Like many Americans, I’m concerned and interested in the upcoming presidential election. One way to stay up to date is through your preferred podcast roundup, social media commentator, or newspaper columnist.
For me, in addition, reading is an integral ingredient in remaining not only well informed but also to engage with ideas that challenge my own. Even those ideas I hold dearly.
Reading helps me think for myself.
Here are five books to help you do that ahead of the United States presidential election on Tuesday, November 3, 2020.
If you think political power is only wielded by politicians
The Power Broker — Robert Caro
I think about Robert Caro and reading The Power Broker back when I was twenty-two years old and just being mesmerized, and I’m sure it helped to shape how I think about politics.
— President Barack Obama
Robert Caro’s first book was a Pulitzer Prize Winner detailing the most politically influential figure in New York in the 20th century, Robert Moses.
Caro was focused on how things really get done throughout the political infrastructure. Without a political office, Moses accumulated power and used it to shape and perhaps misshape New York spanning four decades and six governorships; he dreamed up, planned, and completed public works — bridges to beaches to highways to the tune of 27 billion dollars — which connected and elevated the city but also displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.
If you think the election is a game to be won
The Infinite Game — Simon Sinek
There is a difference between a group of people who work together and a group of people who trust each other. In a group of people who simply work together, relationships are mostly transactional, based on a mutual desire to get things done. This doesn't preclude us from liking the people we work with or even enjoying our jobs. But those things do not add up to a Trusting Team. Trust is a feeling. Just as it is impossible for a leader to demand that we be happy or inspired, a leader cannot order us to trust them or each other. For the feeling of trust to develop, we have to feel safe expressing ourselves first.
In the latest of his highly readable guides to leadership, Sinek draws from James P. Carse’s Finite and Infinite Gamesdistinguishing short-run contests with long-term missions. Our leaders should have a just cause, be the champions of that cause, organize our collective will and resources, build trusting teams, and do all this courageously.
Winning an election is a finite game. Building and maintaining a prosperous country is an infinite game.
If you think you’re undereducated on civil rights activists
Standing Fast — Roy Wilkins, with Tom Mathews
Our textbooks don’t do justice to the numerous activists that helped push the writing of new civil rights legislation into our books of law.
Roy Wilkins said to Lyndon Johnson, in a call Johnson had made to get advice from Wilkins on the upcoming State of the Union Address, before hanging up, “Please take care of yourself. We need you.” (John F. Kennedy was assassinated only a month prior on November 22, 1963.)
Wilkins understood, in his lifelong work to advance civil rights, that with LBJ there was a chance to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the next step on an ongoing march for civil rights for all Americans.
This is the autobiography of one of the civil rights movement's great leaders.
If you don’t understand what underpins our political divisions
A Conflict of Visions — Thomas Sowell
One of the curious things about political opinions is how often the same people line up on opposite sides of different issues. The issues themselves may have no intrinsic connection with each other. They may range from military spending to drug laws to monetary policy to education…They have different visions of how the world works.
Perhaps the most original of Sowell’s more than 30 books, A Conflict of Visions details his ideas about the ideological origins of political struggles.
For Sowell, visions are not dreams, hopes, prophecies, or moral imperatives, though these may follow from a vision. For Sowell, “a vision is a sense of causation”.
This book’s introduction alone is filled with provocations: “Facts do not ‘speak for themselves.’ They speak for or against competing theories. Facts divorced from theory or visions are mere isolated curiosities.”
By the end of the introduction, however, you will have a taste of what Sowell means by the unconstrained vision as opposed to the constrained vision, each with a different view on the nature of man, complete with a brief list of historical figures, from Thomas Jefferson to Alexander Hamilton, who line up on either end or somewhere in between, on the spectrum.
A Conflict of Visions injects a good dose of diversity into the too often simplified single-dimension Left-Right divide our media and news outlets revert to when speaking of current events.
If you want to learn how to debunk conspiracy theories politely
Escaping the Rabbit Hole — Mick West
After co-founding and leading Neversoft Entertainment as Technical Director, catalyzing a billion-dollar franchise in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, West left to code, write, and learn to pilot a small plane. This work eventually led him to take an interest in conspiracy theories beginning with “chemtrails” conspiracy theory, after which he started contrailscience.com.
What are contrails, you ask?
Exhaust contrails are formed by the mixing of the hot humid exhaust of the engines with cold humid surrounding air, creating long streamers of clouds. If the conditions are right then these can persist and spread. These are the most common type of contrail observed.
Aerodynamic contrails are formed by the temporary reduction in pressure of the air moving over the surface of the plane, or in the center of a wake vortex. Reducing the pressure of the air means it can hold less water, so condensation occurs.
This work led to the development of metabunk.org, a site that tracks ongoing conspiracy theories, from 9/11 to Flat Earth, from UFO sitings to 2020 wildfires.
West’s first book is Escaping the Rabbit Hole, which aims to help people learn how to politely debunk conspiracies advocated by friends and family.