14 of the Best Political Books to Better Understand Politics

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Whether you already have a major interest in politics or you’re looking for a good jumping-off point to broaden your knowledge, there are tons of eye-opening books out there to help you better understand politics as a whole.

Choosing just 14 of these titles is no easy feat. I’ve tried to include a healthy selection of classical political theory books alongside contemporary titles that look back on political history, analyze current concepts, and discuss what the future might hold for nations around the world.

At a Glance: Our top picks for the Best Political Books

  1. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein
  2. Politics is for Power by Eitan Hersh
  3. The Republic by Plato
  4. 1984 by George Orwell
  5. Fascism and Democracy by George Orwell
  6. Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein
  7. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
  8. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
  9. The Social Contract by Jean-Jacque Rosseau
  10. We The Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights by Adam Winkler
  11. Deterring Democracy by Noam Chomsky
  12. How to Spot a Fascist by Umberto Eco
  13. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
  14. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy D. Snyder
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The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
  • Publication date:June 24, 2008
  • Print length:720 pages
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Politics Is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change
  • Publication date:January 14, 2020
  • Print length:288 pages
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Shouting at the Rain
  • Publication date:March 5, 2020
  • Print length:244 pages
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1984 (Signet Classics)
  • Publication date: January 1, 1961
  • Print length:328 pages
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Fascism and Democracy
  • Publication date:January 1, 2020
  • Print length:48 pages
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Why We're Polarized
  • Publication date-June 15, 2021
  • Print length:352 pages
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The Communist Manifesto
  • Publication date-February 7, 2014
  • Print length:48 pages
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Long Walk to Freedom:
  • Publication date-October 1, 1995
  • Print length:656 pages
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Selected Political Writings:
  • Publication date-August 27, 2020
  • Print length:196 pages
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We the Corporations:
  • Publication date-March 19, 2019
  • Print length:496 pages
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Deterring Democracy
  • Publication date-April 6, 1992
  • Print length:468 pages
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How to Spot a Fascist by Umberto Eco
  • Publication date-August 13, 2020
  • Print length:64 pages
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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
  • Publication date-February 12, 2013
  • Print length:528 pages
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On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
  • Publication date-February 28, 2017
  • Print length:128 pages
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1. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein
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Canadian author, social activist, and political analyst Naomi Klein examines Milton Friedman’s free-market economic revolution in fascinating detail.

Friedman’s Monetarism principle advocated for governmental control of the circulation of money. But, while many have lauded his economic theories as victorious, Naomi Klein exposes the darker side of his political agenda. In what she terms ‘disaster capitalism,’ she shows how governments around the world have exploited cataclysmic events to forward their own economic agendas.

These oppressive tactics have been played out time and time again in all four corners of the globe in places like Russia, Iraq, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and South Africa. From Klein’s perspective, the business of capitalizing on events such as war and natural disasters is now a ‘booming new economy’ used to exploit populations by nefarious leaders worldwide.

2. Politics is for Power by Eitan Hersh

Politics is for Power by Eitan Hersh
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Published in 2020, Eitan Hersh’s bestselling book is an in-depth analysis of political hobbyism, the idea that politics is a spectator sport rather than something we can all play a tangible part in.

It lifts the lid on the psychology behind most people’s approach to politics. We watch the news regularly, we share articles with our friends and family, and we’re routinely outraged from our armchairs, but rarely do we stand up and take any political action of our own.

Hersh’s book reads like a call to arms to move beyond this political hobbyism and create real change in the world. Rather than complaining, arguing, and signing the occasional online petition, this book will teach you how to directly influence the political landscape. Using tools such as lobbying, advocacy, coalitions, and community mobilization, we all have the power to help change government policies and forward the causes we are passionate about.

3. The Republic by Plato

The Republic by Plato
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Politics and philosophy are deeply intertwined, and to truly understand the nature of politics today, we need to go back to the time of Plato, to the year 375 BCE. This quintessential classic is presented as a conversation about the notions of a perfect utopia and a perfect citizen between Socrates and three other individuals.

