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.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Cold War: A World History

Why did I love 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.

By Odd Arne Westad,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Odd Arne Westad's daring ambition, supra-nationalist intellect, polyglot sources, masterly scholarship and trenchant analysis make The Cold War a book ofresounding importance for appraising our global future as well as understanding our past' Richard Davenport-Hines, TLS, Books of the Year

As Germany and then Japan surrendered in 1945 there was a tremendous hope that a new and much better world could be created from the moral and physical ruins of the conflict. Instead, the combination of the huge power of the USA and USSR and the near-total collapse of most of their rivals created a unique, grim new environment: the…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Adam Tooze,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


"An intelligent explanation of the mechanisms that produced the crisis and the response to it...One of the great strengths of Tooze's book is to demonstrate the deeply intertwined nature of the European and American financial systems."--The New York Times Book Review

From the prizewinning economic historian and author of Shutdown and The Deluge, an eye-opening reinterpretation of the 2008 economic crisis (and its ten-year aftermath) as a global event that directly…

Into Battle, 1937-1941

By Daniel Todman,

Book cover of Into Battle, 1937-1941

Why did I love 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.

By Daniel Todman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Into Battle, 1937-1941 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An energetic, ambitious, provocative work by a young historian of notable gifts, which deserves a wide readership' Max Hastings, The Sunday Times

'Bold and breathtaking... I have never read a more daringly panoramic survey of the period' Jonathan Wright, Herald Scotland

The most terrible emergency in Britain's history, the Second World War required an unprecedented national effort. An exhausted country had to fight an unexpectedly long war and found itself much diminished amongst the victors. Yet the outcome of the war was nonetheless a triumph, not least for a political system that proved well adapted to the demands of a…

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

Why did I love 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.

By Eric Foner,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Second Founding as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Declaration of Independence announced equality as an American ideal but it took the Civil War and the adoption of three constitutional amendments to establish that ideal as law. The Reconstruction amendments abolished slavery, guaranteed due process and the equal protection of the law, and equipped black men with the right to vote. By grafting the principle of equality onto the Constitution, the amendments marked the second founding of the United States.

Eric Foner conveys the dramatic origins of these revolutionary amendments and explores the court decisions that then narrowed and nullified the rights guaranteed in these amendments. Today, issues…

Book cover of The Plot Against America: A Novel

Why did I love 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.

By Philip Roth,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Plot Against America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'He captures better than anyone the collision of public and private, the intrusion of history into the skin, the pores of every individual alive' Guardian

'Though on the morning after the election disbelief prevailed, especially among the pollsters, by the next everybody seemed to understand everything...'

When celebrity aviator, Charles A. Lindbergh, wins the 1940 presidential election on the slogan of 'America First', fear invades every Jewish household. Not only has Lindbergh blamed the Jews for pushing America towards war with Germany, he has negotiated an 'understanding' with the Nazis promising peace between the two nations.

Growing up in the…

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