100 books like American Happiness and Discontents

By George F. Will,

Here are 100 books that American Happiness and Discontents fans have personally recommended if you like American Happiness and Discontents. 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 How Democracies Die

Natasha Lindstaedt Author Of Democratic Decay and Authoritarian Resurgence

From my list on why the world is becoming more authoritarian.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a political science professor who has always been interested in authoritarian regimes, how they function, and how they control their citizens. In particular, I find it fascinating why citizens may genuinely adore and respect the (sometimes outrageous) autocrats that lead them, even though they rule with an iron fist. Additionally, the rise of authoritarianism in democracies also caught my attention. Terms like “slow-moving coups” and “insurrections” are being used when referring to democracies now. In some ways, this is shocking to me—but it’s motivated me to better understand how this happenedand the ways in which autocracies and democracies seem to be mimicking each other.

Natasha's book list on why the world is becoming more authoritarian

Natasha Lindstaedt Why did Natasha love this book?

If you are still wondering how democracies fall apart, How Democracies Die, is one of the more accessibly written accounts of how, where, and why democracy is in danger. The book explains why democracies are no longer ending with a coup, but rather with a steady and slow erosion of democratic institutions. Chock-full of examples, this book highlights what the institutional guardrails are in a democracy and how these safeguards are weakened by leaders and other elected representatives (like Donald Trump, Recip Erdoğan, and Viktor Orbán, etc.), who hold little regard for democratic norms and are willing to engage in a scorched earth style of politics just to maintain power. I like that this was written for a wide audience.

By Steven Levitsky, Daniel Ziblatt,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked How Democracies Die as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The most important book of the Trump era' The Economist

How does a democracy die?
What can we do to save our own?
What lessons does history teach us?

In the 21st century democracy is threatened like never before.

Drawing insightful lessons from across history - from Pinochet's murderous Chilean regime to Erdogan's quiet dismantling in Turkey - Levitsky and Ziblatt explain why democracies fail, how leaders like Trump subvert them today and what each of us can do to protect our democratic rights.

'This book looks to history to provide a guide for defending democratic norms when they are…

Book cover of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

Keith L. Downing Author Of Gradient Expectations: Structure, Origins, and Synthesis of Predictive Neural Networks

From my list on to keep an AI researcher awake at night.

Why am I passionate about this?

I've been working in the field of AI for 40 years, first in graduate school and then as a professor. For the most part, I have had my head in the sand, focusing on the minutiae that occasionally lead to publications, the coins of the academic realm. When deep learning started exhibiting human-level pattern recognition abilities, the number of AI books for the general public began to swell.  Unfortunately, the science-fiction scenarios were a bit much. Since understanding, recognizing, and admitting problems are vital steps toward a solution, I find these books to be the most important warnings of the impending tech-dominated future.

Keith's book list on to keep an AI researcher awake at night

Keith L. Downing Why did Keith love this book?

My first 3 picks put much of the blame for widespread attention capture on greedy actors engaged in a “race to the bottom of the brainstem” (Tristan Harris, former Google employee, became popular opponent of exploitative big tech). 

Although Carr does not shy from that theme, he seems to put much of the responsibility on our own shoulders: it is we who must resist many temptations of convenience in order to preserve our own cognitive strengths, such as creativity. Otherwise, we become shallow thinkers and reliant on AI even for something as characteristically human as wisdom. 

Carr’s follow-up to this book, The Glass Cage, is also very intriguing, and it offers a little more hope for a humanity that is currently bound up in a web of frightening technological dependency.

In my mind, Carr nails the real threats of AI: a total dumming-down of humanity to a level where we…

By Nicholas Carr,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Shallows as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nicholas Carr's bestseller The Shallows has become a foundational book in one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the internet's bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply? This 10th-anniversary edition includes a new afterword that brings the story up to date, with a deep examination of the cognitive and behavioral effects of smartphones and social media.

Book cover of Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Guido Alfani Author Of As Gods Among Men: A History of the Rich in the West

From my list on the rich, the super-rich, and wealth inequality in general.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since I was a student, I have been fascinated with social and economic inequality–the more so because back then, my professors seemed to disregard this subject of study. So, I made it one of my own main areas of research: I simply needed to understand more about the nature and the causes of inequality in human societies. In recent years, I have been busy researching economic inequality in different historical settings, also looking at specific socioeconomic strata. I began with the poor, and more recently, I focused on the rich. In my list of recommendations, I included books that, I believe, are particularly insightful concerning wealth and the wealthy.

