The best books for everyone concerned about the state of U.S. democracy

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an unusual law professor. I’ve taught constitutional law and economic analysis of law in a career spanning over three decades at two very different law schools. Most scholars view these fields as disconnected. My work, including several books and dozens of articles, demonstrates otherwise. This combined expertise helped me understand why our longstanding constitutional democracy is facing an existential crisis, why popular reform proposals won’t work, and what we must do to succeed. I wrote Parliamentary America for citizens seeking genuine solutions. My five-book list includes brilliant works cutting across myriad divides and embracing wide-ranging methodologies to ensure all citizens appreciate the importance of producing a truly thriving democracy.


I wrote...

Parliamentary America: The Least Radical Means of Radically Repairing Our Broken Democracy

By Maxwell L. Stearns,

Book cover of Parliamentary America: The Least Radical Means of Radically Repairing Our Broken Democracy

What is my book about?

Our democracy is in crisis. Information-age technologies have gutted our eighteenth-century constitutional scheme. Ever-widening divisions separating two entrenched parties have made citizens distrustful of virtually all governmental institutions. Ending the crisis demands reform along two democratic axes, affecting both the House of Representatives and the presidency.

My book guides readers on a virtual world tour―England, France, Germany, Israel, Taiwan, Brazil, and Venezuela—demonstrating how other nations have confronted threats to their democracies and how to embrace the most effective safeguards as our own. Parliamentary America doesn’t just diagnose the problem. It provides three amendments that, unlike other reforms, including ranked choice voting, the national popular vote, and congressional term limits, will end our constitutional crisis and can gain the necessary political support to be enacted.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Prequel: An American Fight Against Fascism

Maxwell L. Stearns Why did I love this book?

I hope readers internalize this book's message: grappling with past threats to our democracy is vital in facing down future threats carrying a greater likelihood of success. 

Maddow’s impressively researched book recounts the period of U.S. history corresponding to the rise of Nazism in Germany and the spread of European fascism. Her laudable goal is ensuring more citizens know the story of leading American figures—captains of industry, Congressmen, and Governors—sympathetic to Nazism and willing to undermine vital democratic norms, embrace anti-Semitism, and engage in coordinated violence to bring fascism to the U.S., and of those unsung heroes who refused to let them succeed.

Maddow rightly views education as vital to ensuring that past isn’t prologue.

By Rachel Maddow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Prequel as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Rachel Maddow traces the fight to preserve American democracy back to World War II, when a handful of committed public servants and brave private citizens thwarted far-right plotters trying to steer our nation toward an alliance with the Nazis.
 
“A ripping read—well rendered, fast-paced and delivered with the same punch and assurance that she brings to a broadcast. . . . The parallels to the present day are strong, even startling.”—The New York Times (Editors’ Choice)

Inspired by her research for the hit podcast Ultra, Rachel Maddow charts the rise of a wild American…


Book cover of Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning

Maxwell L. Stearns Why did I love this book?

Regardless of personal political ideology, we must all recognize this modern-day profile in courage.  

Few have the moral standing of former Wyoming Congresswoman and one-time rising GOP star Liz Cheney to interrogate the once honorable GOP’s tragic erosion of leadership. Cheney emerged a party pariah not by abandoning conservative values, but rather by refusing to subordinate those values to her party’s absolute embrace of Donald Trump. 

I admire Cheney’s standing firm, resisting Trump’s willingness to undermine longstanding democratic norms, especially his role in fomenting the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol to subvert the peaceful transfer of power. Cheney, whose father was Vice President under George W. Bush, insistently elevated patriotism above partisanship, including serving on the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol.

By Liz Cheney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Oath and Honor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

INSTANT #1 BESTSELLER: A gripping first-hand account of the January 6th, 2021, insurrection from inside the halls of Congress, from origins to aftermath, as Donald Trump and his enablers betrayed the American people and the Constitution—by the House Republican leader who dared to stand up to it.
 
In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump and many around him, including certain other elected Republican officials, intentionally breached their oath to the Constitution: they ignored the rulings of dozens of courts, plotted to overturn a lawful election, and provoked a violent attack on our Capitol.   Liz Cheney, one of…


Book cover of Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn't Count

Maxwell L. Stearns Why did I love this book?

When giving talks across the country on fixing our broken democracy, I’m always sure to discuss this book. I want citizens to learn the audacious story of Republican operatives, following Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential victory, deploying a targeted hyper-partisan campaign in below-the-radar State General Assembly races. By turning enough blue and purple states red, the GOP empowered those states to gerrymander their House of Representatives maps. 

Although Republicans overreached in thinking they’d entrenched GOP House control for 20 years (it returned Democratic in 2019), the legacy of Redmapping and Bluemapping has been to subvert meaningful electoral representation. Rather than constituents choosing their representatives, hyper-partisan gerrymandering lets representatives choose their constituents. 

RatF**k means a dirty deed done dirt cheap. Fixing our democracy demands knowing how hyper-partisan gerrymandering has RatF**ked our democracy.

