100 books like Making Democracy Work

By Robert D. Putnam, Robert Leonardi, Raffaella Y. Nanetti

Here are 100 books that Making Democracy Work fans have personally recommended if you like Making Democracy Work. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Book cover of The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America

June Carolyn Erlick Author Of A Gringa in Bogotá: Living Colombia's Invisible War

From my list on classics for understanding Latin America.

Why am I passionate about this?

I accidentally fell in love with Latin America, a love that has lasted my lifetime. When I was young, I lived in a Dominican neighborhood in New York, learning Spanish from my neighbors. After I graduated from Columbia Graduate School of Journalism I got a job covering the Cuban community in New Jersey because I spoke Spanish. Eventually I ended up living in Colombia and then Managua as a foreign correspondent. Now I edit a magazine at Harvard about Latin America. It's not just the news that interests me; I love the cadence of the language, the smell and taste of its varied cuisine, the warmth of the people, the culture, and, yes, soccer.

June's book list on classics for understanding Latin America

June Carolyn Erlick Why did June love this book?

Greg Grandin is a historian's historian, a brilliant researcher, a captivating writer. It's honestly hard to pick which of his books to feature here. But since The End of the Myth won the Pultizer Prize, I'll choose it as my favorite. What I loved about this book is that it gives me a new perspective about the history of my own country—about which, frankly, I do not know that much—and the region I have reported on for most of my life, Latin America. He makes connections and does so in a compelling fashion.

The book focuses on the United States and the border, but it sheds much light on how the myth of manifest destiny has shaped the way we think of ourselves and our relationship with our southern neighbors.

By Greg Grandin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE

A new and eye-opening interpretation of the meaning of the frontier, from early westward expansion to Trump’s border wall.

Ever since this nation’s inception, the idea of an open and ever-expanding frontier has been central to American identity. Symbolizing a future of endless promise, it was the foundation of the United States’ belief in itself as an exceptional nation – democratic, individualistic, forward-looking. Today, though, America hasa new symbol: the border wall.

In The End of the Myth, acclaimed historian Greg Grandin explores the meaning of the frontier throughout the full sweep of U.S. history…


Book cover of Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life

Gerard A. Hauser Author Of Vernacular Voices: The Rhetoric of Publics and Public Spheres

From my list on why ordinary citizen voices matter to a democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the grandson of a political refugee. My grandfather was a gunrunner in the Greek resistance to Turkish occupation of Chios prior to the 1st Balkan War. His guerilla activity placed his life in danger. He fled pursuit by the Turks, which led to his eventual emigration to the United States. From childhood my family experience was of lively discussions that were inflected by my grandfather’s experience of resistance and US citizenship. They sparked my fascination with the role of citizen voices in a democracy. That was a main focus of my academic career, teaching rhetoric for more than 40 years at Penn State University and the University of Colorado Boulder.

Gerard's book list on why ordinary citizen voices matter to a democracy

Gerard A. Hauser Why did Gerard love this book?

The idea of citizenship is vague and can be complicated. Sometimes it refers to a person recognized as a natural-born or naturalized denizen of a nation, sometimes the right to cast a ballot, sometimes law-abiding behavior, sometimes civic engagement, and, too seldom, engaging in public work. Bellah and his associates conducted a series of interviews with ordinary citizens across the US to ascertain their understanding and values with respect to private and public (citizenly) life.

Overwhelmingly, those interviewed (mostly white, middle-class Americans) attached great value to their private lives, while acknowledging the importance of civic participation. They commonly expressed a belief that they should be publicly involved. However, when they discussed public life, they had a limited range of ideas about what that participation might look like, especially compared to the rich descriptions they offered for private life and why they valued it so. 

Among others, Habits raises the question…

By Robert N. Bellah,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

First published in 1985, "Habits of the Heart" continues to be one of the most discussed interpretations of modern American society, a quest for a democratic community that draws on our diverse civic and religious traditions. In a new preface the authors relate the arguments of the book both to the current realities of American society and to the growing debate about the country's future. With this new edition one of the most influential books of recent times takes on a new immediacy.


