The Democrats’ New Reading List


A reading list on national securitySpent a couple of hours this morning knocking around ideas on how to cover the new majority in the House and — George Allen is about to concede has officially conceded — now the Senate. Then, in a comment thread, we see from Sutter a complete show in a box:


Recommended topic: “The 2006 Election Reading List.” Shortly after winning power in 2004 1994, Speaker-elect Newt Gingrich publicly exhorted the incoming class of Republican Representatives to read a list of books reflecting his governing philosophy. The list included an odd mix of materials on or by the Founders (The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and James Flexner’s biography of George Washington), Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” and more recent post-industrial political/economic thinking (work by Drucker, Demming, and the Tofflers, as well as books with titles like “Working Without a Net” and “Leadership and the Computer”). One suspects that Nancy Pelosi will not be presenting her counter-list for 2006. But what would that list look like? Hopefully, it would go far deeper than books about the failure in Iraq, and would explore key issues: How will we accommodate globalization while maintaining American values? How will we protect the unprotected when even highly paid professionals feel less secure than ever? How can we forge consensus when the country is so badly fractured on critical moral and political issues not susceptible to easy reconciliation? And how will we address the grave threats posed by terrorism and failed states in an increasingly multipolar world?

We don’t need to answer these questions right away, but what are the books (or articles or pamphlets or blogs or whatever) that best explain where the country will (or should) be going under a Democratic Congress? What is the 2006 Election’s reading list?

Sutter, in a comment to Open Source, November 8, 2006

We’re doing it.

Chris Suellentrop

Blogger, The Opinionator, New York Times

Blogger, Chris Suellentrop

Michael Kinsley

American Editor-at-large, The Guardian

Op-Ed Columnist, Washington Post

Ezra Klein

Writing Fellow, American Prospect

Blogger, Ezra Klein: Tomorrow’s Media Conspiracy Today

Irene Gendzier

Professor, Department of Political Science, Boston University

Author, Notes from the Minefield: United States Intervention in Lebanon, 1945-1958

Co-Editor, Crimes of War: Iraq

David Rieff

Senior Fellow, World Policy Institute at The New School

Author, At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention

Lila Azam Zanganeh

Contributor, Le Monde

Editor, My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices

Robert Reich

U.S. Secretary of Labor, 1993-1997

Professor of Public Policy, U.C. Berkeley

Author, Reason:Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America and The Work of Nations, among many others

Extra Credit Reading
The US Constitution,, September 17, 1787.

Newt’s Book List,, 2005.

United States Marine Corps Professional Reading Program Reading List, USMC, 2005.

Republican National Committee Reading List,, 2006.

(via Old Nick) Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Samuel Kercheval,, June 12, 1816: “In truth, the abuses of monarchy had so much filled all the space of political contemplation, that we imagined everything republican which was not monarchy. We had not yet penetrated to the mother principle, that “governments are republican only in proportion as they embody the will of their people, and execute it.”

(via Old Nick) George Lakoff, Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision, , Farrar Straus Giroux, October 2006.

(via Old Nick) Peter Wallsten, One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century, , John Wiley & Sons, July 2006.

(via Old Nick) Sanford Levinson, Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (and How We the People Can Correct It), , Oxford University Press, October 2006.

(via jdyer) Elie Kedourie, The Chatham House Version, , Ivan R. Dee Publisher, January 2004.

(via Sutter) Michael J. Sandel, Public Philosophy: Essays in Morality in Politics, , Harvard University Press, October 2006.

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  • jdyer

    The reading list should include lots of books on history, not just American history but also the history of the Middle East.

    For starters I’d recommend The Chatham House Version

    by Elie Kedourie. This book alone should cure anyone from the delusion that the US or anyone else can bring democracy to the region.

  • Sutter

    A few days before the election I picked up Orwell’s “Burmese Days.” I’ve only read a bit, but it certainly has something to say regarding imperialism, and last night I wondered (after suggesting the topic) whether that book would wind up on my own list.

    Also, as I mentioned in the earlier thread, I’d be tempted to add a book like Michael Sandel’s recent “Public Philosophy,” which in fairly accessible form makes some complicated arguments about the role of moral disagreement in a contemporary state.

    I’m thrilled you’ll be doing this topic (as will be my local Borders, I predict).

  • Old Nick


    We’re ’mericans!

    We don’t need no stinkin’ books!

    Actually, Hoss, we do.

    So here’s three:

    First, to enable the Progressive wing of the nation’s new majority party to communicate their values to the rest of the populace of our stuck-in-the-mud-of-the-18th-century republic: Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision: A Progressive’s Handbook

    Second, a frightening but true cautionary tale, because the Right is far from finished (they’re already focusing on 2008):

    One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century

    Lastly, a way—perhaps the ONLY way—to ruin the prospects of the second recommended title’s prophecy coming true: Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (and How We the People Can Correct It)

    …which begins with this from Thomas Jefferson:

    “Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. I knew that age well; I belonged to it…

    “It was very like the present, but without the experience of the present… Let us…avail ourselves of our reason and experience, to correct the crude essays of our first and unexperienced, although wise, virtuous, and well—meaning councils… let us provide in our constitution for its revision at stated periods.”