Guido's book list on the rich, the super-rich, and wealth inequality in general

Guido Alfani Why did Guido love this book?

This is a book that truly transformed the field of inequality studies by bringing wealth inequality to the fore of the debate–both within the academy and across civil society. It is also a very readable book, packed with interesting examples and useful and relevant information.

Although I have always thought (and I am in very good company…) that it could have been a bit shorter, it is very well worth the effort of going through its about seven hundred pages.

By Thomas Piketty, Arthur Goldhammer (translator),

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Capital in the Twenty-First Century as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A New York Times #1 Bestseller
An Amazon #1 Bestseller
A Wall Street Journal #1 Bestseller
A USA Today Bestseller
A Sunday Times Bestseller
A Guardian Best Book of the 21st Century
Winner of the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award
Winner of the British Academy Medal
Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award

What are the grand dynamics that drive the accumulation and distribution of capital? Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. But satisfactory answers have been hard…

Book cover of The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It

Luis Martínez-Fernández Author Of When the World Turned Upside Down: Politics, Culture, and the Unimaginable Events of 2019-2022

From my list on today's biggest domestic and global challenges.

Why am I passionate about this?

By ten years old, I had lived in four countries and endured the repercussions of revolution, exile, military coup d’état, and emigration. That explains my life-long passion for history. I pursued a Ph.D. in Latin American history to make sense of the forces that shaped my and my family’s lives. My seven previous books explored diverse topics in Caribbean history within its broader Atlantic context. Momentous domestic and global events, starting with the COVID-19 pandemic and an explosion of racial and political violence in the U.S. pushed me to broaden my scholarly attention and become a Creators Syndicate’s weekly columnist, and publish a collection of columns with the title When the World Turned Upside Down. 

Luis' book list on today's biggest domestic and global challenges

Luis Martínez-Fernández Why did Luis love this book?

Many people know that American democracy and capitalism have been on a downward spiral for decades. The system is rigged, former Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich sounds the alarm throughout his excellent book The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It. He goes deep into these questions as he supports the provocative thesis that despite acrimonious partisan polarization, the real contest is not between the right and left but between democracy and oligarchy; and that the vast majority of citizens (Republicans, Democrats, and Independents) are getting poorer and wield “near-zero” political power. Oligarchs—JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon is their embodiment—have amassed enormous sums of capital and political power, which allows them to further rig the system through campaign contributions, successful lobbying, and even criminal actions for which, if caught, they only pay nominal fines.

By Robert B. Reich,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Understanding what is happening in our country is critical if we want to fix it and Robert Reich is an exceptional teacher.' - Senator Bernie Sanders

Millions of Americans have lost confidence in their political and economic system. After years of stagnant wages, volatile job markets, and an unwillingness by those in power to deal with profound threats such as climate change, there is a mounting sense that the system is fixed, serving only those select few with enough money to secure a controlling stake.

In The System Robert B. Reich shows how wealth and power have interacted to install…

Book cover of Why Peacocks?: An Unlikely Search for Meaning in the World's Most Magnificent Bird

Elizabeth Gehrman Author Of Rare Birds: The Extraordinary Tale of the Bermuda Petrel and the Man Who Brought It Back from Extinction

From my list on birds and life.

Why am I passionate about this?

I never had a particular interest in birds until I heard about David Wingate and the cahow; I’m just a reporter who was smitten by a compelling story. I often write about science and the environment, as well as travel and other topics, for publications including the Boston Globe, Archaeology, and Harvard Medicine, and while working on Rare Birds I got hooked on these extraordinary creatures and the iconoclastic obsessives who have become their stewards in the Anthropocene era. You don’t have to care about birds to love their stories — but in the end, you will.

Elizabeth's book list on birds and life

Elizabeth Gehrman Why did Elizabeth love this book?

GQ writer Flynn and his wife and two kids are minding their own business on their surburban Durham “faux farm” when a friend calls to ask if they want to add a peacock to the two chickens that wander their yard. They end up with three of the kaleidoscopic birds, and Flynn’s chronicle of the family’s first year with Carl, Ethel, and Mr. Pickle takes readers on an implausibly relatable journey from the bird’s place in history, culture, and myth through its evolutionary biology and breeding habits to its endangered status in the wild, offering sardonically hilarious and harrowingly poignant life lessons along the way.

