Political Book Club

Kelsey hosts a political book club that meets every other month via Zoom. Book Club picks are taken as suggestions from book club participants. Our upcoming meeting dates and book descriptions can be found below. If you are interested in joining the group, please reach out and we'll get you added to the list!

June 14 at 7pm

Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein

The American political system—which includes everyone from voters to journalists to the president—is full of rational actors making rational decisions given the incentives they face,” writes political analyst Ezra Klein. “We are a collection of functional parts whose efforts combine into a dysfunctional whole.”

 

“A thoughtful, clear and persuasive analysis” (The New York Times Book Review), Why We’re Polarized reveals the structural and psychological forces behind America’s descent into division and dysfunction. Neither a polemic nor a lament, this book offers a clear framework for understanding everything from Trump’s rise to the Democratic Party’s leftward shift to the politicization of everyday culture.

 

America is polarized, first and foremost, by identity. Everyone engaged in American politics is engaged, at some level, in identity politics. Over the past fifty years in America, our partisan identities have merged with our racial, religious, geographic, ideological, and cultural identities. These merged identities have attained a weight that is breaking much in our politics and tearing at the bonds that hold this country together.

 

Klein shows how and why American politics polarized around identity in the 20th century, and what that polarization did to the way we see the world and one another. And he traces the feedback loops between polarized political identities and polarized political institutions that are driving our system toward crisis.

August 9 at 7pm 

My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

My Own Words “showcases Ruth Ginsburg’s astonishing intellectual range” (The New Republic). In this collection Justice Ginsburg discusses gender equality, the workings of the Supreme Court, being Jewish, law and lawyers in opera, and the value of looking beyond US shores when interpreting the US Constitution. Throughout her life Justice Ginsburg has been (and continues to be) a prolific writer and public speaker. This book’s sampling is selected by Justice Ginsburg and her authorized biographers Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams, who introduce each chapter and provide biographical context and quotes gleaned from hundreds of interviews they have conducted.

 

Witty, engaging, serious, and playful, My Own Words is a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of America’s most influential women and “a tonic to the current national discourse” (The Washington Post).

October 11 at 7pm

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism by Anne Applebaum

From the United States and Britain to continental Europe and beyond, liberal democracy is under siege, while authoritarianism is on the rise. In Twilight of Democracy, Anne Applebaum, an award-winning historian of Soviet atrocities who was one of the first American journalists to raise an alarm about antidemocratic trends in the West, explains the lure of nationalism and autocracy. In this captivating essay, she contends that political systems with radically simple beliefs are inherently appealing, especially when they benefit the loyal to the exclusion of everyone else.

 

Despotic leaders do not rule alone; they rely on political allies, bureaucrats, and media figures to pave their way and support their rule. The authoritarian and nationalist parties that have arisen within modern democracies offer new paths to wealth or power for their adherents. Applebaum describes many of the new advocates of illiberalism in countries around the world, showing how they use conspiracy theory, political polarization, social media, and even nostalgia to change their societies.

 

Elegantly written and urgently argued, Twilight of Democracy is a brilliant dissection of a world-shaking shift and a stirring glimpse of the road back to democratic values.

December 13 at 7pm

A Change is Gonna Come by Brian Harrison

Get your head out of your @*&. Snowflake. Stupid liberal. Ignorant conservative. There is much discussion today about the decline in civility in American politics. Couple this phenomenon with the fracturing and hardening of political attitudes, and one might wonder how deliberative democracy, much less political civility, can survive if we can't even talk to people with whom we disagree. Insults are thrown, feelings are hurt, and family and friends, at best, decide to avoid political discussions altogether. At worst, arguments cause social groups to break apart. How can deliberative democracy survive if we can't even speak to people with whom we disagree? 

 

As this book argues, we need a new way to discuss politics, one that encourages engagement and room for dissent. One way to approach this challenge is to consider how public opinion changes. By and large, public opinion is sticky and change occurs very slowly; one exception to this is the more recent and significant change in public opinion toward LGBTQ rights and marriage equality. The marriage equality movement is considered one of the great success stories of political advocacy, but why was it so successful? Brian F. Harrison argues that one of the most powerful reasons is that a broad range of marriage equality advocates were willing to engage in contentious and sometimes uncomfortable discussion about their opinions on the matter. They started everyday conversations that got people out of their echo chambers and encouraged them to start listening and thinking. But the question remains, if simple conversation can work in one arena, can it work in others? And how and where does one approach such conversation?

 

Drawing from social psychology, communication studies, and political science, as well as personal narratives and examples, A Change is Gonna Come reflects on the last fifteen years of LGBTQ advocacy to propose practical ways to approach informal political conversation on a variety of contentious issues. This book seeks to answer the seemingly simple question: how can we be politically civil to each other again?