Discover the best books on American politics, which cover critical aspects of US political history, and provide overviews of key events.
The American Presidential election is watched by millions worldwide. The outcome of an American presidential race impacts all of us across the globe, and this is why American politics is hotly debated – just as much by US citizens as by those living on the other side of the planet.
Since the dramatic election of Donald Trump in 2016, US politics has become a source of debate at dinner tables worldwide. His impeachment and eventual loss to Joe Biden, leading to riots on the capital hill, have raised important questions about the future of American democracy and the role of the White House in shaping world affairs.
As the worldview of the US president and their party’s policymakers becomes increasingly divisive, more people are looking to understand the politics of America. The books in this list and our essays about politics cover various topics, from crucial moments in American history to the Trump administration.
- Best Books on American Politics Ranked
- 1. The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
- 2. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff
- 3. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
- 4. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
- 5. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama
- 6. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer
- 7. First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton by David Maraniss
- 8. What Happened by Hillary Clinton
- 9. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
- 10. All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
- 11. Globalization and Its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz
- 12. The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater
- 13. Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Best Books on American Politics Ranked
1. The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
The Federalist Papers is a collection of essays by three founding fathers of the modern United States. The essays were written as intellectual justifications for the US Constitution. Modern democracies trace back to the US Constitution at least part of their roots. The ideas of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay are the bedrock of many of the democratic rights we take for granted in 21st-century democracies.
The essays were published in 1788 and provided a framework around how best to govern a state the size of the US. They discuss ideas such as the Supreme Court, the Bill of Rights, federalism, and executive powers. Many of the checks and balances written by the founding fathers continue to be touted as key factors in defending US democracy from populist attacks.
This is a great place to start if you want to build a deep understanding of American politics. This collection of essays might not be the most thrilling read, but these ideas are vital to understanding the origins of American democracy. You might also be interested in reading these essays about community service.
“When a government betrays the people by amassing too much power and becoming tyrannical, the people have no choice but to exercise their original right of self-defense — to fight the government.”Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers
2. Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff
Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House is a New York Times bestseller that arguably became one of the most controversial and widely read books about the Trump administration. The book gives readers a glimpse into the turbulent Donald Trump presidency, highlighting some of his most controversial moments.
Michael Wolff is an American journalist who has written for USA Today and GQ. He has written several books, but Fire and Fure: Inside the Trump White House has been his most successful title. Wolff describes a chaotic Washington administration. He cited sources close to Trump that claimed his senior staff had no faith in his ability to govern, and even his family members were concerned by his behavior.
The book goes beyond critiquing Donald Trump by exploring the factors that led to his election. While this is a must-read if you want to learn more about Trump, it’s worth noting that various Republicans have widely criticized it for inaccuracies.
“Time spent with Trump on the campaign plane was often an epic dissing experience: everybody around him was an idiot.”Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
3. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
A People’s History of the United States tells the story of marginalized Americas, often neglected in a political world run by a small elite. The book looks at the history of modern America from the perspective of marginalized groups such as Native Americans and African Americans.
Howard Zinn was an author and professor well-known for his activism and criticism of America’s twentieth-century political history. He is a well-known Marxist historian, so expect some bias in his work. However, regardless of the bias, this book delivers a critique of the American political and economic system that must be considered.
He describes an American society where a powerful political elite is entangled in an ongoing battle with working people and minorities over power and wealth. Zinn covers American history from the arrival of Colombus to the civil war, the world wars, and George W. Bush’s War on Terror. Zinn doesn’t pull his punches. This book will teach you about the dark side of American history and politics.
“Historically, the most terrible things – war, genocide, and slavery – have resulted not from disobedience, but from obedience.”Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States
4. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness is a critical analysis of the mass incarceration of African American men in the United States. The book’s title compares the racist twentieth-century Jim Crow laws and the current position of African Americans in American society.
Michelle Alexander is a legal scholar, author, and human rights lawyer. Her book spent over 200 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. She has ignited a debate about race in modern America through her work.