    Read the entire Jefferson epistle @

  • Sutter

    Old Nick — That Edsall book (One Party Country) should be showing up at my door any minute now… The Edsalls wrote one of my favorite political books ever (“Chain Reaction”), and I look forward to this one.

    As for “Our Undemocratic Constitution,” I haven’t read the book, but Cass Sunstein had a good rejoinder to the book in The New Republic a few weeks back (available here, but only to subscribers:

    Over the past couple of years, there have been a number of new books about the European “alternative” to American neoliberalism. This alternative combines a focus on the rule of law and the normalizing influence of engagement on the world stage with stronger emphasis on social democracy (but firm rejection of old-style socialism) domestically. These include Rifkin’s “The European Dream,” Reid’s “The United States of Europe,” and Leonard’s “Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century.” I’ve read the last of these — which is short and insightful, though I believe it overplays its hand — but have heard or read good things about all three. One or more of these might be useful to the incoming Democrats as they think through what Bush has gotten wrong and how they might define themselves.

  • Everyone is talking change, but what needs to change and in what bearing is the American ship of state heading at the moment?

    Here is a book to provide some idea based on the numbers:


    By Michael Adams

  • Blogs. Read blogs, write blogs, engage in blogs.

    Chris’s and Matt Stoller’s comment yesterday on the “passionate middle” that won the two out of three Philly suburban congressional races points to a new bread of engaged citizen. And, reading about them in books will guarantee you’re about six months behind the curve, at least.

    The assumption is that the netroots is more lefty than whatever the hell rest is out there is a serious misreading of what the netroots is all about. The most significant measure is that they’re engaged. So, engage with them.

  • Potter

    Required reading: the columns of Paul Krugman.

  • patsyb

    Non-fiction that comes to mind immediately: Yochai Benkler (A Welath of Networks), Sam Harris (The End of Faith), Martha Minow (Between Vengeance and Forgiveness), Susan Jacoby (Free Thinkers), John Kenneth Galbraith (lots of it!)

    And a few fiction writers: Ken Kalfus, Joe Sacco, Albert Camus. Oh, and this list could be endless!

  • webber

    The Koran, so that they can learn something about the people of Iraq and Iran as fellow human beings. Going back and reading their own New Testaments would probably do a lot of them good, for that matter.

    There are unfortunate areas of both the Islamic and Western cultures that are uncomfortable for each other, and the only way we will get past that is to talk to each other within each others’ cultural roots. If they won’t take the first step, I think our Christianity holds taking the initiative to settle a difference peacefully as a blessed decision, though a lot more than a single step is going to be needed for me to understand guys running in the streets cutting their scalps with swords.

    Anyway, the recent government having pushed our hand well and truly into the Islamist revolutionary beehive, we seem to have little choice but to do our best to figure out how to least irritate the bees from that point forward.

    A response to 9/11 would have better included a diplomatic initiative with even icky creeps like Saddam than our government’s killing several times over the number of Iraqi civilians for “shock and awe” as were killed in the World Trade Center by a handful of acknowledged criminals..

  • Old Nick

    Ezra Klein’s suggestions, and his portion of the conversation at the bottom of this hour was outstanding.


  • lagoa

    The Fourth Great Awakening & The Future of Egalitarianism

    by Robert William Fogel

    It demonstrates how religion is behind each great egalitarian revolution in America. Democrats should read it to get on board with the next revolution and at the same time learn to come to terms with religion and its salutary effect on the body politic.

    PS: Hayek is rolling in his grave –he believed strongly in the limits of government, limits Bush ignored in invading Iraq. He most certainly did not believe that a spontaneous natural order could spring from nothing to solve all of society’s ills.

  • Old Nick

    Uh…duh! And sorry: ‘were outstanding’.

    (‘Hoss’ was typing through my fingers!)

  • phbloom

    Without intellectual integrity and rigor of thought there can be no advance of good governance, social justice, and judicial wisdom. Essential reading: Breaking the Spell by Daniel C. Dennett and Age of Reason by Thomas Paine.

  • patsyb

    Speaking of biographies, as David Reiff is just now, and also autobiographies: several come to mind: Nelson Mandela’s, Bertrand Russel’s, Churchill’s.

  • Old Nick

    Re the excellent suggestion for The Peloponnesian War: in addition to the seminal Thucidydes, consider Mary Renault’s magnificent, enthralling, and heart-tugging novel: The Last of the Wine

  • jdyer

    I suggest people not go overboard with recommendations. and remember that the tenure of the Democrats may be as short as the next election.