Their back and forth dialogue also addresses fundamental philosophical questions that have been at the root of politics since ancient times. Questions like what is reality? What is goodness? And what is knowledge? Throughout the text, Plato develops his own depiction of utopia, a state ruled by philosophers built on the principle of harmony.

Although Plato’s concept of the perfect state isn’t exactly replicated in the world today, it’s was considered a foundational political text throughout the history of western civilization. Often referred to as “benevolent tyranny,” Plato wasn’t the only philosopher who viewed the notion of a perfect state in the same way. And while it’s not a framework for a society that we strive for today, examining and explaining why we don’t is fundamental to the progress of the future.

4. 1984 by George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell
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The vast majority of books on politics fall into the non-fiction category, but George Orwell’s fictional novel 1984 gets a special place on this list. Published back in 1949, the political satirist took a nightmarish look at what the world might look like in an imagined dystopian future.

The book describes a totalitarian regime where society is constantly under surveillance. Even at home, people are watched 24 hours a day on their TV sets. Lies, propaganda, and the eradication of real facts are all used to control and manipulate the population. And for anyone who expresses Freedom of thought, the consequences are deadly.

Orwell based his fictionalized authoritarian regime on Stalin’s Soviet Union, though recent political events worldwide have led to a resurgence in sales of this classic novel. In the era of ‘fake news,’ scientific censorship, and ‘alternative facts, this book is eerily relevant and acts as a stark warning to nations around the globe.

5. Fascism and Democracy by George Orwell

Fascism and Democracy by George Orwell
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This lesser-known non-fiction publication is a collection of five essays written by George Orwell during the darkest days of the Second World War. Published in 2020 on the 70th anniversary of his death, this book delves into the fundamental principles of democracy, free speech, and objective truth at a time when tyranny was tearing the world’s civilizations in two.

Suddenly finding himself in a world where the lines between fact and fiction are blurred, he paints a frightening picture of how far society had fallen during those dark times. But it’s not all doom and gloom; he also explores the potential for reform and examines how we can move forward into a better world. In the post-truth era we find ourselves living in today, Orwell’s essays serve as an important reminder of the preciousness of Freedom and democracy and how easily they can be taken away.

6. Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein

Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein
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This groundbreaking 2020 book discusses the rapid rise of identity politics and political polarisation we see in the United States today. Klein believes that our societal split has become more and more defined due to the echo chambers we live in. Feedback loops from the media, be it the TV, newspapers, the internet, and social media, are fueling the fire that divides us and leaving us more entrenched than ever in our political camps.

He argues that Trump’s victory in the 2016 election was an eye-opening example of the severity of polarization in America. Despite being a highly unusual candidate by any measure, politics still played out predictably along party lines, just as it always has done.

7. The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
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In 1848, on the eve of the Springtime of Nations, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels unveiled their collaborative worldview in the form of The Communist Manifesto.

This is a heavy yet essential read for anyone with a fascination with global politics. The book delves into the principles of dialectical materialism, which argues that the perceivable material world has an objective reality separate from that of the mind, spirit, or soul. They believed that capitalism was the antithesis of Freedom and that since labor creates wealth, the system is set up to exploit the masses.

Instead, they call for a “forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions,” which acted as a major catalyst for communist revolutions not just in Europe but around the globe.

8. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
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Nelson Mandela’s 1994 biography takes us back to the very beginning of his presidential years during the South African apartheid. The revered social activist details the racial oppression in the country at that time and examines the anti-apartheid strategy that eventually saw him serve a 27-year prison sentence.

This eye-opening collection of memoirs documents the incredible events and experiences of his political career up until that point. The revered leader describes his ultimate vision for the future of South Africa, and how against all odds, through strength resilience, he brought about lasting change.

9. The Social Contract by Jean-Jacque Rosseau

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacque Rosseau
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French philosopher Jean-Jacque Rosseau’s classic 1762 essay details his basic principles of a ‘social contract’ between governments and citizens. He argues that the consensus of the people overrides any government’s authority and that law of any land can only be binding when it is supported by the will of its citizens.

When Rosseau’s ideas were first published, they were viewed as radical. This was a time when France’s governance was anything but dictated by the will of the masses. Instead, the French monarchy had ultimate yet unelected power over its citizens. Laws were instated to serve the elite rather than society as a whole, and anyone who dared challenge the King’s decision was punished with death.