Book cover of Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts

William Clare Roberts Author Of Marx's Inferno: The Political Theory of Capital

From my list on understanding how power works.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a teacher, a student, and a reader by trade (that is, a university professor), and I spend most of my time trying to understand social and political power: why some people have it, and others don’t, how it circulates and changes (gradually or suddenly), why it sometimes oppresses us and sometimes liberates, how it can be created and destroyed. I mostly do this by reading and teaching the history of political theory, which I am lucky enough to do at McGill University, in conversation and cooperation with some wonderful colleagues.

William's book list on understanding how power works

William Clare Roberts Why did William love this book?

I think Scott is one of the most creative social scientists working today, and this book is probably his strongest work.

Scott flips the script and focuses attention on the strategies subordinates use to navigate and deal with the power of their social superiors. He has great faith in the abilities of ordinary people to mock and hoodwink the powerful and to create for themselves little refuges from kings, bosses, and overlords.

I go back to this book all the time because it is a treasure trove of wonderful anecdotes, too.

By James C. Scott,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"A splendid study, surely one of the most important that has appeared on the whole matter of power and resistance."-Natalie Zemon Davis

Confrontations between the powerless and powerful are laden with deception-the powerless feign deference and the powerful subtly assert their mastery. Peasants, serfs, untouchables, slaves, laborers, and prisoners are not free to speak their minds in the presence of power. These subordinate groups instead create a secret discourse that represents a critique of power spoken behind the backs of the dominant. At the same time, the powerful also develop a private dialogue about practices and goals of their rule…


Book cover of Challenges of Ordinary Democracy: A Case Study in Deliberation and Dissent

Gerard A. Hauser Author Of Vernacular Voices: The Rhetoric of Publics and Public Spheres

From my list on why ordinary citizen voices matter to a democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the grandson of a political refugee. My grandfather was a gunrunner in the Greek resistance to Turkish occupation of Chios prior to the 1st Balkan War. His guerilla activity placed his life in danger. He fled pursuit by the Turks, which led to his eventual emigration to the United States. From childhood my family experience was of lively discussions that were inflected by my grandfather’s experience of resistance and US citizenship. They sparked my fascination with the role of citizen voices in a democracy. That was a main focus of my academic career, teaching rhetoric for more than 40 years at Penn State University and the University of Colorado Boulder.

Gerard's book list on why ordinary citizen voices matter to a democracy

Gerard A. Hauser Why did Gerard love this book?

Perhaps the most widespread engagement by ordinary citizens in political relations is with the education of their children. School boards are increasingly regarded as a site of passionate political contest over what our children will learn, especially when it comes to learning history and its consequences for their understanding of their community and nation. Challenges of Ordinary Democracy reports on three years in the life of a local school board. The voices of administrators, teachers, parents, and the press are examined when dissent takes center stage in the school board’s deliberations. Given that ordinary citizens will disagree, often vehemently, Tracy asks us to consider the parameters of reasonable hostility and why reasonable hostility is important for the voices of ordinary citizens to matter in deciding issues that affect their lives.  

By Karen Tracy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Challenges of Ordinary Democracy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Is there any place in America where passionate debate plays a more vital role in democratic discourse than local school board meetings? Karen Tracy conducted a thirty-five-month study of the board meetings of the Boulder Valley School District between 1996 and 1999 to analyze just how democracy operates in practice. In Challenges of Ordinary Democracy, she reveals the major role that emotion plays in real-life debate and discerns value in what might easily be seen as negative forms of discourse-voicing platitudes, making contradictory assertions, arguing over a document's wording, speaking angrily, attacking a person's character. By illuminating this one arena…


Book cover of Anti-Politics Machine: Development, Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho

James A. Robinson Author Of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

From my list on Africa.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a social scientist who has been doing fieldwork and research in Africa since 1999. For me, there’s no more fascinating part of the planet – Africa is the cradle of civilization, more diverse than anywhere else and culturally and institutionally vibrant and creative. I have worked in Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Zimbabwe investigating the determinants of political institutions and economic prosperity. I have taught courses on Africa at Harvard University, the University of Chicago, the University of Ghana at Legon and this summer the University of Nigeria in Nsukka.

