Books Worth (re)Reading to Understand Trump’s America

I’ve been chatting with my brother, Malcolm McGregor (who studied politics and public policy at the University of Virginia), recently about books and ideas that have helped us understand and diagnose the current state of American politics and culture following Trump’s election. We keep coming back to a handful of foundational ideas and perspectives, centered on notions of neoliberalism, postermodernity, truth, and, of course, race and class. We created a short list that is not exhaustive list by any means, but we think that they help get at important concepts. With a few exceptions, most of the books are accessible and easy to read.

Here is our list [in no particular order]:

  1. Daniel T. Rogers, Age of Fracture, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). — This is by far the best primer on understanding the intellectual developments that shape our culture post-1975.
  2. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 20th Anniversary Edition (New York: Penguin Books, 2005).  — Originally published in 1985 as somewhat of a polemic against TV, many of its ideas remain relevant.
  3. David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999).  — This is not an easy read, but I think it is foundational for wrestling with notions of postmodernity and changes to the capitalist structure throughout the 20th century.
  4. Thomas Frank, Listen Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2016). — Frank anticipated and understood many of the issues within the Democratic Party that led to Clinton’s loss.
  5. Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, (New York: Nation Books, 2016). — This is a long book, but easily read in small sections.
  6. George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998). — This book peels back notions of colorblindness and highlights what privilege looks like and how it operates through public policies and cultural ideas.
  7. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the world and me. (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015). — A great account why people of color are probably not surprised about Trump but also fucked?
  8. James Baldwin,Giovanni’s Room, (New York: Random House, 1956). — Humanizes the gay rights movement and makes one aware of the challenges they face in the coming years.
  9. Junot Díaz, The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao, (New York: Penguin, 2007). Similar to seven and eight but from the perspective of the Dominican community.
  10. Vladimir Nabokov, Bend sinister. (New York: Vintage, 1947). A novel about the rise of a scary authoritarian government and a philosopher’s refusal to aid it.
  11. Tyler Cowen, Average is over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. (New York: Penguin, 2013) and Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Race Against the Machine, (Lexington, MA: Digital Frontier, 2011). (read together). Economic/policy background on the state of the economy that set the conditions for a Trump presidency.
  12. David Farber, The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism: A Short History, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).  — A useful primer that charts the trajectory and development of the modern GOP from Goldwater to George W. Bush through a series of biographical chapters.

Have something to add? Need to rant? Let us know what you think in the comments!

 

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