Professor of journalism and sociology, Columbia University
Narrowly squeaking in under the 15-year limit is Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics, by Thomas Byrne Edsall and Mary D. Edsall (1991), which doesnft bring good news to liberals but is valuable for precisely that reason. Edsall has been reporting the nuts and guts of American politics for decades now, and there is no more reliable guide to the infrastructural facts. In the same blue-state vein: Lisa McGirr's Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (2001).
Co-host, CNN's Crossﬁre
In 1995, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh were ascendant. James Carville's We're Right, They're Wrong was a shot in the arm for liberals, and a kick in the crotch to right-wing bullies. James showed us how to ﬁght and win again.
Executive Director, MoveOn PAC
Worthy progressive books aside, right-winger and direct-mail zealot Richard Viguerie's America's Right Turn is a thought-provoking read. Viguerie offers insight into the conservative movementfs origin, development, and future, with instructive lessons for progressives today. And it's written in direct-mail-ese -- lots of bullet points!
I've Got the Light of Freedom by Charles M. Payne, the story of organizing in Mississippi in the 1960s, reminds us that 1) if you organize you can change history, 2) you can overcome resistance with moral clarity, and 3) race and class underlie many of the countryfs current problems.
Democratic presidential candidate, 1984
I have just ﬁnished Nick Kotz's Judgment Days, the incredible story of Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr.fs challenged relationship as -- on different but parallel roads -- they worked to achieve the historic civil-rights reforms that changed our nation. Kotzfs profound and compelling history is enriched by the author's years as a great reporter who covered these epic events.
Author, Up From Conservatism
In his brilliant and entertaining study The New Dealers: Power Politics in the Age of Roosevelt (1993), Jordan Schwartz details how New Deal gstate capitalism' developed the South and West and created the worldfs ﬁrst mass middle class.
Author, Before the Storm
The best political book of the last 15 years is also the best book of the last 15 years. If ever the last liberal should perish from this earth -- some days it seems possible -- Tom Geogheganfs Which Side Are You On? will be the only thing that future historians will require to reconstruct us in all our sweetness and agony.
Pulitzer Prize winner, A Thousand Acres
Henry Bromell's 2001 novel, Little America, which was published about four months before September 11 and sank without a trace, alas, because if people wanted to know what happened and how we got there, Little America told the story. It's not the most liberal book -- Henry is a judicious person -- but it is terriﬁcally informative. I am told all the cia retirees in our neighborhood thought it was great! Runner up: Greg Palast's The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.
Host, ABC's This Week
Master of the Senate by Robert Caro. No single person was more responsible for the Great Society than LBJ. No single institution was more central to its creation than the Senate. No single writer uncovers the roots of that story -- and understands American political power -- better than Caro.
Professor of history, Princeton University
Since I can't go back to 1949 (or, my real preference, 1849), let me be ultracontemporary and name Richard Parkerfs John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics. Not only has Parker written a ﬁne biography of a great liberal, he has brilliantly documented and analyzed the rise and decline of New Deal liberalismfs core economic ideas.
Co-host, Air Americafs The Al Franken Show
Why Americans Hate Politics, by E.J. Dionne Jr. The book came out in the summer of 1991, explaining that Republicans had been winning on patriotism, crime, and welfare. The Cold War over, Democrats had to be tough on crime and encourage personal responsibility. I recommended it to a Democratic media consultant who was working with Bill Clinton, and he said, gOh. Wefre running on that book.h
Prospect Investigative Editor
Under God: Religion and American Politics, by Garry Wills. Probably the most prophetic book of its time. Wills predicted it all: creationism, the gradual takeover of the Republican Party, the co-opting of the Bush family dynasty, Christian dominionism. All this from a book published in 1990 -- a year when the conventional wisdom suggested that the religious right was no longer relevant.
Professor of civil society, University of Maryland
My favorite liberal book in the last 15 years: Amartya Senfs Development as Freedom (1999). Sen is an economist, so it is the more remarkable that he offers a nuanced argument for the priority of democratic politics in sustaining development and ﬁnding sources for democratic thinking in Islamic, Confucian, and other non-Western cultures. A persuasive case for democracy in an unjust, globalizing world.
Vice president of government relations, Legal Momentum
My favorite book is Lani Guinier and Gerald Torresf 2003 The Minerfs Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy. It challenges the reader with new paradigms for viewing and working against the intractable issues that confront those of us who are engaged in the never-ending battle for regime change, including the systemic, the political, and others.
Author, The Price of Motherhood
The book that most stimulated me intellectually in the last 15 years was Shirley Burggraffs 1997 The Feminine Economy and Economic Man. Burggraf, an economist, analyzed the critical contribution that child rearing makes to the formation of human capital, implying that parents, particularly mothers, are the most important wealth producers in any society. The book is marred by a somewhat nutty conclusion -- that parents should be compensated by pegging everyonefs Social Security to the payments their children make into the system. But considering the current assault on Social Security, maybe this isnft the worst idea out there!
Minority leader, House of Representatives
Itfs Sneaking into the Flying Circus -- How the Media Turn Our Presidential Campaigns into Freak Shows, by Alexandra Pelosi. Every citizen deserves a behind-the-scenes look at how modern presidential elections are run. With Alexandra as their guide, readers will see the inﬂuence of the media on our democratic process. But donft just take it from her mother -- read the book yourself.
KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL
Editor, The Nation
Who Will Tell the People?, William Greiderfs passionate and devastating 1992 manifesto about what has gone wrong with our democracy. Greiderfs account of the corrosion of Americafs political institutions and civic values is tough-minded, but never cynical. I value -- especially in these days -- its a‡rmation of faith in ordinary citizensf struggles to reclaim democracy and restore meaning to public life.
Lecturer, Harvard University
P.W. Singer specializes in forcing us to look at who is really ﬁghting todayfs wars. In his 2003 book, Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, Singer examines corporate mercenaries who kill for proﬁt -- sometimes beneﬁting the world through peacekeeping missions, and sometimes beneﬁting only themselves.
Author, How the Republicans Stole Christmas
Religious extremists want to tear down the wall of separation and make this a Christian nation. It wonft happen if Americans know their history -- and their religion. In addition to Garry Willsf Under God, cited by Joe Conason, read F. Forrester Churchfs God and Other Famous Liberals and Godfs Politics by Jim Wallis. Together, they prove the religious right is neither.
Professor of religion, Boston College
The ﬁrst time I read it, I simply fell in love with Lincolnfs Virtues, William Lee Millerfs 2002 account of the dilemmas faced by our greatest president and the way he resolved them. No book is more appropriate to the age of certainty in which we live than this fascinating account of a man both humble and ambitious who learned his moral philosophy from experience.
The portraits of each of the 1988 presidential candidates in Richard Ben Cramerfs What It Takes are so vivid that I can remember literally wincing through much of it. He captures the endlessly voluble Joe Biden, the painfully earnest Mike Dukakis, the heartbreakingly poignant Bob Dole, and so many others -- none of whom had the ruthlessness that Cramer shows that it takes to win.
Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. Possibly the greatest account of the travels of Lewis and Clark; a chronicle of one of the epic journeys in American history that took place in a time when the landscape controlled man, not the other way around. They learned from the ﬁrst Montanans about how to survive the harsh environment -- and, to help create a more sustainable society, we can, too.
Proprietor, The Decembrist blog
David Levering Lewisf biography, W.E.B. DuBois. From the Harvard of William James to the founding of the NAACP to the divisions of black nationalism, DuBoisf story is a reminder that ideas have consequences and that the essentially liberal experience -- sometimes trauma -- is one of continually adjusting those ideas to changing circumstances.