100 books like A Thousand Small Sanities

By Adam Gopnik,

Here are 100 books that A Thousand Small Sanities fans have personally recommended if you like A Thousand Small Sanities. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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

Greg Berman Author Of Gradual: The Case for Incremental Change in a Radical Age

From my list on 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.

Greg's book list on if you want government to work better

Greg Berman Why did Greg 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

John Iceland Author Of Why We Disagree about Inequality: Social Justice vs. Social Order

From my list on explaining political polarization.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Penn State professor of sociology and demography who is interested in social inequality, demography, and public opinion. My family moved frequently when I was growing up—I lived in Colombia, Greece, and Mexico. I attended Brown University and worked at the U.S. Census Bureau as an analyst and Branch Chief for several years before returning to academia. My interest in inequality dates back to living in different countries with different cultures, politics, and standards of living. While I have long been interested in the demographics of poverty and inequality, in more recent years I’ve become interested in political polarization and why people disagree about a variety of social issues.

John's book list on explaining political polarization

John Iceland Why did John love this book?

Have you wondered why there has been such a dramatic decline in trust in public institutions in recent years?

In The Revolt of the Public, Gurri argues that the rise of digital technology has allowed people to more easily share information and bypass traditional gatekeepers. Gone are the days from my own youth when most people relied on just a few established news sources. People today are more exposed to stories—either real or imagined—of corruption, incompetence, and misinformation from established institutions.

This has contributed to the rise of populism and political extremism, facilitated by social media where people can organize and coordinate their activities. 

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 Author Of Gradual: The Case for Incremental Change in a Radical Age

From my list on 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.

Greg's book list on if you want government to work better

Greg Berman Why did Greg 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 Author Of Gradual: The Case for Incremental Change in a Radical Age

From my list on 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.

Greg's book list on if you want government to work better

Greg Berman Why did Greg 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 Free Market Fairness

Andrew Koppelman Author Of Burning Down the House: How Libertarian Philosophy Was Corrupted by Delusion and Greed

From my list on libertarian philosophy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always been interested in human freedom, and both intrigued and cautious about the path offered by the libertarians. In my book, I finally worked out for my own benefit what is alive and what is dead in their ideals – and the various flavors in which those ideals are available. They have important insights, but too much of what they are selling is snake oil. Until now there hasn’t been any critical introduction to libertarianism for the general reader. This book aims to supply that.

Andrew's book list on libertarian philosophy

Andrew Koppelman Why did Andrew love this book?

Tomasi offers a new synthesis of Rawlsian high liberalism and market-oriented libertarianism, which he calls "market democracy." It treats capitalistic economic freedoms as crucial elements of liberty, but demands that institutions be designed so that their benefits are shared by the least fortunate citizens. His central focus is the value of entrepreneurial activity as a moral ideal. I have a lot of disagreements with this book, but without its smart provocations I might not have written my own.

By John Tomasi,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Free Market Fairness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Can libertarians care about social justice? In Free Market Fairness, John Tomasi argues that they can and should. Drawing simultaneously on moral insights from defenders of economic liberty such as F. A. Hayek and advocates of social justice such as John Rawls, Tomasi presents a new theory of liberal justice. This theory, free market fairness, is committed to both limited government and the material betterment of the poor. Unlike traditional libertarians, Tomasi argues that property rights are best defended not in terms of self-ownership or economic efficiency but as requirements of democratic legitimacy. At the same time, he encourages egalitarians…


Book cover of Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

Georg Loefflmann Author Of The Politics of Antagonism: Populist Security Narratives and the Remaking of Political Identity

From my list on understand how populism works.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am Lecturer in US Foreign Policy at Queen Mary University of London, and I work on issues of national security and identity, political rhetoric and the role of the everyday in shaping politics, especially media and popular culture. I have written extensively on American politics and US foreign policy over these past years with two published monographs and more than a dozen articles in peer-reviewed academic journals, plus a couple of op-eds and multiple TV and radio appearances. My most recent research project explores the role of populism under the Trump presidency and its political impact in the United States.

