The best books about plots (by coup, assassination, or other means) to overthrow the US government

Anita Bartholomew Author Of Siege: An American Tragedy
By Anita Bartholomew

Who am I?

I'm a long-time contributor to Reader's Digest (and former contributing editor), specializing in narrative nonfiction who has covered social and geopolitical issues for the magazine. I'm also a political junkie who loves to dig into little-known aspects of history and current events. 

I wrote...

Siege: An American Tragedy

By Anita Bartholomew,

Book cover of Siege: An American Tragedy

What is my book about?

My goal in writing Siege was to show the human side of the January 6, 2021, US Capitol insurrection. Plenty of other authors of January 6th-related books were writing the inside story of Trump and his high-placed enablers. I wanted to tell the inside story of the people they hurt. 

I also cover the negligence of officials who, though warned, did nothing to prevent or mitigate the chaos. And I delve into the biographies of several insurrectionists. But my focus is on those trapped in the building, and the cops who risked their lives in brutal hand-to-hand combat to save them. While the January 6th House Committee hearings were a powerful overview, they left large gaps. Siege fills many of those gaps. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Plot to Seize the White House: The Shocking True Story of the Conspiracy to Overthrow F.D.R.

Why did I love this book?

Throughout the early 20th century, General Smedley Butler was the go-to commander for overthrowing other countries' governments on behalf of US interests. So, when American fascists conspired to oust then-recently elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt, they recruited Butler to lead their coup attempt. The fascists’ error: they failed to take Butler’s remorse seriously when, in a 1931 speech, he lamented his career as a "…high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street, and the bankers." The Plot to Seize The White House details how Butler brought the conspiracy down.

I was reminded as I read that there always were—and will be—powerful people eager to topple the barriers democracy puts in their way. But it’s also a reminder that, as in the 2020 election, principled people, in the right positions, make all the difference. 

By Jules Archer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Plot to Seize the White House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Fascinating and alarmingly true."-Time Magazine. The true story of a plot to overthrow Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the nearly forgotten Marine who saved American Democracy.

Many simply don't know that in 1933, a group of wealthy industrialists-working closely with groups like the K.K.K. and the American Liberty League-planned to overthrow the U.S. government and run F.D.R. out of office in a fascist coup.

Americans may be shocked to learn of the plan to turn unhappy war veterans into American "brown shirts," depose F.D.R., and stop the New Deal. They asked Medal of Honor recipient and Marine Major General Smedley Darlington…

Book cover of Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden, and the Stolen Election of 1876

Why did I love this book?

Accusations of ballot fraud, election challenges, dueling slates of electors, threats of political violence—even a new civil war. It sounds eerily like the 2020 presidential election, but it happened in 1876. The legitimate winner that year was Democrat Samuel Tilden. His rival, Rutherford B. Hayes, who eventually ascended to the presidency, and Tilden both, according to Morris, went to bed on election night, believing Tilden was the winner. The fraud, this time, was initiated, not by the candidate himself, but by Republican operatives behind closed doors who worked to propel Hayes to the top, in exchange for an end to Reconstruction—which led inexorably to the Jim Crow era. 

The bitter battle left Tilden and the country with grievous losses. The country is still recovering.

By Jr. Roy Morris,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this major work of popular history and scholarship, acclaimed historian and biographer Roy Morris, Jr, tells the extraordinary story of how, in America's centennial year, the presidency was stolen, the Civil War was almost reignited, and Black Americans were consigned to nearly ninety years of legalized segregation in the South.

The bitter 1876 contest between Ohio Republican governor Rutherford B. Hayes and New York Democratic governor Samuel J. Tilden is the most sensational, ethically sordid, and legally questionable presidential election in American history. The first since Lincoln's in 1860 in which the Democrats had a real chance of recapturing…

Book cover of The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the Cia, and the Rise of America's Secret Government

Why did I love this book?

Most people fall into one of two categories: those who firmly believe Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman in the John F. Kennedy assassination, and those who don't. Before The Devil's Chessboard, lots of researchers examined the Warren Commission's own files, found solid evidence of a conspiracy, and wrote books presenting their findings. Their point-by-point analyses blew apart the official story, but few readers bothered to slog through their dense prose.

I was a fence-sitter until I read Talbot's book. He skillfully disposes of the official story as part of a larger narrative about an out-of-control, fascist-riddled CIA more powerful than the elected government. Because of Talbot’s storytelling flair, missing from earlier researcher-authors' dry dissertations, his book is able to convert fence-sitters and perhaps even a few non-believers. 

By David Talbot,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Devil's Chessboard as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An explosive, headline-making portrait of Allen Dulles, the man who transformed the CIA into the most powerful-and secretive-colossus in Washington, from the founder of and author of the New York Times bestseller Brothers. America's greatest untold story: the United States' rise to world dominance under the guile of Allen Welsh Dulles, the longest-serving director of the CIA. Drawing on revelatory new materials-including newly discovered U.S. government documents, U.S. and European intelligence sources, the personal correspondence and journals of Allen Dulles's wife and mistress, and exclusive interviews with the children of prominent CIA officials-Talbot reveals the underside of one of…

Book cover of Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right

Why did I love this book?

It’s quite a trick to overthrow a government without firing a shot. It’s an even better trick to do it without most people noticing what you’ve done. Dark Money shows how a cadre of American oligarchs, who believed the US had gone too far in reining in people like them, poured barrels of cash into undermining the average American’s economic, labor, and civil rights progress. They created think tanks. They bankrolled TV pundits. They funded departments at top universities—and micro-managed the curriculum—intent on influencing new generations of politicians, economists, and judges. In the end, they completely reshaped American thought and jurisprudence.

Ever wonder how the US of FDR and JFK could have taken such a sharp turn to the extreme right? I recommend you read Dark Money.

By Jane Mayer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


Who are the immensely wealthy right-wing ideologues shaping the fate of America today? From the bestselling author of The Dark Side, an electrifying work of investigative journalism that uncovers the agenda of this powerful group.

In her new preface, Jane Mayer discusses the results of the most recent election and Donald Trump's victory, and how, despite much discussion to the contrary, this was a huge victory for the billionaires who have been pouring money in the American political system.

Why is America living in an age…

Book cover of The Steal: The Attempt to Overturn the 2020 Election and the People Who Stopped It

Why did I love this book?

The Steal documents what happened in the weeks between the 2020 presidential election and January 6th in swing states that Biden won, where Trump persuaded local loyalists that the election had been rigged. Avid Trump supporters embraced every wild conspiracy theory Trump World tossed their way—imagining minor glitches to be bulletproof evidence of massive fraud. 

As the author of another narrative about the collateral damage wrought by purveyors of the Big Lie, I had obvious reasons to be drawn to The Steal. It deftly see-saws between besieged election workers and officials trying to do their jobs in the face of unrelenting pressure, and those who—truth, law, and logic be damned—applied that pressure. The Steal fascinates, both as a commentary on human nature and a ground-level account of an attempted coup.  

By Mark Bowden, Matthew Teague,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“A gripping ground-level narrative…a marvel of reporting: tightly wound… but also panoramic.”—Washington Post

“A lean, fast-paced and important account of the chaotic final weeks.”—New York Times

In The Steal, veteran journalists Mark Bowden and Matthew Teague offer a week-by-week, state-by-state account of the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

In the sixty-four days between November 3 and January 6, President Donald Trump and his allies fought to reverse the outcome of the vote. Focusing on six states—Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—Trump’s supporters claimed widespread voter fraud.

Caught up in this effort were scores of activists, lawyers, judges,…

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