By Sean Flynn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Why Peacocks? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An acclaimed journalist seeks to understand the mysterious allure of peacocks-and in the process discovers unexpected and valuable life lessons.

When Sean Flynn's neighbor in North Carolina texted "Any chance you guys want a peacock? No kidding!" he stared bewilderedly at his phone. He had never considered whether he wanted a peacock. But as an award-winning magazine writer, this kind of mystery intrigued him. So he, his wife, and their two young sons became the owners of not one but three charming yet fickle birds: Carl, Ethel, and Mr. Pickle.

In Why Peacocks?, Flynn chronicles his hilarious and heartwarming first…

Book cover of Rabbit Hill

Peter W. Fong Author Of The Coconut Crab

From my list on animals that talk.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have often spoken with the animals that I meet: from migrating ducks to street cats, woodchucks to chickadees. Mostly quietly—and always as if they not only could hear and understand, but also could reply. As our children grew, the replies became louder and more insistent. When our daughter was old enough to feel fearful of travel—particularly the crossing of open water in small boats—I began to tell her stories featuring these talking animals. Because the animals also were sometimes afraid, the stories helped to distract her from the perils of our own adventures and then, eventually, to enjoy them as well.

Peter's book list on animals that talk

Peter W. Fong Why did Peter love this book?

Although not nearly as well-known as Richard Adams’ Watership Down (an epic tale, with voyages and battles on the scale of Homer’s Odyssey), this book was published decades earlier and could be seen as a quiet precursor to that far more violent story.

The gardeners among you will immediately recognize both the fear and the excitement that the animals feel when contemplating unfamiliar humans. My wife and I, who have moved dozens of times in our long careers, often quote a line from Little Georgie: “New folks coming, oh my!”

By Robert Lawson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rabbit Hill as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

It has been a while since Folks lived in the Big House, and an even longer time has passed since there has been a garden at the House. All the animals of the Hill are very excited about the new Folks moving in, and they wonder how things are going to change. It’s only a matter of time before the animals of the Hill find out just who is moving in, and they may be a little bit surprised when they do.

Book cover of First Date Stories: Women’s Romantic and Ridiculous Midlife Adventures

Marcia Naomi Berger Author Of Marriage Minded: An A to Z Dating Guide for Lasting Love

From my list on dating toward marriage.

Why am I passionate about this?

Marcia Naomi Berger's passion is to help people create lasting, fulfilling marriages. An experienced clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and medical school clinical faculty member, Berger has held senior-level positions in child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry. She says, "I stayed single for a long time because of my parent's divorce. Now happily married for over thirty-four years, I fill my books with the hard-earned wisdom I've gained professionally and personally."  

Marcia's book list on dating toward marriage

Marcia Naomi Berger Why did Marcia love this book?

I found this book engaging and fun to read. It's filled with well-written, informative stories of many women's first dates. Some of the dismal dates remind me of the saying, "You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince."

Sometimes my mouth would drop open in shock while reading about a miserable first date. Other stories had happy endings. Some couples continued dating and married. Others had successful first dates because the people liked each other but decided then, or after a few dates, that they weren't a good fit for a romantic relationship.

First Date Stories makes for a friendly, optimistic companion to women experiencing the ups and downs of dating. It reassures them that they are not alone, worthy, and likely to succeed in reaching their goal if they persevere. The implication is that every first date is successful because of the learning it…

By Jodi Klein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked First Date Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ellen meets Jim at a posh restaurant, hoping for an evening of fine wine and better conversation. Maria sets out on a walk with a man she's been looking forward to meeting. In First Date Stories, these women, and others, enter into initial liaisons with well-honed expectations-and come out on the other side with extraordinary tales to tell.

Chances are, every woman in her mid-thirties and over who is seeking a loving companion has a first date tale of triumph or disaster. Each of the candid and memorable stories Jodi Klein shares here imparts a bit of wisdom-with the help…

Book cover of Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

Dennis C. Rasmussen Author Of Fears of a Setting Sun: The Disillusionment of America's Founders

From my list on American founders from a political theorist.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a political theorist at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. I spent the first fifteen years or so of my career working on the Scottish and French Enlightenments (Adam Smith, David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire), but in recent years I’ve been drawn more and more to the American founding. In addition to Fears of a Setting Sun, I’m also the author of The Constitution’s Penman: Gouverneur Morris and the Creation of America’s Basic Charter, which explores the constitutional vision of the immensely colorful individual who—unbeknownst to most Americans—wrote the US Constitution.

