My favorite books to read if you want government to work better

Why am I passionate about this?

I have spent my professional career attempting to reform the justice system and create safer communities. For nearly two decades, I served as the executive director of the Center for Court Innovation (now the Center for Justice Innovation). Now, I co-edit a policy journal called Vital City that attempts to spark new thinking about how to achieve public safety. Over the years, I have worked with numerous city, state, and federal officials. I have seen that most of the people working within government are trying their best in difficult circumstances. I have also seen that it is enormously difficult to change government systems and solve complicated social problems.


I wrote...

Gradual: The Case for Incremental Change in a Radical Age

By Greg Berman, Aubrey Fox,

Book cover of Gradual: The Case for Incremental Change in a Radical Age

What is my book about?

Is radical change the best way to make the world a better place? Gradual: The Case for Incremental Change in a Radical Age argues that, contrary to the claims of activists on both the right and the left, incremental reform is the best path forward. Gradual is a call to arms for anyone who is turned off by the overheated rhetoric, gloomy outlook, and unrealistic expectations that characterize so much of political discourse in the social media era. Instead of radical change, Gradual argues for a brand of “radical realism” that prioritizes honesty, humility, nuance, and respect for one’s adversaries in an effort to transcend political polarization. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding: Community Action in the War on Poverty

Greg Berman Why did I love this book?

What would it look like if the federal government launched an ambitious campaign to mobilize community residents to reduce poverty? 

Daniel Patrick Moynihan offers an insider’s account of one such effort, launched in the 1960s as part of the War on Poverty. What he finds is a fundamental disconnect between the ambitions and high-minded theories of reformers in Washington DC, and the hard realities of practice on the ground.

Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding is a cautionary tale and a heartbreaking catalog of missed opportunities, unintended consequences, and wasted resources. I wish someone had handed me this book at the start of my career to help temper my youthful idealism.

By Daniel Patrick Moynihan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Describes the origin, implementation and results of the sociological theory, incorporated in the 1964 Opportunity Act, that anti-poverty programs be carried out with the maximum participation of community residents


Book cover of The Revolt of The Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millenium

Greg Berman Why did I love this book?

At the risk of being superficial, I must recommend that you purchase a hard copy of this book –the people at Stripe Press put together a particularly beautiful volume.

The content is great too. In fact, this is probably the best book I have read for making sense of our current political moment. Former CIA analyst Martin Gurri explains how the internet has massively increased the amount of information that is available to us – and how this has helped to destabilize government, intellectual, and media elites. 

Gurri also details how the internet has helped give regular people and populist movements the power to destroy the established order, but made it difficult to create positive change. 

By Martin Gurri,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Revolt of The Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millenium as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How insurgencies-enabled by digital devices and a vast information sphere-have mobilized millions of ordinary people around the world.

In the words of economist and scholar Arnold Kling, Martin Gurri saw it coming. Technology has categorically reversed the information balance of power between the public and the elites who manage the great hierarchical institutions of the industrial age: government, political parties, the media. The Revolt of the Public tells the story of how insurgencies, enabled by digital devices and a vast information sphere, have mobilized millions of ordinary people around the world.

Originally published in 2014, The Revolt of the Public…


Book cover of Tilting at Mills: Green Dreams, Dirty Dealings, and the Corporate Squeeze

Greg Berman Why did I love this book?

My friend and co-author Aubrey Fox recommended this book to me not long after we met. 

I liked it so much that I think it is actually one of the reasons we became friends in the first place. Tilting at Mils is the story of an innovative effort by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading environmental nonprofit, to create a paper mill in the Bronx in the 1990s. 

The initiative attracted millions of dollars and high-level political support, both in New York City and Washington DC. But the project never happened.

Tilting at Mills is a gripping story of failure, not due to malfeasance or incompetence, but because achieving anything is difficult and lots of things can go wrong, including rotten luck and bad timing. 