James' book list on Africa

James A. Robinson Why did James love this book?

Many people get involved with Africa through their concern for its’ poverty and with a genuine desire to help “develop” Africa. Ferguson’s analysis shows how counter-productive this is without an understanding of the ways in which African society differs from western society. Much social theory is generalizations based on interpretations of western development. These ideas are then projected into Africa on the basis that the more they are like us, the more developed they will be. I hope these five books help you un-learn this perspective and embrace the originality and genius of Africa.

By James Ferguson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Development, it is generally assumed, is good and necessary, and in its name the West has intervened, implementing all manner of projects in the impoverished regions of the world. When these projects fail, as they do with astonishing regularity, they nonetheless produce a host of regular and unacknowledged effects, including the expansion of bureaucratic state power and the translation of the political realities of poverty and powerlessness into "technical" problems awaiting solution by "development" agencies and experts. It is the political intelligibility of these effects, along with the process that produces them, that this book seeks to illuminate through a…


Book cover of Governing Africa's Forests in a Globalized World

Carol J. Pierce Colfer Author Of Adaptive Collaborative Management in Forest Landscapes: Villagers, Bureaucrats and Civil Society

From my list on to bring people into forest management.

Why am I passionate about this?

This topic, adaptive collaborative management, has been dear to my heart for nearly a quarter of a century (indeed longer if one includes my involvement in farming systems research and development, a similar agricultural concept with less emphasis on the environment). I have long felt that deep involvement with local communities is crucial if we want to avoid ‘the sins of the past’ in conservation and development. My hope and that of my colleagues has been that by involving local people in a respectful, iterative, inclusive, learning, collaborative process, together we can steer policies and actions in a benign direction that may in fact endure (unlike most such projects). 

Carol's book list on to bring people into forest management

Carol J. Pierce Colfer Why did Carol love this book?

This book is the fourth in a series on forest decentralization globally, a series for which I edited the other three books. So I was gratified to see how this one turned out. I appreciate it because it provides some of the same contextual material on governance in Africa – an area I know less well that the book by Moeliono et al. provided for Borneo. Some of the authors and one editor had also been members of the original ACM teams in Africa (in the early 2000s), bringing some of their own related insights into the discussion. 

By Laura Anne German (editor), Alain Karsenty (editor), Anne Marie Tiani (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Governing Africa's Forests in a Globalized World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Many countries around the world are engaged in decentralization processes, and most African countries face serious problems with forest governance, from benefits sharing to illegality and sustainable forest management. This book summarizes experiences to date on the extent and nature of decentralization and its outcomes - most of which suggest an underperformance of governance reforms - and explores the viability of different governance instruments in the context of weak governance and expanding commercial pressures over forests.

Findings are grouped into two thematic areas: decentralization, livelihoods and sustainable forest management; and international trade, finance and forest sector governance reforms. The authors…


Book cover of A Valley in Italy: The Many Seasons of a Villa in Umbria

Dominic Smith Author Of Return to Valetto

From my list on armchair travel through Italy and Italian history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve just spent the last few years writing Return to Valetto, about a nearly abandoned village in Umbria and the last ten people who live there. In 2018, I received an NEA grant to conduct research in Italy and I visited about a dozen abandoned and nearly abandoned towns all across Italy. While I was traveling, I immersed myself in books about Italy—from history and biography to memoir and fiction. The books on my list were stepping stones in my education about all things Italian and I hope you find them as transporting as I did!

Dominic's book list on armchair travel through Italy and Italian history

Dominic Smith Why did Dominic love this book?

If you’ve ever fantasized about restoring a crumbling medieval Italian villa, then you’ll get to live that experience vicariously through this memoir.

The author has a wonderful sense of the absurd as she recounts her family’s multi-year efforts to turn a roofless villa into their dream home, complete with a complicated teenage daughter who is trying to find her way in the rural Italian countryside where the family has been transplanted.

Brimming with idiosyncratic and endearing characters. 

