The best books on leadership and history

Moshik Temkin Author Of Sacco-Vanzetti Affair: America on Trial
By Moshik Temkin

Who am I?

Moshik Temkin is a historian of the United States and the World and has taught about leadership and history at Tsinghua University in Beijing, Harvard University in Massachusetts, the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris, and other institutions around the world. He is the author of The Sacco-Vanzetti Affair: America on Trial and is writing a book on leadership in history for PublicAffairs called Warriors, Rebels, and Saints: On Leaders and Leadership in History.

I wrote...

Sacco-Vanzetti Affair: America on Trial

By Moshik Temkin,

Book cover of Sacco-Vanzetti Affair: America on Trial

What is my book about?

In 1920, in the wake of the first “Red Scare” and at a time of rising anti-immigration sentiment in the United States, two young Italian immigrants, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, were arrested in Boston for a robbery and murder. As the men protested their innocence, their local case turned into an unprecedented political scandal around the world as the perception grew that their conviction was a judicial travesty and their death sentence a political murder. Drawing on research on two continents and in several languages, my book tells the story of how these obscure immigrants became the center of a global cause célèbre that forever transformed America’s relationship with the world.

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The books I picked & why

The Feast of the Goat

By Mario Vargas Llosa, Edith Grossman (translator),

Book cover of The Feast of the Goat

Why did I love this book?

Although I disagree with most of Mario Vargas-Llosa’s views about our world, this work of historical fiction is a masterpiece. It recounts the end of Rafael Trujillo’s brutal dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, from 1930 to 1961, when he was assassinated, and its devastating aftermath. The book unflinchingly shows how cynicism and cowardice corrupt an entire society, and the choices ordinary people face when the only ways to resist an evil regime are either rebellion or escape. It is a gruesome book and I do not recommend it for younger readers. But we can learn a lot from it about the very nature of power and about leadership in dark times.

By Mario Vargas Llosa, Edith Grossman (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'The Feast of the Goat will stand out as the great emblematic novel of Latin America's twentieth century and removes One Hundred Years of Solitude of that title.' Times Literary Supplement

Urania Cabral, a New York lawyer, returns to the Dominican Republic after a lifelong self-imposed exile. Once she is back in her homeland, the elusive feeling of terror that has overshadowed her whole life suddenly takes shape. Urania's own story alternates with the powerful climax of dictator Rafael Trujillo's reign.

In 1961, Trujillo's decadent inner circle (which includes Urania's soon-to-be disgraced father) enjoys the luxuries of privilege while the…

Book cover of The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Why did I love this book?

Malcolm X’s autobiography, co-written with Alex Haley, is one of the most compelling personal testimonies ever published in America and one of the most extraordinary leadership journeys ever documented. It is simultaneously educational and wrenching, as the narrative moves from Malcolm’s difficult childhood to his life as a criminal to his political and spiritual awakening in prison to his rise to national and global fame and notoriety as a black revolutionary to his murder at age 39. What we learn from his story is how a leader can emerge “organically”, without being appointed, or selected, or having an institutional base or political position, and the sacrifice, honesty, and courage that are necessary ingredients for transformational leadership in the most difficult circumstances.

By Malcolm X,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Autobiography of Malcolm X as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


In the searing pages of this classic autobiography, originally published in 1964, Malcolm X, the Muslim leader, firebrand, and anti-integrationist, tells the extraordinary story of his life and the growth of the Black Muslim movement. His fascinating perspective on the lies and limitations of the American Dream, and the inherent racism in a society that denies its nonwhite citizens the opportunity to dream, gives extraordinary insight into the most urgent issues of our own time. The Autobiography of Malcolm X stands as the definitive statement of a movement…

Book cover of The Doctor and the Saint: Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste, the Debate Between B.R. Ambedkar and M.K. Gandhi

Why did I love this book?

Anyone who follows India will be acquainted with the writing of Arundhati Roy. In this short and powerful book she focuses on two remarkable leaders of pre-independence India, Mahatma Gandhi and B. R. Ambedkar; the two clashed over the place of the Caste system – and Hinduism itself – in the future Indian nation. Ambedkar, an “Untouchable” (Dalit), believed that ending colonialism was not enough and the Untouchables could never be free until the “annihilation” of the entire Caste system. Gandhi believed that in building a national community there had to be a compromise with people’s strong attachment to Caste. Roy’s book is simultaneously a rediscovery of Ambedkar, a reassessment of Gandhi, and an indictment of Caste-based oppression in India today.

By Arundhati Roy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Doctor and the Saint as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

To best understand and address the inequality in India today, Arundhati Roy insists we must examine both the political development and influence of M. K. Gandhi and why B. R. Ambedkar’s brilliant challenge to his near-divine status was suppressed by India’s elite. In Roy’s analysis, we see that Ambedkar’s fight for justice was systematically sidelined in favor of policies that reinforced caste, resulting in the current nation of India: independent of British rule, globally powerful, and marked to this day by the caste system.
This book situates Ambedkar’s arguments in their vital historical context— namely, as an extended public political…

Book cover of Voices of Protest: Huey Long, Father Coughlin, & the Great Depression

Why did I love this book?

This groundbreaking and wonderfully written study of two “protest” leaders during the Great Depression of the 1930s in the United States shows us what happens when truly hard times hit ordinary people, and what sort of leaders they then turn to. Brinkley brilliantly chronicles the rise of Louisiana politician Huey Long, the “Kingfish”, from obscurity in the poor Jim Crow south to becoming, by the time he was assassinated in 1935, the most significant political threat to the popular President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Long’s calls for wealth redistribution, contempt for traditional elites, and disregard for democratic institutions, make him an important historical example of so-called populist leadership, and of the power and appeal of populism in times of crisis.

By Alan Brinkley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The study of two great demagogues in American history--Huey P. Long, a first-term United States Senator from the red-clay, piney-woods country of nothern Louisiana; and Charles E. Coughlin, a Catholic priest from an industrial suburb near Detroit. Award-winning historian Alan Brinkely describes their modest origins and their parallel rise together in the early years of the Great Depression to become the two most successful leaders of national political dissidence of their era. 

*Winner of the American Book Award for History*

Book cover of Ten Years of Madness: Oral Histories of China's Cultural Revolution

Why did I love this book?

The beauty of this book is that it teaches us about leaders without featuring any leader. The Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976, during which the country underwent complete upheaval, with millions of victims, was the brainchild of one powerful man: Chairman Mao Zedong, who held on to power in China by unleashing the country’s youth on the older generation. But the book does not look at Mao at all. Instead, it shows the effects of one leader’s decisions on those under him by featuring personal testimonies from survivors of those “ten years of madness” who lived to tell stories that are by turn wistful, melancholy, humorous, and, most often, heartbreaking.

By Feng Jicai,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Ten Years of Madness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ten Years of Madness is a groundbreaking book that draws some parallels to Studs Terkel's "Working" in that it portrays a wide cross section of the Chinese people, but with a harrowing twist: how they survived the disastrous Great Proletariat Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976. Families were destroyed; an entire generation of artists and intellectuals was lost. These oral histories, expertly conducted and arranged by noted writer and cultural critic Feng Jicai, are essential in preserving the memory of those who survived and those who did not survive China's most calamitous period in its modern history.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Mahatma Gandhi, the economy, and Malcolm X?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Mahatma Gandhi, the economy, and Malcolm X.

Mahatma Gandhi Explore 13 books about Mahatma Gandhi
The Economy Explore 178 books about the economy
Malcolm X Explore 7 books about Malcolm X

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