No matter which side of the political fence you’re on, these books should prove engaging and enlightening, not to mention pertinent to our time. (If you are uber pro-Bush then you might enjoy the Fareed Zakaria and Reza Aslan books more than the more lefty works). This is just a small collection of some that I’ve read. There are many others out there. Perhaps you have a few you’d like to add?
The End of America, by Naomi Wolf
Every nation that has become a dictatorship – Germany, Russia, China, and Chile are 20th Century examples – has followed the same path, has implemented the same steps along the path. Every one of these steps is underway in the US right now. Wolf warns that we must take back our liberties NOW, or else our children face little chance of living in true freedom. Think about it: how has our carefully-constructed system of checks and balances been compromised in recent years? How about the blatant restrictions on freedom of the press (including not allowing them access in the first place)? How about the use of fear to coerce us into silent cooperation?
This book scared the pants off me. I got so worked up that I had to stop reading for a few months. My one line description? “If what Wolf says is true, then you could be disappeared just for owning a book like this.”
Give Me Liberty, by Naomi Wolf
Wolf’s less-frightening, more inspiring follow-up to End of America. I have only read about half so far, but Wolf continues along a similar path of showing how our liberties are being eroded. She shows how even freedom of assembly as been so bogged down with bureaucratic red tape that is essentially doesn’t exist the way the Founders intended. She shows how difficult – if not impossible – it is for an average citizen to truly participate in government. Far less terrifying than End of America, longer and more fleshed out, and inspiring. Wolf aims to awaken our inner patriot and take our country back. (If you’ve read my recent blogs, you’ll see her influence!).
The Future of Freedom, by Fareed Zakaria
This is absolutely a must-read, what with the Bush administration’s talk about bringing democracy to the Middle East. Though this would have been a little more timely a few years ago – before it became blatantly clear that such a plan wouldn’t work – it is still relevant.
Fareed shows how and why we should be careful with such ideas as exporting democracy. Democracy in and of itself does not insure the protection of civil liberties. He shows how a liberal autocracy can sometimes be the better path for a country, rather than a quick jump from dictatorship to democracy. He points out, quite rightly, that even the US was not a true democracy until the 20th century – when half the population (women) were finally allowed to vote.
Lucid, engaging, and easy to read, Future of Freedom should be on every thinking-person’s shelf in America.
The Post American World, by Fareed Zakaria
What can I say – Fareed rocks. His most recent book examines what he calls “the rise of the rest” – meaning that rather than looking at the global geopolitical situation as a decline of America’s singular stature, what’s really happening is that other countries are simply rising to the same level. He devotes two sections of the book to in-depth looks at China and India, providing historical frameworks and future outcomes in a combination only Fareed can provide. Then he moves to examining America’s role as a single superpower, and compares/contrasts the situation to the deterioration of the British Empire and how Britain fared in the aftermath. What Fareed brings to the table is more than eloquence and intelligence; he urges us to look beyond our insular American perception and to think in a global context. This is an important book for our times.
Liberty Under Attack: Reclaiming Our Freedoms in an Age of Terror, edited by Richard C. Leone, Greg Anrig Jr.
A more academic version of Wolf’s End of America. Liberty Under Attack is a collection of essays by prominent scholars, journalists, historians, and activists detailing how the Bush administration has undermined American civil liberties. They outline how the measures we’ve allowed the administration to take in the name of national security will ultimately prove counterproductive and don’t really protect us from future terrorism. We have allowed ourselves to become subject to increasing invasions of personal privacy (unwarranted wiretaps, anyone?), Executive control over the judiciary (remember Harriet Miers?), and a non-free press (remember the 30-second access to Sarah Palin’s “meetings” with foreign leaders?).
The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein
I have not actually read this one yet, but based on the continual references to it in the progressive media, I include it on the list. Klein shows how certain elements of our political system use disasters – whether orchestrated or not – to reshape the world in their favor. She shows how the highly-revered idea of the “free market” has actually allowed politicians to exploit their citizens during times of shock and violence. She details how our leaders have used such disasters to bring about radical privatization throughout the world, to the detriment of the people.
I look forward to reading it, and I hope you read it too!
No Got but God, by Reza Aslan
In this post 9/11 world, every American must read this book. Especially given all the hoopla and misinformation about whether or not Obama was a Muslim (secret or otherwise).
Goodreads has an excellent synopsis:
“Aslan paints a portrait of the first Muslim community as a radical experiment in religious pluralism and social egalitarianism. He demonstrates how, after the Prophet’s death, his successors attempted to interpret his message for future generations–an overwhelming task that fractured the Muslim community into competing sects. Finally, Aslan examines how, in the shadow of European colonialism, Muslims developed conflicting strategies to reconcile traditional Islamic values with the realities of the modern world, thus launching what Aslan terms the Islamic Reformation. Timely and persuasive, No god but God is an elegantly written account of a magnificent yet misunderstood faith. “
This book was so amazing, it made me feel like converting to Islam! Aslan is an incredible scholar. If you’ve never seen him on tv, it’s worthwhile to look him up on past clips from Daily Show at Comedy Central’s website.
Reading Lolita in Tehran, by Azar Nafisi
I expected something quite different from this book. Instead of merely a tale of a women’s secret book club, Nafisi paints a brilliant picture of the Iranian revolution. She brilliantly blends her memoirs of pre- and post-revolution Iran with literary analysis of famous authors such as Nabokov and Joyce.
With our current administration huffing and puffing so much about Iran, we should all read this book to see a real image of real Iranian citizens. Too many of us forget – or never knew in the first place – that until not that long ago, Iran was a flourishing, secular society full of intellectuals and artists.
On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill
As I described in a previous post, Mill’s great discussion in this work is the idea of intellectual discourse – that we should be able to disagree, but intelligently be able to share our differing views without disintegrating into the bluster of “you’re either for us or against us” mentality. I read this long ago, in a press ethics course, so my memories are too hazy to really provide more of a review here. But perhaps it’s time to pick it up again.
The Marx-Engels Reader, by Friedrich Engels
If we as a country are going to bandy about the term “socialist” as an insult, then we need to read a bit from the horse’s mouth (and realize that socialism does NOT equal Soviet communism). My well-worn copy is full of dogears and highlighted passages. I was a politically and globally naïve girl from insulated Orange County when I read it, and it revolutionized my view of the world. Don’t believe the hype: check it out for yourself.