    The best reading list is short and to the point.

    I don’t know how The Peloponnesian War a great work of history has anything to say to us today about religious wars. The Greek wars were in essence a civil war. Syracuse while “overseas” was still a Greek colony.

  • Sutter

    Old Nick: I erred above. You mentioned “One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century,” and I thought of Thomas Edsall’s similarly titled “Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive for Permanent Power.” Different books with similar titles. Oops.

    To Christopher’s question, there is a condensed Thuydides available, and it happens to be sitting on my night table (I haven’t quite mustered the will to crack it open, but today’s discussion helped): On Justice, Power, and Human Nature: The Essence of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. See

    Thanks for a great show. I got to hear two of my genuine heroes — Chris Lydon and Michael Kinsley — talk books at (sort of) my urging. I can die happy now.

  • BJ

    Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being if only for the brilliant disquisition on kitsch.

    We shed the first tear at the beauty of the children running in the grass. We shed a second tear at the beauty of our appreciation of the beauty of the children running in the grass. The second tear is kitsch.

    It was that collective “second tear” after 9/11–the one evoked by the beauty of our patriotism– that led the country into rubberstamping the Iraq invasion.

  • barringer

    Recommended reading about modern day slavery:

    Escape from Slavery by Francis Bok

    and about neglected refugees: the website

  • MJG

    I don’t know if these have been mentioned (in a hurry, can’t read right now), but I would imagine Galbraith’s The Affluent Society and MLK Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech and his letter from Birmingham Jail would be in the Democrat canon.

  • MJG

    I left last comment while away from radio, and when I got back to it Galbraith was mentioned . . . strange.

  • Prolifer

    I think the Democrats should watch the video ‘The Silent Scream’, and read John Paul II’s book ‘The theology of the body’. Democrats can be pro-life too. Abortion is the slavery of our time. 9/11 occurrred months after the 40 millionth legal abortion was performed, will we reach 50 million? Or will we be destroyed first? Be pro-life now.

  • jzcronan

    Steady State Economy by Herman Daley In theory, capitalism can thrive without an ever increasing GNP consuming more and more natural resources and requiring rapid population growth to support it.

  • ichee

    The Palestine Diary Volume 1, 3rd Edition: Britain’s Involvement 1914-1945 Vol. 1 by Robert John / Sami Hadawi (Paperback -) AMAZON

    Foreword by Arnold Toynbee, is “indespensable” to understanding Palestine/Near/Middle/East.

    Also US 9/11

    After John K. Cooley, Middle East Bureau, The Christian Science Monitor – wrote

    “It is a most illuminating and useful book. It should be in universities and libraries, and especially in the hands of historians, throughout the world,” the publisher was destroyed by arson. Now there is a 3rd. electronic edition.

  • Hey Brendan, will you post a list of th recommendations made by Chris and the guests?

  • mileslane

    “Good News for a Change: How Everyday People are Helping the Planet” by David Suzuki and Holly Dressel:

    This is one of the most illuminating and empowering books I have read in the last twenty years. It shows that great positive change is achievable in all the key areas of current and impending crises: energy, water, agriculture, economics, governance, biodiversity, the oceans, and pollution.

  • We have a whole Bush Bashing section in the bookstore where I work and are wondering what the election results will do to sales of this genre.

  • how come everything is in italics?

  • Kirk McClelland

    Key books for Democrats should include:

    Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class

    David Korten, The Great Turning: From Empire To Earth Community

    Si Kahn and Elizabeth Minnich, The Fox In The Henhouse

    Thomas Berry, The Great Work: Our Way Into The Future

    Peter Russell, Waking Up In Time

    Chris Hedges, War Is The Force That Gives Us Meaning

  • ddales

    where are all the other book titles that were mentioned on the show?

  • ron tjerandsen

    I was driving home this evening in the rain as I listened to the books recommended by various contributors and kept hoping that someone would name something by John Kenneth Galbraith. Finally, someone came to it! When I arrived home, I went to my library and pulled “The Good Society” by J.K.B. off the shelf. This is a marvel of compression published in 1996 and would make a perfect present for Nancy Pelosi. Please recommend this one to her or have Robert Reich do it. Thank you. RT

  • David Weinstein

    Yes, the dems would be well served by reading more widely, deepeing their perspective and analysis of this nearly impossible task of good governance in democracy. I particulalry liked Kirk McClelland’s list.

    But what I think the democrats need most at this juncture is the COURAGE OF THEIR CONVICTIONS.

    Perhpas some of thes new guys and gals will bring that to the table and help to inspire their more senior colleagues.

  • I suggest INEQUALITY MATTERS, The Growing Economic Divide in America and Its Poisonous Consequences, edited by James Lardner and David A. Smith.