Georg's book list on understand how populism works

Georg Loefflmann Why did Georg love this book?

I found this to be a fascinating book. It offered real insights into the everyday lives of working-class individuals in rural Louisiana, especially their emotional states, anger, frustration, fears, hopes, and aspirations.

Reading the book, I felt like I was actually sharing the lives of the families that Hochschild observed, getting a real understanding of how they saw the world and why they might want to vote for a figure like Donald Trump. For my money, it is sociological writing at its best.

By Arlie Russell Hochschild,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Strangers in Their Own Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Strangers in Their Own Land, the renowned sociologist Arlie Hochschild embarks on a thought-provoking journey from her liberal hometown of Berkeley, California, deep into Louisiana bayou country - a stronghold of the conservative right. As she gets to know people who strongly oppose many of the ideas she famously champions, Hochschild nevertheless finds common ground and quickly warms to the people she meets, people whose concerns are actually ones that all Americans share: the desire for community, the embrace of family, and hopes for their children.


Book cover of The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age

Doug White Author Of Wounded Charity: Lessons Learned from the Wounded Warrior Project Crisis

From my list on the complex worlds of philanthropy and nonprofits.

Why am I passionate about this?

The nonprofit sector is important to society and I often marvel at how many of us – which is to say all of us – have been touched by the generosity of others. With few exceptions, anyone who has graduated from college, who has been admitted to a hospital, who has attended a faith-based service, who has examined art at a gallery, who – literally, and there are no exceptions here – breathes air has benefited from the work of nonprofit organizations and the philanthropists who support them. It is therefore important to me to understand how the system works and how important charities are to society and a functioning democracy. 

Doug's book list on the complex worlds of philanthropy and nonprofits

Doug White Why did Doug love this book?

In The Givers David Callahan asks questions – and answers them – about the power philanthropists possess to influence public policy in America. 

He wonders how much influence donors have and what their goals are. He says that some of us are happy about the causes the wealthy promote, but are terrified about others. 

As well, he contends, the process is undemocratic. Philanthropy, he says, is a strong power center in its own right, and “is set to surpass government to shape society’s agenda.” He points out that private donors, who are accountable to no one, have more influence than the public officials who are accountable to the voters. 

Callahan is unafraid to question how much good philanthropists actually do.

By David Callahan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An inside look at the secretive world of elite philanthropists—and how they're quietly wielding ever more power to shape American life in ways both good and bad.

While media attention focuses on famous philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Charles Koch, thousands of donors are at work below the radar promoting a wide range of causes. David Callahan charts the rise of these new power players and the ways they are converting the fortunes of a second Gilded Age into influence. He shows how this elite works behind the scenes on education, the environment, science, LGBT rights, and many other…


Book cover of Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think

Ronnie Janoff-Bulman Author Of The Two Moralities: Conservatives, Liberals, and the Roots of Our Political Divide

From my list on the psychology behind our politics.

Why am I passionate about this?

A university professor for 40 years (now emerita), I focused my most recent research on moral psychology. I am also a political junkie, so perhaps it is no surprise that I have combined these two interests. As both a social psychologist and political psychologist, I have conducted numerous studies on the moral underpinnings of our political ideologies. In addition to two books, I have published over 90 papers, many devoted to morality and/or politics, and I was awarded a generous three-year National Science Foundation grant to study the two moralities that are discussed in my book.   

Ronnie's book list on the psychology behind our politics

Ronnie Janoff-Bulman Why did Ronnie love this book?

This was George Lakoff’s groundbreaking early book linking morality and politics.

Here the renowned cognitive psychologist, draws from his expertise as a linguist to uncover the unconscious worldviews of liberals and conservatives. More specifically, he argues that distinct conceptual metaphors, each associated with the family, underlie the politics of the left and right, specifically the strict father for conservatives and the nurturant parent for liberals.  