Jean-Jacque Rosseau’s progressive manifesto set the wheels in motion for the subsequent French Revolution and inspired many of the dramatic political changes that followed.

10. We The Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights by Adam Winkler

We The Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights by Adam Winkler
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Ever since the first corporate rights case entered the Supreme Court in 1809, corporations in the United States have been lobbying for the same human rights as individual citizens under Constitutional law.
Using tactics such as lobbying, legal loopholes, and even civil resistance, they have been incredibly successful in their own corporate “civil rights movement.’ Yet up until Winkler’s book was published in 2018, the story remained relatively untold.

Using his extensive background in constitutional law, the author delves into the Supreme Court’s highly controversial Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby case. The court eventually ruled in favor of exempting corporations from regulations that go against their owner’s religious beliefs.

The radical ruling led to Hobby Lobby denying their employees access to contraception, even though their rights were entrenched in the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, even today, this ruling and others like it continue to shape the way America operates, and all too often, businesses come before people, and money comes before ethics.

11. Deterring Democracy by Noam Chomsky

Deterring Democracy by Noam Chomsky
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The American philosopher, scientist, and political activist Noam Chomsky take a deep dive into rapidly shifting powers around the world. From the onset of the Second World War, all the way until the mid-1980s, the United States was the undisputed leader of the world, both in terms of military power and economic success.

But in recent decades, despite remaining the world’s most dominant military force, America’s economy has suffered a drastic decline, challenged by prosperous nations around the world.

As America continues its quest to remain the most powerful country on earth, its tactics only serve to destroy weaker nations in the process. Chomsky argues that America has become the world’s bully. It is no longer the spreader of democracy but a self-interested superpower that is grasping at ever-dwindling straws of power and control.

12. How to Spot a Fascist by Umberto Eco

How to Spot a Fascist by Umberto Eco
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This selection of three insightful essays by the Italian philosopher, social commentator, and political analyst Umberto Eco was published in 2020. But the book also includes his 1995 essay “Ur-Fascism,” which dominates the author’s time growing up in Mussolini’s post-World War II Italy.

Drawing from his country’s first-hand experiences under dictatorial power, he discusses the fine line between Freedom and fascism and lists a set of 14 defining characteristics of a fascist regime. These characteristics include eerily familiar traits such as nationalism, military supremacism, populism, media control and censorship, and the protection of corporate powers, just to name a few.

His historical reflections are an important warning of the potential for the abuse of power in our current and future governments. He issues a stark reminder that “Freedom and liberation are never-ending tasks. Let this be our motto: ‘Do not forget.’

13. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
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Jonathan Haidt examines political divisions from a psychologist’s viewpoint and explores what needs to happen in order to create a more unified and understanding society.

He begins by dissecting our perceptions of other people. The things others do and how they behave have a direct correlation to how we feel about ourselves and serve to increase our own self-righteousness. As a result, we become even more steadfast in our views and assume the motives of others are wrong.

Through a mixture of his own research and the work of some of the world’s top psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, and historians, he unpacks the fundamental viewpoints of political cultures on the left and the right. This book invites the reader to question their own preconceived bias, take a fresh look at the morality that drives our political viewpoints, and recognize our tribalistic nature at the root of it all.

14. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy D. Snyder

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy D. Snyder
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The 2016 US presidential elections sent shockwaves not just around the nation but around the world. Few predicted the outcome would be as it was, and people watched on in awe as one of the most controversial and hated figures in the history of American politics was elevated to the height of power.

Across the pond in the United Kingdom, a different yet eerily similar series of events was taking place in the form of the Brexit Referendum, and other comparable right-leaning populist movements were gaining traction around the world.

Celebrated historian Timothy Snyder uses his vast wealth of knowledge of 20th-century European history to unpack the events which led to the rise of leaders like Hitler and Stalin. He points out that “Americans are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism and communism. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience.”

His twenty lessons reflect on the mistakes of those dark times during the twentieth century and provide a roadmap to ensure that we never let it happen again.

Conclusion

These 14 political books will broaden your knowledge and change the way you view politics both at home and abroad.

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