By Lis Harris,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Describes the efforts of Allen Hershkowitz to build a large, environmentally friendly paper mill in the South Bronx, and the local politics, neighborhood activists, corporate greed, and other obstacles that derailed the project.


Book cover of The Cost of Good Intentions: New York City and the Liberal Experiment

Greg Berman Why did I love this book?

Like many New Yorkers, I am fascinated by the history of the city.

The Cost of Good Intentions details the run-up to a crucial turning point for the city: the fiscal crisis of 1975.

Written by a high-ranking city official after the fact, the book is an insightful analysis of how local government, particularly under Mayor John Lindsay, attempted to respond to a range of significant challenges, including the civil right movement, rising crime, and changing economic conditions. 

Despite the best of intentions, the administration’s reach ended up exceeding its grasp, laying the groundwork not only for the fiscal crisis and for an era of declining public trust in government.  

By Charles R. Morris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Cost of Good Intentions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book is about public policy making in New York during the zenith of the great liberal experiment, from 1960, Mayor Robert Wagner's third term, through John V. Lindsay, Abraham Beame, and, finally, to Edward Koch and the inevitable return of fiscal conservatism.

The bigger they come the harder they fall. When New York City fell and its intricate, often exotic, budget gimmickry came unstuck, they foundations of every other large city in America shook. If we are not to relive this history it is important to learn the lessons taught so cogently and entertainingly in this book.


Book cover of A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism

Greg Berman Why did I love this book?

When I was the executive director of the Center for Court Innovation (now the Center for Justice Innovation), I made a habit of sharing interesting essays with the rest of the team.

One of my all-time favorites was Adam Gopnik’s “The Caging of America.” In the essay, Gopnik offers this analysis of how crime was reduced in New York City throughout the 1990s and 2000s: “There was no miracle cure, just the intercession of a thousand smaller sanities.”

The idea that small changes can make a big difference has been a bit of a personal crusade for me ever since. 

In A Thousand Small Sanities, Gopnik expands upon this argument, offering a full-throated defense of liberalism against critics on both the right and the left. 

By Adam Gopnik,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Thousand Small Sanities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'WITTY, HUMANE, LEARNED' NEW YORK TIMES

The New York Times-bestselling author offers a stirring defence of liberalism against the dogmatisms of our time

Not since the early twentieth century has liberalism, and liberals, been under such relentless attack, from both right and left. The crisis of democracy in our era has produced a crisis of faith in liberal institutions and, even worse, in liberal thought.

A Thousand Small Sanities is a manifesto rooted in the lives of people who invented and extended the liberal tradition. Taking us from Montaigne to Mill, and from Middlemarch to the civil rights movement, Adam…


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By Marian L Thomas,

Book cover of Saving Raine

Marian L Thomas

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What is my book about?

Saving Raine is a captivating tale of resilience, redemption, and the enduring power of love, penned by the acclaimed author Marian L. Thomas.

This contemporary fiction novel chronicles the compelling journey of Raine Reynolds as she confronts heartache, betrayal, and loss. Against the vibrant backdrops of Atlanta and Paris, Raine's story unfolds as she grapples with the aftermath of her husband's infidelity and tragic passing.

Through poignant prose and compelling characters, "Saving Raine" delves into themes of forgiveness, healing, and the strength discovered in confronting life's greatest challenges. Readers will be captivated by Raine's emotional odyssey as she unearths hope, redemption, and the courage to embrace a brighter future.

Saving Raine

By Marian L Thomas,

What is this book about?

Raine Reynolds stands at the crossroads of despair and opportunity.
 
When the life you've built crumbles and the past refuses to release its grip, sometimes you need a fresh start-a new beginning that promises hope and redemption.
 
Once a celebrated author, Raine's life unraveled, sending her fleeing to the picturesque streets of Paris to escape the tormenting heartache that threatened to consume her. Yet, no matter how far she traveled, the pain remained her unwelcome companion.
 
Returning to bustling Atlanta as a senior VP for an ad agency, Raine is forced to confront a city steeped in…


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