By George Lakoff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Moral Politics was first published two decades ago, it redefined how Americans think and talk about politics through the lens of cognitive political psychology. Today, George Lakoff's classic text has become all the more relevant, as liberals and conservatives have come to hold even more vigorously opposed views of the world, with the underlying assumptions of their respective worldviews at the level of basic morality. Even more so than when Lakoff wrote, liberals and conservatives simply have very different, deeply held beliefs about what is right and wrong. Lakoff reveals radically different but remarkably consistent conceptions of morality on…


Book cover of Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences

James Blachowicz Author Of The Bilateral Mind as the Mirror of Nature: A Metaphilosophy

From my list on the nature and capacities of our bilateral minds.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve always had equally balanced interests in the arts/humanities and the natural sciences. I like to think that I inherited much of this from my analytical “algebraic” mother, who was a nurse and tended to our family finances, and my holistic “geometrical” father, who was a carpenter. It’s probably no accident that my double major in college was in physics and philosophy...and, down the line, that I should develop a focused interest in human brain laterality, where the division between analysis and holism is so prominent.

James' book list on the nature and capacities of our bilateral minds

James Blachowicz Why did James love this book?

One could almost have predicted that the concept of brain laterality would provide material for explaining the division between the political left and right.

Do political conservatives and liberals have brain differences that may, in part, determine their politics? This volume is valuable as a rare source of material for addressing this question. Political conservatives apparently have larger amygdalas (which register reactions to threat), while liberals may have a reverse valuation. These two brain features may contribute to determining hemispheric preferences.

By John R. Hibbing, Kevin B. Smith, John R. Alford

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Buried in many people and operating largely outside the realm of conscious thought are forces inclining us toward liberal or conservative political convictions. Our biology predisposes us to see and understand the world in different ways, not always reason and the careful consideration of facts. These predispositions are in turn responsible for a significant portion of the political and ideological conflict that marks human history.

With verve and wit, renowned social scientists John Hibbing, Kevin Smith, and John Alford-pioneers in the field of biopolitics-present overwhelming evidence that people differ politically not just because they grew up in different cultures or…


Book cover of The Lost History of Liberalism: From Ancient Rome to the Twenty-First Century

Michael Freeman Author Of Human Rights

From my list on the power and the limits of human rights.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an emeritus professor in the Department of Government, University of Essex. I taught political theory for many years with a speciality in the theory and practice of human rights. I'm the author of Edmund Burke and the Critique of Political Radicalism and Human Rights. I've published many articles in political theory, philosophy of social science, and human rights. I've directed academic programmes in political theory, The Enlightenment, and human rights. I've lectured on human rights in some 25 countries. I was a founder-member of my local branch of Amnesty International and served on the board of Amnesty’s British Section for five years, for two years as its Chairperson.

Michael's book list on the power and the limits of human rights

Michael Freeman Why did Michael love this book?

The concept of human rights will seem to many at first sight a powerful, positive, and relatively uncontroversial idea. However, the concept is both historically and philosophically bound up with the political theory of liberalism which is very controversial. Many people praise or condemn liberalism without a clear idea of what it is, how it developed historically, or its diverse forms. Helena Rosenblatt’s valuable history tells the story of liberalism from ancient times to the present, showing us the various forms it can take and has taken.

Contrary to widely held beliefs liberalism has been concerned not only with individual rights but with individual duties and the common good. Thus liberalism is not simply opposed to conservatism or socialism but has complex relationships with these rival philosophies. All contemporary debates about liberalism are likely to remain confused if they fail to take account of Rosenblatt’s history.

By Helena Rosenblatt,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The changing face of the liberal creed from the ancient world to today

The Lost History of Liberalism challenges our most basic assumptions about a political creed that has become a rallying cry-and a term of derision-in today's increasingly divided public square. Taking readers from ancient Rome to today, Helena Rosenblatt traces the evolution of the words "liberal" and "liberalism," revealing the heated debates that have taken place over their meaning. She debunks the popular myth of liberalism as a uniquely Anglo-American tradition, and shows how it was only during the Cold War that it was refashioned into an American…


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