By David Daley,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ratf**ked as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With Barack Obama's historic election in 2008, pundits proclaimed the Republicans as dead as the Whigs of yesteryear. Yet even as Democrats swooned, a small cadre of Republican operatives began plotting their comeback with a simple yet ingenious plan. These men had devised a way to take a tradition of dirty tricks-known to political insiders as "ratf**king"-to an unprecedented level. Flooding state races with a gold rush of dark money, the Republicans reshaped state legislatures where the power to redistrict is held. Reconstructing this previously untold story, David Daley examines the far-reaching effects of this programme, which has radically altered…


Book cover of How Democracies Die

Maxwell L. Stearns Why did I love this book?

I hope all U.S. citizens internalize this book’s essential message. What poses the more serious threat to our ability to continue as a democracy: the events of January 6, 2021, when, for the first time, insurrectionists sought to prevent the peaceful transfer of power or the prolonged build-up to January 6 and its aftermath, marking an ongoing erosion of longstanding democratic norms? 

In this amply researched study, Ziblatt and Levitsky demonstrate that throughout history, although some former democracies have suffered spectacular deaths—a military coup or civil war—most witnessed a gradual erosion process, taking years, even decades, before an inflection point made reversing course impossible. 

We’re all wise to heed the authors’ clarion call to ensure the U.S. doesn’t suffer the fate of other formerly robust, since failed, democracies.

By Steven Levitsky, Daniel Ziblatt,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked How Democracies Die as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The most important book of the Trump era' The Economist

How does a democracy die?
What can we do to save our own?
What lessons does history teach us?

In the 21st century democracy is threatened like never before.

Drawing insightful lessons from across history - from Pinochet's murderous Chilean regime to Erdogan's quiet dismantling in Turkey - Levitsky and Ziblatt explain why democracies fail, how leaders like Trump subvert them today and what each of us can do to protect our democratic rights.

'This book looks to history to provide a guide for defending democratic norms when they are…


Book cover of The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

Maxwell L. Stearns Why did I love this book?

I highly recommend this powerful book, which demonstrates how longstanding political divides have thwarted policies not only benefiting communities of color but also marginalized white communities. McGhee reveals a tragic racial history harming the sum of us. 

Critical Race Theory has emerged as a lightning rod, or Rorschach test, pitting progressives and liberals against conservatives and libertarians. But facing down the threats to our democracy demands recognizing the integral role race has played throughout our history and in our politics and culture. 

This amply researched book provides an essential account that should resonate on all sides. McGhee carefully and thoroughly details the longstanding, tragic history of combined governmental policies and private conduct in systematically subordinating blacks in education, housing, zoning and urban development, and lending practices, ultimately harming us all.

By Heather McGhee,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Sum of Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD • One of today’s most insightful and influential thinkers offers a powerful exploration of inequality and the lesson that generations of Americans have failed to learn: Racism has a cost for everyone—not just for people of color.

WINNER OF THE PORCHLIGHT BUSINESS BOOK AWARD • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Time, The Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ms. magazine, BookRiot, Library Journal

“This is the book I’ve been waiting for.”—Ibram X. Kendi, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist

Look for…


You might also like...

Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

By John Kenneth White,

Book cover of Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

John Kenneth White Author Of Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Reading was a childhood passion of mine. My mother was a librarian and got me interested in reading early in life. When John F. Kennedy was running for president and after his assassination, I became intensely interested in politics. In addition to reading history and political biographies, I consumed newspapers and television news. It is this background that I have drawn upon over the decades that has added value to my research.

John's book list on who we are, how we’ve changed, and what gives us hope

What is my book about?

It didn’t begin with Donald Trump. When the Republican Party lost five straight presidential elections during the 1930s and 1940s, three things happened: (1) Republicans came to believe that presidential elections are rigged; (2) Conspiracy theories arose and were believed; and (3) The presidency was elevated to cult-like status.

Long before Trump, each of these phenomena grew in importance. The John Birch Society and McCarthyism became powerful forces; Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first “personal president” to rise above the party; and the development of what Harry Truman called “the big lie,” where outrageous falsehoods came to be believed. Trump…

Grand Old Unraveling: The Republican Party, Donald Trump, and the Rise of Authoritarianism

By John Kenneth White,

What is this book about?

It didn't begin with Donald Trump. The unraveling of the Grand Old Party has been decades in the making. Since the time of FDR, the Republican Party has been home to conspiracy thinking, including a belief that lost elections were rigged. And when Republicans later won the White House, the party elevated their presidents to heroic status-a predisposition that eventually posed a threat to democracy. Building on his esteemed 2016 book, What Happened to the Republican Party?, John Kenneth White proposes to explain why this happened-not just the election of Trump but the authoritarian shift in the party as a…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in politics, political culture, and fascism?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about politics, political culture, and fascism.

Politics Explore 739 books about politics
Political Culture Explore 50 books about political culture
Fascism Explore 71 books about fascism