The best books for healing the political divides in America

Why am I passionate about this?

For my psychology podcast, I’ve interviewed many political and psychology experts on the subject of political polarization and conflict resolution. That led to me writing my book Defusing American Anger. I believe extreme us-vs-them polarization is humanity’s biggest problem: I see it as an existential threat not just to specific nations, including America, but to humanity as a whole, especially as our weapons and technologies get more powerful. And I think we need more people working on reducing our seemingly natural tendency to always be fighting with each other. 


I wrote...

Book cover of Defusing American Anger: A Guide to Understanding Our Fellow Citizens and Reducing Us-vs-Them Polarization

What is my book about?

For my psychology podcast, People Who Read People, I’ve interviewed many political and psychological thinkers on the topic of extreme polarization. This led to me writing my book Defusing American Anger, in which I try to explain to regular American citizens how polarization works, why it’s such a problem, and why they should care about reducing it. 

In that book, I also walk through some of the most contentious issues that many of us are angry about, and attempt to show why the “other side” thinks what they do. I think that work is necessary for correcting the distorted, highly pessimistic views we often have about the “other side.”

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict

Zachary Elwood Why did I love this book?

This book is not about America, and not directly about politics or political polarization. It's a well-known conflict resolution book. I included it because I think it might help some people see our divides through a different and more healthy lens. 

This book uses an engaging fictional premise to walk through some important points about resolving conflict. For example, it talks about how even when we're sure we're right in a conflict (as most people in conflicts tend to be), we may still be wrong in how we treat others. And it talks about how our animosity and contempt towards others can cause them to behave in the very ways that most upset us.

By The Arbinger Institute,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Anatomy of Peace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the authors of Leadership and Self-Deception (over 2 million copies sold) comes a new edition of this bestseller that has been thoroughly revised to more effectively address the diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges that plague our communities and hinder our organizations.

What if conflicts at home, at work, and in the world stem from the same root cause? What if we systematically misunderstand that cause? And what if, as a result, we unwittingly perpetuate the very problems we think we are trying to solve?

The Anatomy of Peace uses a fictional story of an Arab and a Jew—both of…


Book cover of Sustaining Democracy: What We Owe to the Other Side

Zachary Elwood Why did I love this book?

Talisse does a great job putting our divides in the context of the fundamental problem of democracy.

How can we maintain democratic principles when we see the "other side" as very wrong, or even as dangerous? Should we maintain those principles? What do we owe our fellow citizens even when we see them as very flawed?  

In addition to these hard and important questions, Talisse focuses on a less examined negative aspect of polarization: us-vs-them animosity makes us less able to get along even with people who are politically similar to us. We become more fractured even on "our side," and less able to do the basic work of politics.

By Robert B. Talisse,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Sustaining Democracy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Democracy is not easy. Citizens who disagree sharply about politics must nonetheless work together as equal partners in the enterprise of collective self-government. Ideally, this work would be conducted under conditions of mutual civility, with opposed citizens nonetheless recognizing one another's standing as political equals. But when the political stakes are high, and the opposition seems to us severely mistaken, why not drop the democratic pretences of civil
partnership, and simply play to win? Why seek to uphold properly democratic relations with those who embrace political ideas that are flawed, irresponsible, and out of step with justice? Why sustain democracy…


Book cover of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Zachary Elwood Why did I love this book?

For anyone looking to understand our divides, or wanting to reduce those divides, I think reading Haidt's book is necessary.

Haidt examines the values that we typically associate with politically 'conservative' and 'liberal' points of view, and shows the underlying values there. And these values can be much more complex than we tend to think. This examination is especially helpful for American Democrats, who often perceive conservative stances through an excessively pessimistic and contemptuous lens. 

By Jonathan Haidt,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked The Righteous Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A landmark contribution to humanity's understanding of itself' The New York Times

Why can it sometimes feel as though half the population is living in a different moral universe? Why do ideas such as 'fairness' and 'freedom' mean such different things to different people? Why is it so hard to see things from another viewpoint? Why do we come to blows over politics and religion?

Jonathan Haidt reveals that we often find it hard to get along because our minds are hardwired to be moralistic, judgemental and self-righteous. He explores how morality evolved to enable us to form communities, and…


Book cover of Undue Hate: A Behavioral Economic Analysis of Hostile Polarization in US Politics and Beyond

Zachary Elwood Why did I love this book?

A major factor in our extreme polarization is the distorted, overly pessimistic views people on both sides can have of their fellow citizens.

As Stone points out, we can dislike the people on the "other side" much more than we should, even based on our own standards for disliking people. If you're looking for an in-depth, academic examination of our "undue hate," this is the book to read. 

Our distorted perceptions are very important because the animosity and disrespect and insults we aim at the "other side" helps create their animosity, which in turn gives more power to highly polarized and polarizing leaders, and other influencers.

By Daniel F. Stone,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How to understand the mistakes we make about those on the other side of the political spectrum—and how they drive the affective polarization that is tearing us apart.

It’s well known that the political divide in the United States—particularly between Democrats and Republicans—has grown to alarming levels in recent decades. Affective polarization—emotional polarization, or the hostility between the parties—has reached an unprecedented fever pitch. In Undue Hate, Daniel F. Stone tackles the biases undergirding affective polarization head-on. Stone explains why we often develop objectively false, and overly negative, beliefs about the other side—causing us to dislike them more than we…


Book cover of Our Common Bonds: Using What Americans Share to Help Bridge the Partisan Divide

Zachary Elwood Why did I love this book?

Due to the overly negative, pessimistic views we often have of each other, we'll often miss the many things we have in common. This is what Levendusky's book focuses on.

He examines survey results that show us that, despite many people's perceptions, Democrats and Republicans actually have a surprising amount in common. And this is especially true when you ask about people's policy preferences and remove the more polarizing party-associated language and labels. 

Making our culture less toxic will require us to focus more on our common bonds, and less on those things that drive us apart. The more we adjust that focus, the more we'll shift how people view their fellow Americans and our divides, and the more we’ll create a culture of healthier disagreement.

By Matthew Levendusky,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A compelling exploration of concrete strategies to reduce partisan animosity by building on what Democrats and Republicans have in common.

One of the defining features of twenty-first-century American politics is the rise of affective polarization: Americans increasingly not only disagree with those from the other party but distrust and dislike them as well. This has toxic downstream consequences for both politics and social relationships. Is there any solution?

Our Common Bonds shows that-although there is no silver bullet that will eradicate partisan animosity-there are concrete interventions that can reduce it. Matthew Levendusky argues that partisan animosity stems in part from…


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Book cover of Wealth Odyssey: The Essential Road Map for Your Financial Journey Where Is It You Are Really Trying to Go with Money?

Larry R. Frank Sr. Author Of Wealth Odyssey: The Essential Road Map for Your Financial Journey Where Is It You Are Really Trying to Go with Money?

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What is my book about?

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Wealth Odyssey: The Essential Road Map for Your Financial Journey Where Is It You Are Really Trying to Go with Money?

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What is this book about?

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Interested in conflict management, political culture, and politics?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about conflict management, political culture, and politics.

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