  • hurley

    Wonderful show. I imagine Chris was positively levitating at the mentions Yourcenar and Virgil (me too).

    Lila Azam Zanganeh’s wise suggestion that we read more novels to better understand the world we live in reminded me of Edward Said saying after 9/11 that whoever wanted to understand contemporary Islam would be better off reading Mafouze or the Pillars of Salt trilogy rather than the Koran. Lila Azam Zanganeh’s recommendation of My Uncle Napoleon was inspired — a deeply funny and revealing book.

    My short list would include:

    Man and Nature; Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action, by the great Vermont polymath George Perkins Marsh (1864), “the first book to attack the American myth of the superabundance and inexhaustibility of the earth.” What could be more timely? An extraordinary book by an extraordinary man (I occassionally visit his grave in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome).

    Another favorite: The Brother in Elysium; Ideas of Friendship and Society in the United States, by the poet William Bronk. It’s a meditation on his stated themes, and others, in the work of Henry Thoreau, Walt Whitman, and Herman Melville. It was first published by the Elizabeth Press in 1980, and later reprinted by North Point Press, together with other essays on Meso-America, under the title Vectors and smoothable curves. I’ve read it twice, and go back to it often, both for its ideas and for its hauntingly beautiful prose.

    Two other books that couldn’t be more timely: J.R., and Carpenter’s Gothic, by the late William Gaddis. J.R. The most devastating — and funny — analysis of the abuses of American capitalism ever written. A tour de force, my choice for the Great American Novel. Carpenter’s Gothic treats the intersection of religious fundamentalism and the corruption of American politics.Again, what could be more timely.

    Have to leave it there for now. Thanks again for the show. I look forward to everyon’s suggestions.

  • babu

    James Lovelock’s ‘Revenge of Gaia’

    Hurly: Thank you, once again for your thoughts and book suggestions.

  • Here’s another suggestion, this is a must! HOSTILE TAKEOVER, How Big Money & Corruption Conquered Our Government – and How We Take It Back by David Sirota.

  • hurley

    Simone Weil, The Iliad, Or the Poem of Force.

    James Fenimore Cooper, The Bravo.

  • hurley

    On the subject of Washington novels, Billy Lee Brammer’s The Gay Place worth a look (Gore Vidal thought so, too).

    Also one or two stories in Hughes Rudd, How I Escaped From The CIA And Into CBS. (The same Hughes Rudd who anchored CBS news — a delightful writer).

  • hurley

    Sorry to keep flitting in, but further to Chris’s question about an updated version of Machiavelli, Gramsci (his grave not far from GP Marshe’s) had a go in his notes on The Modern Prince, but I don’t expect to see anyone on the Floor reading that any time soon.

  • Sutter

    I’m a bit surprised to see no books about India or China on the list. Over the long term, aren’t these at least as important for us as the Middle East? I’m not well suited to make recommendations on this score, though I did read and enjoy Peter Hessler’s “River Town” after Hessler appeared on the show a few months back.

    So, I’m curious whether and how anyone’s planned personal reading has been affected by this conversation. For me: I ordered Galbraith’s “American Capitalism” last night, put “My Uncle Napoleon” on the wish list, and moved the condensed Thucydides higher up on the night table pile. I’d be fascinated to see what others plan to read now. (And would be interested in seeing what we’ve all learned a few months from now…)

  • hurley

    Correction: The Gay Place actually set in Texas, but it’s about LBJ.

    On the subject of US Presidents in fiction, Robert Coover’s portrayal of Nixon in The Public Burning (and elsewhere — Gloomy Gus) something a more sophisticated Borat might have written.

  • hurley

    And thank you, too, Babu. I’ll keep an eye out for The Revenge of Gaia (as she exacts her revenge on us — an incredibly strange week weather-wise where I live, where you live, too, I gather). Heads up.

  • BurtonG

    Heard the program and would like to have the list as presented by the guests in one place to be referenced rather than have to re-listen to the entire show again.

    I hear it on KQED FM in San Francisco at 1 AM and am not up with pecil and paper at the ready – I’m actually in bed with an earpiece in my ear so as not to disturb my wife.

  • With the complete and total failure of neo-conservatism we are primed for the return of a realist foreign policy perspective. Kenneth Waltz’s Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis from 1959 is somewhere in between a religious tract and play book for Westphalian realist foreign policy.

  • quisp

    I recommend two books right off the bat: William Greider’s Secrets of the Temple and Robert Caro’s The Power Broker. Both are thorough investigations of their subjects: Greider taking aim at the Federal Reserve and Caro unearthing the history of Robert Moses master builder of New York.

    I choose these books because they provide good background of the subject matter but also illustrate the tremendous complexities between government, business, special interests and how power can be used and abused.

