The best books on the history of American conservatism

Who am I?

I’m a professor of modern US and global history at Hartwick College in upstate New York. I have been reading and researching the history of conservative and right-wing movements in the United States and the wider world for almost two decades. My first book, Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War, was published by University of North Carolina Press in 2018. My articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in Jacobin, Diplomatic History, Terrorism and Political Science, H-War, and H-Diplo. I’m currently at work on two projects: a history of the transatlantic white power movement and a film documentary about the short-lived white supremacist nation of Rhodesia and its contemporary legacies.


I wrote...

Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War

By Kyle Burke,

Book cover of Revolutionaries for the Right: Anticommunist Internationalism and Paramilitary Warfare in the Cold War

What is my book about?

My book, Revolutionaries for the Right, chronicles the rise and fall of what I call the anticommunist international—a global right-wing movement that sought paramilitary action against communism worldwide. Seeking revolution against leftist governments and movements, the anticommunist international ran propaganda campaigns, smuggled weapons, and organized mercenary missions in Rhodesia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Angola, Afghanistan, Cambodia, and many other countries. Utilizing previously untapped archival sources from four continents, Revolutionaries for the Right shows that the circulation of violence—both actual and imagined—between the United States and these overseas battlegrounds in the late Cold War helped radicalize right-wing paramilitary groups at home while also generating new forms of privatized warfare abroad. Those consequences reverberate today.

The books I picked & why

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Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right

By Lisa McGirr,

Book cover of Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right

Why this book?

This is a field-defining work. First published in 2001, McGirr’s book prompted a generation of historians to reexamine the rise and evolution of modern American conservatism. Focused on the suburbs of Orange County, California, Suburban Warriors explored how grassroots conservative activists mobilized to reshape the politics of the nation. Through the stories of ordinary people--housewives and defense workers, evangelical worshippers, and anti-communist activists--we learn how the modern American right evolved from a fringe movement into arguably the most powerful political force in the United States.

Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right

By Lisa McGirr,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the early 1960s, American conservatives seemed to have fallen on hard times. McCarthyism was on the run, and movements on the political left were grabbing headlines. The media lampooned John Birchers's accusations that Dwight Eisenhower was a communist puppet. Mainstream America snickered at warnings by California Congressman James B. Utt that "barefooted Africans" were training in Georgia to help the United Nations take over the country. Yet, in Utt's home district of Orange County, thousands of middle-class suburbanites proceeded to organize a powerful conservative movement that would land Ronald Reagan in the White House and redefine the spectrum of…


Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal

By Kim Phillips-Fein,

Book cover of Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal

Why this book?

Shifting away from the grassroots origins of modern conservatism, Invisible Hands examines how wealthy, conservative businessmen mobilized to counter the power of organized labor, dismantle the New Deal, and propel the right into political power. Phillips-Fein begins her story in the Depression, as a small set of disgruntled industrialists organized against what they saw as creeping socialism, embodied in FDR’s New Deal. Although marginal at first, these titans of capitalism spent great effort and tremendous sums of money to change the tone and tenor of American politics, convincing many Americans to abandon the promises of economic security for the supposed beneficence of the free market.

Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal

By Kim Phillips-Fein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the wake of the profound economic crisis known as the Great Depression, a group of high-powered individuals joined forces to campaign against the New Deal-not just its practical policies but the foundations of its economic philosophy. The titans of the National Association of Manufacturers and the chemicals giant DuPont, together with little-known men like W. C. Mullendore, Leonard Read, and Jasper Crane, championed European thinkers Friedrich von Hayek and Ludwig von Mises and their fears of the "nanny state." Through fervent activism, fundraising, and institution-building, these men sought to educate and organize their peers as a political force to…


White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism

By Kevin M. Kruse,

Book cover of White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism

Why this book?

The rise of the right was in many ways a southern phenomenon as the Old South transformed into the Sun Belt. White Flight explores how white supremacy and fears over desegregation propelled the conservative movement in Atlanta and on the national stage. As federal initiatives spelled the end for segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, southern whites managed to preserve racial discrimination through more subtle avenues. Whites fled Atlanta’s urban core for its suburbs where they reformed the world of white supremacy, giving birth to new causes such as tax revolts, tuition vouchers, and the privatization of public services.

White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism

By Kevin M. Kruse,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

During the civil rights era, Atlanta thought of itself as "The City Too Busy to Hate," a rare place in the South where the races lived and thrived together. Over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, however, so many whites fled the city for the suburbs that Atlanta earned a new nickname: "The City Too Busy Moving to Hate." In this reappraisal of racial politics in modern America, Kevin Kruse explains the causes and consequences of "white flight" in Atlanta and elsewhere. Seeking to understand segregationists on their own terms, White Flight moves past simple stereotypes to explore the…


Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia and Populist Politics

By Timothy J. Lombardo,

Book cover of Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia and Populist Politics

Why this book?

As the modern conservative movement gained ground, many working-class white, ethnic voters, especially in struggling Northern and Midwestern cities joined its ranks, even as they continued to vote for Democrats in local elections. Blue-Collar Conservatism explores how that happened by focusing on the divisive tenure of Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo.

Elected as a Democrat in 1971, Rizzo was the first former police commissioner to serve as Philly's mayor, and he gained election by harping on “law and order” issues and opposing civil rights reforms in schools, housing, and workplaces, harnessing white claims that such policies were unearned and unfair. In this cauldron of resentment and resistance, historian Tim Lombardo shows, blue-collar whites began to reject the promises of liberalism.

Blue-Collar Conservatism: Frank Rizzo's Philadelphia and Populist Politics

By Timothy J. Lombardo,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blue-Collar Conservatism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The postwar United States has experienced many forms of populist politics, none more consequential than that of the blue-collar white ethnics who brought figures like Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump to the White House. Blue-Collar Conservatism traces the rise of this little-understood, easily caricatured variant of populism by presenting a nuanced portrait of the supporters of Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo.
In 1971, Frank Rizzo became the first former police commissioner elected mayor of a major American city. Despite serving as a Democrat, Rizzo cultivated his base of support by calling for "law and order" and opposing programs like public housing,…


Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America

By Kathleen Belew,

Book cover of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America

Why this book?

The modern American right also developed distinct paramilitary dimensions. In the wake of the Vietnam War, a militarized white power movement led by veterans spread across the United States. Uniting Klansman, neo-Nazis, tax protesters, and Christian Identitarians, the movement sought war against immigrants, African Americans, leftists, liberals, and, eventually, the government itself.

To carry out those assaults, members circulated ideas and literature, shared money and housing, hoarded weapons and supplies, and practiced combat and counterfeiting. Their violence spread across the country, culminating in Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995. In Bring the War Home, historian Kathleen Belew explains how all this happened and what it means today.

Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America

By Kathleen Belew,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A Guardian Best Book of the Year

"A gripping study of white power...Explosive."
-New York Times

"Helps explain how we got to today's alt-right."
-Terry Gross, Fresh Air

The white power movement in America wants a revolution.

Returning to a country ripped apart by a war they felt they were not allowed to win, a small group of Vietnam veterans and disgruntled civilians who shared their virulent anti-communism and potent sense of betrayal concluded that waging war on their own country was justified. The command structure of their covert movement gave women a prominent place. They operated with discipline, made…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in conservatism, conservatism in the USA, and Georgia (USA)?

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