science
Association for the best book published during the previous year on
government, politics or international affairs. A classic.
Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal
by Andrew Hacker (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992). A classic
exploration of all aspects of race in the United States, from
racism to affirmative action to segregation. Hacker's strength
is that he uses statistics to demolish stereotypes and prove the
racism lurking behind many supposedly "color-blind"
The Bell Curve Wars by various authors (New York:
HarperCollins, 1995). The Bell Curve argued
that the average black IQ is 15 points lower than the average
white IQ, and that this had policy implications for welfare and
affirmative action. Shortly afterwards, the National Academy of Sciences branded
the book's science as "fraudulent." This book explains
Inequality by Design by Claude Fischer and others (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1996). The definitive refutation to The Bell Curve, this
book re-examines all the data that Murray and Herrnstein used, corrects all
the statistical errors, and comes to the opposite conclusion: inequality
is more affected by social factors than genetic ones. An excellent introduction
to the subject of why poverty is a major reason for our
The Way Things Aren't by Fairness and Accuracy
In Reporting (FAIR) (New York: The New Press, 1995). Forget the
current best-seller Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, written
by a non-scholar whose insults are as infantile as his target's.
This is the real rejoinder to the conservative's leading
spokesman. FAIR absolutely destroys Rush Limbaugh by refuting
"over 100 outrageously false and foolish statements from
America's most powerful radio and TV commentator."
The American Almanac: Statistical Abstract of the United
States. Unfortunately, the Internet still can't beat
this hefty volume as the best one-stop source for any statistical
need. It's one of my most heavily used books. And The American
Almanac uses primary sources that stand authoritative in any
Who We Are by Sam Roberts (New York: Random House,
1994). Clear and easy to understand, this book reviews the results
of the 1990 Census and paints a portrait of American life. It
describes our standard of living, income inequality, racial composites,
education levels, national trends and more.
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