The best books on history relevant to the present and near future

Reed Hundt Author Of A Crisis Wasted: Barack Obama's Defining Decisions
By Reed Hundt

Who am I?

I wrote A Crisis Wasted precisely with the goal of changing the way government makes decisions at inflection points in history, when change is happening at a 10x scale. That was the situation between the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 and the inauguration of the new president in January 2009. I felt at the time and later that the way problems were analyzed, options created and decisions made were tragically disappointing, not because the people involved were badly motivated but because of the assumptions and convictions to which they were firmly bound before they approached the problems. I had no idea in 2019 that the next crisis would be the pandemic and only had only hope that the next Administration would include many of the same people involved in 2008-9. But as history unfolded the lessons of 2008-9, as I decoded them, applied with uncanny accuracy to the decisions made by the Biden team in 2020-21. So far at least, their ability to learn from history has served the country well.


I wrote...

A Crisis Wasted: Barack Obama's Defining Decisions

By Reed Hundt,

Book cover of A Crisis Wasted: Barack Obama's Defining Decisions

What is my book about?

Based on four dozen interviews done 2010-12, this book published in 2019 presciently captured the lessons of the Bush-Obama transition that informed and guided the incoming Biden Administration. We see that its rejection of neoliberalism, decisions to “go big,” and to press on all fronts simultaneously stemmed from the disappointment of contrary decisions made by the Obama Administration in its earliest days.

The books I picked & why

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The Cold War: A World History

By Odd Arne Westad,

Book cover of The Cold War: A World History

Why this book?

This book describes the life of Baby Boomers everywhere in the world – well, more precisely, the way the world was arranged by powers great and small during their lives. Lucidly and concisely written, the narrative is both familiar and revealing at the same time. To those alive during some or all of the major events of the Cold War, this book stitches together scattered memories to produce an integrated whole that in turn begs the question of whether people or fate drive history.


Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World

By Adam Tooze,

Book cover of Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World

Why this book?

This book was a fortunate complement to the theme of my own book, and exceeds everything else written about the financial crisis of 2007-9 in its integration of finance as well as European and American decision-making. I suspect it will need further editions as more documentary evidence comes into the public domain, but already it stands as a polite but severe commentary on the memoirs of various actors.


Britain's War: Into Battle, 1937-1941

By Daniel Todman,

Book cover of Britain's War: Into Battle, 1937-1941

Why this book?

Book 1 of these 2 is perhaps a better read because it explains, as the young Jack Kennedy famously wrote, “Why England Slept,” and that topic is more intriguing than the tactics of the Second World War itself, treated in Book 2. Nevertheless, if you have time read both books. You’ll conclude that Kennedy (and his ghostwriter) didn’t know what was up, and you’ll wonder if the United States is now repeating Britain’s history as its status as a great power is put under pressure by the rise of China.


The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution

By Eric Foner,

Book cover of The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution

Why this book?

Being “woke” at a profound, historical level is just one of the consequences of reading Eric Foner’s superb explication of how the Supreme Court, supported by other powerful forces, undid the country’s monumental decision not only to end slavery but to give the formerly enslaved truly fair participation in society and equality before the law. This book should be required study for all members of the current Court.


The Plot Against America: A Novel

By Philip Roth,

Book cover of The Plot Against America: A Novel

Why this book?

Philip Roth’s counterfactual historical fiction set in the 1930s and 1940s surely resembles in style the period from 2016-20. It’s much better written, of course, than the stuff presented for consumption by so-called real life in this recent four-year stretch of crude, mad, and lethal public expression of the darkness in some people’s souls.


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