Alexander focuses on the war on drugs under the Reagan administration to explain how the Black prison population has skyrocketed since the 1980s. She argues that the Reagan administration’s used war on drugs resulted in the demonization and legal persecution of countless black men.
Since the 1980s, the US prison population has grown from 300k to around two million. This is the only developed country with comparable figures, and the only way to understand this phenomenon is to understand US politics and society. This is a must-read if you’re interested in race in modern America.
“No other country in the world imprisons so many of its racial or ethnic minorities. The United States imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of apartheid.”Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
5. The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream is a memoir from President Obama. While memoirs are often relatively dry first-person stories, this book reflects deeply on the American dream and the country’s obstacles. Barack Obama remains among the white house’s most globally respected presidents. In this book, he reflects on some of his successes, failures, and hopes for the future of the US. The book gives the reader a first-hand look into the Whitehouse and Washington. As a result, it’s a great way to develop a clearer picture of how American politics functions on a day-to-day basis.
The book outlines Obama’s vision for a more positive form of politics. He advocates for avoiding populist rhetoric and improving American life through brave policy choices. Obama’s vision for a happier, more united, and more optimistic America is more relevant today than when it was published over a decade ago.
This book received outstanding reviews from the Washington Post, The New York Times, and Los Angeles Times. Add it to your reading list if you want to learn about American politics from one of the Democratic Party’s most successful leaders.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
6. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer
Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right takes a deep dive into the dark side of American politics. The book focuses on the relationship between far-right-wing politics and big Money.
Jane Mayer is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where she holds the position of Washington correspondent. She has also worked at the Wall Street Journal and covered US politics for several decades. Mayer researched some of the most well-known US billionaires, including the Koch brothers, the Olins, and the Bradleys. She claims that a handful of billionaires are bankrolling the far-right wing of US politics in return for concessions.
Dark Money is a fascinating insight into the underbelly of US politics, where Money often translates into political clout. Add this title to your reading list if you want to learn about one of the major issues facing American politics.
“The fear is that we’ll move in the direction from being a democracy to an oligarchy.”Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right
7. First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton by David Maraniss
First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton is one of the best books on the former President. Bill Clinton oversaw a period of American global supremacy before his career came crashing down following an affair.
David Maraniss is well-positioned to provide a detailed analysis of Clinton. She is an associate editor at the Washington Post, a New York Times bestselling author, and won the Pulitzer prize for his 1992 coverage of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. This book is a highly detailed account of Bill Clinton, and it takes the reader on a journey from the 42nd President’s childhood to his impeachment in 1998.
Maraniss provides an unparalleled level of detail about the former President. It explores both Clinton’s political administration and him as a person. This is an excellent read to combine learning about American politics with the fascinating story of Bill Clinton’s rise and fall.
“I said that I’m only there to write the truth, I’m not going to cover anything up, but I’ll put everything in context and get as close to the truth of this person as I can.”David Maraniss, First in His Class: A Biography of Bill Clinton
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8. What Happened by Hillary Clinton
What Happened is the first-hand story of the 2016 presidential campaign that saw the unexpected defeat of Hillary Clinton to Republican candidate Donald Trump. The pollsters were fairly certain Clinton would come out ahead of Trump, and even though she won the popular vote, her campaign ended in defeat. Like her husband, Hillary Clinton is a controversial figure in US politics. This book is equally controversial, with some praising it for shining light on the 2016 campaign while others see it as a long list of excuses.
Clinton details several factors that she believes resulted in her failure. According to her, the main reason for Donald Trump’s victory was Russian interference in the election and a series of leaked e-mails that damaged her public image. This is a solid read if you’re curious about the 2016 election. However, it’s written by the losing candidate, so there are naturally some issues with bias, as the critics have been swift to point out.
“Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance in the world to pursue your dreams.”Hillary Clinton, What Happened
9. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln looks at the presidency of Abraham Lincoln with a focus on his cabinet and major political allies and enemies. Lincoln is undoubtedly one of the key figures in American political history, and you can only fully understand modern America with his story.