  • Old Nick

    I’ve enjoyed not only the show’s on-air conversations and recommendations, but most all of the conversation and suggestions on this thread. Rest assured, I’ll soon be acquiring several of the books recommended by both the on-air and online sources. (Especially, but hardly exclusively, Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation and babu’s Gaia’s Revenge—although I’ll have to wait for the paperback price of the latter.)

    Thank you all, very much.

    I’d like to add one more title to the recommended histories: The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America, which tells the tales of the revolutionary and patriotic “commoners” who the Constitution’s framers feared and therefore sought to insulate the new republic’s government from. It’s astonishingly pertinent to our understanding of the ongoing struggle between modern Republicans – who are republicans, after all – and the Democrats, who are, after all, democrats. (Funny, ain’t it, how the two parties’ names actually aptly describe their differing governmental philosophies?)

    Speaking of democrats and patriots, New Englander (and patriot) Thom Hartmann‘s output should be a part of this growing list:

    Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights

    The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight

    What Would Jefferson Do?: A Return to Democracy

    Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class and What We Can Do about It

    And: We the People: A Call to Take Back America

    This online article, painfully pertinent despite its age, I very much like: The New American Plutocracy

    And, lastly (for this post), this: Separation, Please: An Interview with Barry Lynn

  • Old Nick

    As a secular humanist and freethinker, I applaud the recommendations in this thread from patsyb for Susan Jacoby’s Freethinkers (great book!), Sam Harris’s The End of Faith (and, by implication, Letter to a Christian Nation) & from phbloom for Thomas Paine and Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell.

    I fear it’s premature, however, to suggest such books to the Democrats hoping to hold onto their seats representing various and sundry constituencies of our religiously befuddled nation. I would offer instead this favorite of my Jesus-admiring sister (she’s more like a Jain than a Christian—hence my careful choice of words):

    The Hijacking of Jesus: How the Religious Right Distorts Christianity and Promotes Prejudice and Hate

    Concerning Islam, try this short but informationally loaded article by hopeful Muslim reformer Syed Kamran Mirza: Can reason blunt fanaticism?

    Even more informationally loaded is this beautifully readable bestseller by another freethinking Muslim:

    The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith

    And, lastly, for a scholarly, non-hysterical, and non-Islamophobic analysis of the religiosity that fuels the militant Islamism of Europe’s poorly integrated Muslim communities, and how that informs its violent manifestations:

    Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah

    I’m done now.


    (I think…I hope.)

    PS to Sutter: please consider favoring us with a review of the Edsall book!

  • patC

    Surprised that no one listed the LBJ books by Robert Caro. Most of the stuff I heard on the radio last night was way liberal and most-impractical. “Master of the Senate” (like The Powerbroker recomended above) is a fantastic textbook on how the world and government really work.

  • jdyer


    “Lila Azam Zanganeh’s wise suggestion that we read more novels to better understand the world we live in reminded me of Edward Said saying after 9/11 that whoever wanted to understand contemporary Islam would be better off reading Mafouze or the Pillars of Salt trilogy rather than the Koran. Lila Azam Zanganeh’s recommendation of My Uncle Napoleon was inspired — a deeply funny and revealing book.”

    This is patent nonsense. It shows how out of touch Said was.

    Mafouz was had his throat cut by an Islamicist adherent of The Muslim Brotherhood.

    If you want to know what is going on in the Islamic world it would be better people read the one book that is inspiring so much hatred.

    Mafouz should be read as a novelist and not as either a historian or social commentator.

    Said by the way didn’t seem to know as much about the Islamic world as he pretended to know. He certainly got a lot of details about Muslim history wrong in his writings.

  • jdyer

    I should add that literature students like to think that fiction writing is the royal road to the understanding culture just as Freud thought that dreams were the royal road to the unconscious.

    The claim is overstated in both cases.

    Besides, one would need to learn Egyptian Arabic to read Mahfouz critically as all translations are mere approximations of the original text.

    It is also difficult to catch all allusion in a translation as the allusion are often to other native texts.

    So even if it were true that reading novels would yield a thorough knowledge of the culture I would it is even truer that one needs to read those works in the original tongue.

  • Ben

    Sun Tzu still belongs in the list (

    along with something from the first major advocate of the highest ethical ideal to come from the new world – preservation.

    John Muir: Nature Writings (

    If that’s a little too thick for a busy desk, it can be accompanied with the Lorax by Dr. Seuss: ( as a companion volume.

  • hurley

    jdyer: If I may say so, with all due respect, you ought to mind your tone. (“patent nonsense”) No point I can see antagonizing anyone here. As for Said having been out of touch — as opposed to being wrong on occassion (see the admirable Robert Irwin now, the admirable James Clifford 20 years ago) my impression was that he was in the thick of it, death threats and all.

