From time to time, I'd plan to feature a few relatively recent books that are influencing my thinking about politics and that I can recommend. And don't worry, I'll focus on books aimed at a popular audience, not ones aimed at pointy-headed intellectuals. Here's a few recent ones that I've been digging:
The Big Sort
There have been a few good books lately about place and politics, but this is my favorite. Bill Biship, an Austin journalist and Robert Cushing, a retired professor teamed up on this book that argues that what is tearing us apart as a nation is mobility and geography. While we used to live around lots of different types of people, we now can and do choose to live among people who are just like us. These changes, according to Biship are most obvious and vexing at the local level. When we're surrounded by folks like us, it's awful hard to have meaningful political dialogue. There's a lot of political science literature that supports Biship's findings (and to his credit, Biship cites a good bit of it), but Biship's presentation of the evidence is a lot more accessible for non-academics. Although he frequently uses Austin, Texas as his example, you could just as easily substitute Asheville, Durham, or Charlotte.
There's a lot to like about this book--it's well-written, data-based, has important political consequences, and holds Democrats and Republicans responsible. Indeed, Biship doesn't just lay the blame on the doorstep of those who live in the suburbs and surround themselves with other white Republicans, but also at young liberals who are equally as closed-minded towards Republicans as they claim the Republicans are to them. Given the debates over redistricting that are about to start, this is a great time to read this book.
Big Girls Don't Cry
If there are a few good books about place and politics, there are ten times as many about the 2008 election. This one, however is a little different. Rebecca Traister reflects on what the 2008 election meant for feminism and women's issues. Traister's a Democrat and she makes that very clear, but her handling of what the Obama/Clinton primary meant for the Democratic Party is masterful and changed the way I think about women in politics. Unfortunately Traister doesn't consult any empirical evidence from political science (which is a shame since Political Scientists know quite a bit about these issues), but her first-person account of the election is well-written and taught me a great deal about what this election meant for many women at a personal level. Reading this book also led me to reflect on Bev Perdue's run for Governor and the rhetoric surrounding the election.
Robert Putnam is a Political Scientist at Harvard who writes big books with lots of data. He's also one of the race academics whose ideas effect how real people think about politics. His last book, Bowling Alone is easily one of the most important political books of the last 25 years. Sure it's controversial (see, in particularly this careful critique), but it's one of those books that every educated person should read. Amazing Grace is likely to be just as important. Putnam (this time with co-author David Campbell--a Political Scientist at Notre Dame) writes about the role of religion in American public life. Religious people will like some of it and hate other parts of it. As will agnostics and athiests. All educated people, however, should read it and deal with it somehow. Particularly in a state like NC where religion is a major, major player, this book should be required reading.