Dennis' book list on American founders from a political theorist

Dennis C. Rasmussen Why did Dennis love this book?

Joseph Ellis is probably the most popular historian of the founding period, and for good reason: he has few rivals as a storyteller. As with Wood, Ellis has written at least a dozen books that could be included in my list, but Founding Brothers is probably his most well-known, as well as my personal favorite. I assign small bits of it in my American political thought course as a supplement to the primary texts, and students often comment on how much they enjoy reading it.

By Joseph J. Ellis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this landmark work of history, the National Book Award—winning author of American Sphinx explores how a group of greatly gifted but deeply flawed individuals–Hamilton, Burr, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, Adams, and Madison–confronted the overwhelming challenges before them to set the course for our nation.

The United States was more a fragile hope than a reality in 1790. During the decade that followed, the Founding Fathers–re-examined here as Founding Brothers–combined the ideals of the Declaration of Independence with the content of the Constitution to create the practical workings of our government. Through an analysis of six fascinating episodes–Hamilton and Burr’s deadly…

Book cover of Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies

Christopher Beauregard Emery Author Of White House Usher: Stories from the Inside

From my list on from-a-white-house-insiders-perspective.

Why am I passionate about this?

During my twenty-nine nears in the federal government, I maintained a Top Secret clearance while being a CIO, Chief Architect, & Director of various things with the White House, US Congress, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice, where I served in a senior management role for the National Security Division, the agency responsible for serving as the liaison between the Attorney General and the Intelligence Community. Today, my passion is writing about my White House experiences, in both fiction and non-fiction.

Christopher's book list on from-a-white-house-insiders-perspective

Christopher Beauregard Emery Why did Christopher love this book?

J.B. West was a White House Usher from 1941 to 1969. His book details many of his experiences in performing this rare and unique job in the White House, where he personally worked for Presidents (and First Ladies): Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. There have only been three books written by White House Ushers: Ike Hoover, who served from 1904 -1933; J.B. West, 1941-1969; and me, Chris Emery, 1986-1994.

By J. B. West, Mary Lynn Kotz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this New York Times bestseller, the White House chief usher for nearly three decades offers a behind-the-scenes look at America's first families.
J. B. West, chief usher of the White House, directed the operations and maintenance of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue-and coordinated its daily life-at the request of the president and his family. He directed state functions; planned parties, weddings and funerals, gardens and playgrounds, and extensive renovations; and, with a large staff, supervised every activity in the presidential home. For twenty-eight years, first as assistant to the chief usher, then as chief usher, he witnessed national crises and triumphs,…

Book cover of Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds

John Vucetich Author Of Restoring the Balance: What Wolves Tell Us about Our Relationship with Nature

From my list on wild animals and the people who observe them.

Why am I passionate about this?

I study wolves. For the past three decades, much of that interest has focused on understanding the ecology of wolves who inhabit a wilderness island in Lake Superior, North America. I also work to improve the relationship between humans and wolves–knowing very well that wolves are a symbol to so many of all that we love and fear about nature. As a distinguished professor at Michigan Technological University, I teach classes in population ecology and environmental ethics. What ties my interests together is the desire to gain insights from the commingling of science and ethics. 

John's book list on wild animals and the people who observe them

John Vucetich Why did John love this book?

This book is a scientist’s telling of his serious and quirky ambition to know what ravens know. When I got to the description of an experiment whose distinguishing feature was the author wearing a kimono, that’s when I realized I’d been learning as much about the mind of a raven biologist.

I love this book for showing how much more bird brains have in common with human brains–with respect to their capacity for emotion and intellect–than is commonly appreciated.

By Bernd Heinrich,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Heinrich involves us in his quest to get inside the mind of the raven. But as animals can only be spied on by getting quite close, Heinrich adopts ravens, thereby becoming a "raven father," as well as observing them in their natural habitat. He studies their daily routines, and in the process, paints a vivid picture of the ravens' world. At the heart of this book are Heinrich's love and respect for these complex and engaging creatures, and through his keen observation and analysis, we become their intimates too.

Heinrich's passion for ravens has led him around the world in…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in political culture, civilization, and the American Revolutionary War?

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