    In point of fact, did Mafouz have his throat cut, or was he stabbed? If I recall, he was stabbed. Best to be clear about these matters.

    I’m surprised Lila Azam Zanganeh’s point (her name so beautiful I redundantly wrote it twice before), and Said’s, was lost on you, lover of literature that you are.

  • plnelson

    I’d like to put in another vote for The Age of Reason.

    Too many of the books suggested here are recent books on topics that are too new and where there’s no possible way that the authors or readers can get far enough away to have any perspective.

    I’m always ranting here that there’s no SCIENCE of human behavior or human societies, and so our knowledge only advances with glacial slowness. But in this case it’s an advantage because Paine’s book still stands up well.

  • Sutter

    A long time ago I commented to a friend that nonfiction makes one knowledgeably and fiction makes one smart. With (genuine) due respect to jdyer, I still think there’s something to that (though the line if far blurrier than I then thought). I also think there’s a lot to be learned from ancient (and recent) history, even if the facts of the particular history aren’t exactly “on all fours” with our own.

    This is not to say that our leaders should read only novels and Thucydides. But I would be just as wary of a politician who had never cried while reading a novel as I would be of one who had never heard of Adam Smith.

  • Chris seemed to imply this “blogs as news” sort of model, and that there was little to be learned. He seemed to use the term “conversation” not as it is usually intended, but rather as a throw-away term. I was thinking of blogs (maybe I should have been more clear) as a way to connect with your district/state.

    Since the earlier part of the 20th century, the number of people each representative (for example) has increased, drawing government away from the people. Short of increasing the number in the House to over 1,000, new communication technology (blogs) can be a way for congressmen to plug back in.

  • darwhin

    leave out books mentioned by anyone who includes chomsky, especially when it comes to the middle east. that pretty much disqualifies that person as being fair minded in the slightest. chomsky outside the area of linguistics is just another intellectually dishonest pundit, hes the rush limbaugh of the far left.

  • hurley

    darwhin says: “leave out books mentioned by anyone who includes chomsky, especially when it comes to the middle east. that pretty much disqualifies that person as being fair minded in the slightest. chomsky outside the area of linguistics is just another intellectually dishonest pundit, hes the rush limbaugh of the far left.”

    I believe you’re the first to mention Chomsky. I hesitated to, assuming he would be familiar to everyone here. But regardless of what you think of him, you should take a moment and re-examine your premise, carefully.

  • I humbly submit these books for your consideration:

    “The Watchmen” by Alan Moore

    “Media Virus!” by Douglas Rushkoff

    “Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams

    “How to Draw the Marvel Way” by Stan Lee

  • jdyer

    [This comment has been deleted. Please mind the rules. — Greta]

  • jdyer

    Hurley to Darwhin,

    ” believe you’re the first to mention Chomsky. I hesitated to, assuming he would be familiar to everyone here. But regardless of what you think of him, you should take a moment and re-examine your premise, carefully.”

    When will you examine yours, Hurley?

  • hurley

    jdyer: Where to begin? My reference to “tone” was merely an attempt to steer this thread away from the slanging match others have become. Thin skin doesn’t enter into it.

    As for “Robert Irwin love affair with Said,” nothing could be further from the truth. You have only to read his recent demolition of Orientalism to understand that. No love lost there.

    I didn’t know you were a “student” of literature, as opposed to a “lover” of literature. My error, I suppose, in conflating the two.

    As for the attack on Mafouz, you accuse me of “playing the literalist” in making a distinction between his being stabbed and having his throat cut.

    There is a difference, and it has to do with the issue of capital punishment, and the religious dimensions thereof, which motivated the attack on Mafouz in the first place. A nasty business in any case.

    A friend writes:

    The penalty of death for a convicted criminal has become unconstitutional because an execution is a religious event. Killing a person violates the separations between secular government and religion, those widening separations which have become constitutional. Because the United States Constitution as first written did not mention women, interstate commerce, health, education, welfare, privacy, or many other concepts which Supreme Court Justices have interpreted, it is not the product of one event in the 18th century. The Constitution is reconstructed as further elaborations of the mood of the Constitution, but not as interpretation of its literal words. The Constitution will become as Supreme Court justices will decide, even about death. In Euro-American society for centuries, a purpose in life has included making a good death, as with a death-bed conversion, a death-bed confession or a dying declaration. Many guides to life were written to teach how to make a good death in order to achieve salvation and Eternal Life in God. A bad death was to be dreaded, as with the murder of the late King Hamlet, who laments that he died:

    Cut off even in the blossoms of my sin,

    Unhouseled, disappointed, unaneled,

    No reckoning made, but sent to my account

    With all my imperfections on my head:

    O, horrible! O, horrible! Most horrible!