Doris Kearns Goodwin is a New York Times bestseller and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has written several successful books about American politics. Her meticulous research into Lincoln for this book has been widely praised as it gives a detailed overview of the 16th President of the US.
This book will give you a clear insight into Abraham Lincoln’s acumen and his ability to identify potential in people. Goodwin explains how Lincoln built his cabinet and why he kept people like Salmon P. Chase and Edward Bates are close to his side. The book also gives a detailed breakdown of Lincoln’s leadership style and personal views. It also focuses on how he led the push to abolish slavery and unite the states.
“Once a president gets to the White House, the only audience that is left that really matters is history.”Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
10. All the President’s Men by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
All the President’s Men chronicles the investigation of the Watergate scandal by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and the resignation of President Nixon. This was the biggest scandal to ever hit American politics, and the term ‘Watergate’ has since been adopted into English. Woodward and Bernstein are two of the most well-known political journalists in the world. They won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for their investigative reporting that led to Nixon’s resignation.
Their book is a detailed account of how they collected the information that eventually proved that the Nixon administration planned a break-in at the Democratic party’s headquarters. The investigation was treacherous, with constant threats and attacks. All the President’s Men is a gripping story told by two men who risked everything to expose the Nixon administration. Reading this book will help you understand the darker side of the American political machine.
“When you practice reporting for as long as I have, you keep yourself at a distance from True Believers. Either conservatives or liberals or Democrats or Republicans.”Bob Woodward, All the President’s Men
11. Globalization and Its Discontents by Joseph Stiglitz
Globalization and Its Discontents is a powerful critique of globalization that serves as a helpful jumping-off point for understanding the role of American politics in the global economy. The word globalization gets thrown around a lot these days, so if you want to get to grips with modern American politics, it’s a term you’ll need to study.
The Novel Prize-winning author Joseph Stiglitz helps his readers understand the issues of globalization and the opportunities offered by changing how we manage globalization. He writes lucidly, making economics interesting as he drives home the topic’s relevance to all our lives.
While this book provides a global overview of politics and economics, it focuses on the US due to its central role in international trade. Stiglitz gives the reader a brief history of globalization followed by an in-depth look at its development throughout the twentieth century.
The book is an interesting theory on improving the global economy by making better policy choices. American politics remains the central authority regarding globalization, and the two concepts can’t be fully understood separately.
“American inequality didn’t just happen. It was created.”Joseph Stiglitz, Globalization and Its Discontents
12. The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater
The Conscience of a Conservative is a book about conservative thinking from a successful Republican senator. It combines aspects of political philosophy, economics, and American politics to provide a detailed overview of Conservative politics in the US. Barry Goldwater is a Republican senator from Arizona who firmly believes in the core principles of conservatism. Through this book, he advocates for a limited federal government and individual freedoms.
With American politics more polarized than ever, it’s essential to try and understand the core philosophy driving policy on both sides of the aisle. Goldwater clearly explains his belief in conservatism and its role in modern American politics. The book touches on some of the most fractious debates in American politics, such as civil rights, foreign policy, and education reform. Reading this book will help you understand conservative thinking and the Republican Party.
“Small men, seeking great wealth or power, have too often and too long turned even the highest levels of public service into mere personal opportunity.”Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative
13. Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream is a biography of the 36th President of the US, tracing his career from a small town in Texas to the White House. Lyndon Johnson was one of the twentieth century’s most important US presidents, and many of his decisions profoundly impacted the country’s development.
Johnson pushed through legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. These two policy decisions were a huge milestone in America’s journey toward improving racial equality in politics.
Johnson is a fascinating example of the American dream. He grew up in an impoverished Texan household which permanently impacted his view on social justice and inequality. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book is the best way to learn about Johnson as a person and a politician.
“The past is not simply the past, but a prism through which the subject filters his own changing self-image.”Doris Kearns Goodwin, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream
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