    A history of dying, and of dying as a penalty for crime, is easily assembled. The point is that the purpose of execution was to throw the salvation of the executed person into doubt, surely a cruel punishment to a person under penalty of death. An execution within a religion may be usual, but it is “unusual” in a government which is not an elaboration of religious values, structures, functions and meanings. An execution threatens a bad death, in spite of the presence of a chaplain, that is, an execution causes a person to fear for his or her soul, an anxiety that has nothing to do with a secular state. Thus in 2006, a penalty of death cannot be separated from religious purposes. A penalty of death is a religious penalty which is applied within a secular government which should have no interest in the relations of a soul with heaven or with hell. These themes overlap euthanasia, abortion and suicide, none mentioned in the Constitution, all of them, in some religions, pertaining to the eternal existence of an immortal soul, rather than to the finite and temporal citizen. A governing image is that God is Light, hence a soul is a spark of light thrown off by an infinite and eternal God, hence it must be protected in a foetus, but denied to an evil person who has preferred his or her own darkness to the inborn Divine Light. Within several different divisions of powers, a finite and temporal government is justified in punishing a citizen, but not a soul. As soon as a person in government decrees something or someone as evil, he or she has left secular government for religion. A judgment of evil authorizes torture and the penalty of death. In the same Christian theology, a human judgment of evil can be a demonstration of pride, in presuming that the judgment and will of God, or Allah, are known with absolute certainty. Such presumption of knowledge of the will of God is an over-reachingly proud religious act, not consistent with religious faith. Hence Christianity as a system has sometimes sought truth and justice with a trial always open to a re-trial. An execution prevents a retrial of a living person, although posthumour retrials continue, with the trial of Joan of Arc subsumed and surpassed by the re-trial of Joan of Arc.

    A purpose which is served by war can be to prevent enemies from making a good death. The announcement of a penalty of death, followed by the execution of a person, is a religious act which is unconstitutional in a secular democracy. Without knowing the scholarship on the penalty of death, I can at least quote Herman Melville describing the execution in Billy Budd. Sentenced to die by Captain Vere, Billy’s last performance with words is to offer a blessing: “God bless Captain Vere!” Because Billy is being negated, he qualifies as a mediator between God and humans as he is hanged: “At the same moment it chanced that the vapory fleece hanging low in the East, was shot thro’ with a soft glory as of the fleece of the Lamb of God seen in mystical vision, and simultaneously therewith, watched by the wedged mass of upturned faces, Billy ascended; and, ascending, took the full rose of the dawn.” In Benito Cereno, the body of a man who has been executed is burned to interfere with his resurrection in the flesh: “Some months after, dragged to the gibbet at the tail of a mule, the black met his voiceless end. The body was burned to ashes; but for many days, the head, that hive of subtlety, fixed on a pole in the Plaza, met, unabashed, the gaze of the whites; and across the Plaza looked toward St. Bartholomew’s church, in whose vaults slept then, as now, the recovered bones of Aranda; and across the Rimac bridge looked toward the monastery, on Mount Agonia…” Capital punishment is religious. Because capital punishment is a religious event, if “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” then it shall make no laws establishing the penalty of death.


    ((Please don’t delete this, long as it is.))

  • Potter

    Thanks everyone for wonderful suggestions.

    Foreign policy is the domain of the President, however the Committees on Foreign Relations, International Relations in both the Senate and the House can take a more active role. Key to calming the Middle East is the settling of the Israeli/Palestinian(Arab) conflict. Some review of the peace process and history would be very worthwhile:

    “Six Days of War, June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East”: Michael B. Oren

    “Shattered Dreams, The Failure of the Peace Process in the MIddle East 1995-2002”: Charles Enderlin

    Also this sounded good from the ROS show ( have not read it) Niall Ferguson’s “The War of the World”

  • jdyer

    hurley, you do write long posts, too long for my taste.

    Don’t know what the US Constitution has to do with mahfouz and I certainly don’t know what Billy Budd, a work of fiction, has to do with it?

  • howardpark

    I’m an internet book dealer and armchair political strategist. One thing is surprising but true, there really has only been one, yes only one, serious book about the Iowa Caucuses, Hugh Winebrenner’s “The Iowa Caucuses: The Making of a Media Event”. There are a few good book’s on New Hampshire. There are a few campaign odyssey type books. Winebrenner’s book, dated now, is the ONLY book about the Iowa Caucuses which is, after all, how we pick our presidential nominees most years.

  • darwhin

    “I believe you’re the first to mention Chomsky. I hesitated to, assuming he would be familiar to everyone here. But regardless of what you think of him, you should take a moment and re-examine your premise, carefully.”

    it was in the radio show….:P

  • hurley

    Apologies, darwhin. You’re right. I must have been out of the room. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • vigneron

    The U.S. Constitution.

    “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.” U.S. Constitution- Article I, Section 9.

    A Bill of Attainder is a law that specifically applies to a group of persons. I’m referring to detainees held by the military, charged with crimes under our domestic law for actions done in a foreign nation.

    Ex post facto. Congress has given immunity for crimes committed by our agents against enemies in the field and detainees.

    I want my Constitution back!

  • David Cowhig

    I suggest “America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism” by Anatol Lieven of the New America Foundation. Oxford 2003.

  • Hamlet

    I suggest watching at least three episodes of “The Dog Whisperer,” with Cesar Milan, on the National Geographic Channel and scan his book, “Cesar’s Way.” Not a joke! He demonstrates the effectiveness of wise assessment followed by Assertiveness rather than Aggression to both defend one’s territory and provide leadership. War IS outdated. I believe the principles are transferrable. The New Yorker magazine saw his amazing insight and did a lengthy article a few months back.

    I suggest also the November 9th epidode of “KCTS Connects”, on Seattle Public Television. I recommend the program, esp. the interview with Scott Ritter on his book “Target Iran” as well as the book.

    Ritter argued very convincingly the likelihood of an Iran war was virtually 100%. He claims Bush’s conviction that he must take down Iran came in the same way he arrived at his Iraq decision–Faith Based rather than Fact Based analysis. He claims the Democrats are on the same bandwagon and are not likely to oppose. His arguments were literate, well articulated and a clear reminder of the same warnings by ‘the informed’ who opposed the invasion of Iraq.

  • Has anyone gathered the list of recommendations into a single formatted page? I was hoping to put together my wish list and lazy as I am, would love to avoid sifting through the whole thread. (Or was the notion of creating a reading list purely rhetorical?)

  • Sorry about the last post, I just saw it under features:

    Thanks for the great show.

  • Sarah Asher

    A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam, (Neil Sheehan, 1988), in which they will learn:

    First: How intelligent, savvy, well-meaning people can fall for their own hopes and dreams. Second, exactly how intelligence becomes disinformation without the either conspiracy or intent. Third, just how America’s brand of colonialism does and does not work like the old school brand, and, concomittantly, why the Iraqi’s never showed up with those flowers. And, what a little corruption can turn into and how it can cripple, well, everything. The pitfalls of being an ‘advisor’ to someone else’s army. They may learn how to lose the backing of the American people by lying to them. And finally, why America’s image of herself as the eternal ‘good guy’ can make us behave like bad guys.

    They won’t learn much about fighting a home-grown insurgency with a single, highly intelligent and very canny leader, head of a (more or less) functioning government. They are stuck with myriad insurgencies headed by a variety of men with a variety of axes to grind and no government in sight. Way different!

    And a great deal more

    They will learn that a truly great writer can make an 800-page biography go down like cool water on a hot day.

    To balance that, they should try 4 Hours in My Lai. This will teach them how good kids come to do heinous acts, and why we must include in any solution, a means to get our soldiers out of Iraq regularly and for extended periods. How frustration and racism come together to dehumanize every Iraqi, insurgent or not.

    Reading Iraqi fiction, biography, history (by Middle Eastern historians) and poetry may be the best antidote to the above. I intend to begin ASAP.

  • Schumolberry

    jz, I’ve read some good stuff by Herman Daley. But not lately. Since not lately…I get he and Doug Henwood mixed up. I wonder if “Steady State Economy” has points in common with an article I recently dug up and re-read. It’s by Prabir Purkayastha, and the print-out I have reflects a very irritating lack of proofreading. But it covers a lot of phenomena (up to the moment phenomena) that broad-stroke theorists somehow never get to even in books. The title of the article is Work, Production Systems and the Trajectory of Change: Some Reflections.

    Other titles that might be worth it:

    “What Would Jefferson Do?” Thom Hartmann

    “The Revolt of the Elites” Christopher Lasch

    Probably completely worth the time, though I have made just a little for dabbling in it:

    “The Rise of the Meritocracy” by Michael Young

    Hartmann goes all the way back to the Saxons for democracy roots…that he claims are reallygermane to our experience in the U.S….the Athenians arguably [I half-way presume myself] related more to theory. Democracy devolves responsibility to all members. The main feature of such seems to me is that folks who previously were available in the scapegoat herd…have taken on the responsibility of leading themselves (taken it on by degrees over the centuries). Hartmann provides a number of cases of democracy in other kinds of tribal life, which, taken as a whole, I really doubt were prevalent…or gaining much ground until around 1500 BCE. That’s sort of a statistical, anthropological contention, not meant to detract from the instances Hartmann cites. I find the idea that democracy has come on as accelerated distancing from scapegoatism plausible…and would not go to Hartmann’s anthropological roots for real solid grounding. But I’d like to hear from folks who think otherwise on this point. It used to seem like splittin hairs, but one position to me would seem to necessitate more tolerance…and less theocracy.