By Lisa St Aubin De Teran,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Valley in Italy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The author recounts a year she spent in San Orsela, a small town in the Umbrian hils of Italy, sharing portraits of her Italian friends and a celebration of the seasonal cycle


Book cover of Emotional Arenas: Life, Love, and Death in 1870s Italy

Barbara H. Rosenwein Author Of Love: A History in Five Fantasies

From my list on the history of emotions.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a writer, teacher, and researcher who has always been interested in my own emotions and those of others. But I decided to write about the emotions of the past only after I became a historian of the Middle Ages. My discoveries began with the early medieval period. Now I enjoy looking at the full sweep of Western history. I have come to realize that at no time did we all share the same feelings nor evaluate them the same way. Instead, we live and have always lived in “emotional communities” with others who share our feelings—and alongside still others who do not. I hope my booklist will pique your interest in this new and exciting field.

Barbara's book list on the history of emotions

Barbara H. Rosenwein Why did Barbara love this book?

To the many approaches of modern historians—the emotional standards of the Stearnses, the emotional regimes of Reddy, the emotional communities of my own work—Mark Seymour here adds an important dimension, a study of the places and media in which emotions are expressed, from the courtroom to the love letter. He shows not only how emotions aroused by one venue may mean different things to different people, but also how the clash of such emotions may help modify and mold new forms of emotional expression and create new objects of emotional focus.

By Mark Seymour,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Based on the records of a murder trial that transfixed all of Italy in the late 1870s, this study makes use of a dramatic court case to develop a new paradigm for the history of emotions - the 'emotional arena'. Set in the decade following Italian unification, the context was one of notable cultural variety. An as-yet unexplored aspect of this was that the experience and expression of emotions were as variable as the regions making up the new nation. Through a close
examination of the spaces in which daily lives, loves, and deaths unfolded - from marital homes to…


Book cover of Police Power in the Italian Communes, 1228-1326

Jill Leovy Author Of Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America

From my list on escaping the true-crime rut.

Why am I passionate about this?

Jill Leovy, author of Ghettoside, is a journalist and independent researcher who covered the Los Angeles Police Department and homicide for fifteen years, and who is currently working on a book dealing with murder and feud in human history. She has covered hundreds of street homicides and shadowed patrol cops, and she spent several years embedded in homicide detective units. More recently, she has been a Harvard sociology fellow and a featured speaker on Homer and violence at St. John's College, New Mexico. She is a senior fellow at the USC Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.

Jill's book list on escaping the true-crime rut

Jill Leovy Why did Jill love this book?

This is a much-needed antidote to the navel-gazing tendencies of American criminal justice thought.

Reading contemporary treatments, you might almost be fooled into thinking that certain types of police controversies have a specifically American – or at least modern origin. They don't. In fact, the peculiar challenges of policing and its inevitable discontents might even be universal.

Certainly, they were present at an early stage in medieval Italy, long before the first English "bobbies" ever dawned a uniform. Use-of-force controversies, weapons prohibitions, reluctant witnesses, hostile crowds, simmering beefs among local gangsters: it's all here. Roberts' medieval world so eerily resembles our own when it comes to law enforcement that one ends up surprised to encounter any differences at all.

Here's one, though: medieval town dwellers did not have cell phones with which to film the cops misdeeds. Instead, they hollered for notaries to scribble records on the spot.

By Gregory Roberts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Police Power in the Italian Communes, 1228-1326 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Medieval states are widely assumed to have lacked police forces. Yet in the Italian city-republics, soldiers patrolled the streets daily in search of lawbreakers. Police Power in the Italian Communes, 1228-1326 is the first book to examine the emergence of urban policing in medieval Italy and its impact on city life. Focusing on Bologna in the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, Gregory Roberts shows how police forces gave teeth to the communes' many statutes through a range of patrol activities. Whether seeking outlaws in the countryside or nighttime serenaders in the streets, urban police forces pursued lawbreakers energetically and effectively.…


Book cover of That Night

Sarah Clarke Author Of Every Little Secret

From my list on psychological thrillers with secrets from the past.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a writer of psychological thrillers. I have a keen interest in psychology and how events and experiences in our childhood shape who we become. When I work on a new book, I always build a detailed profile of my characters’ childhoods – and as I write thrillers, these are often challenging ones with issues like narcissistic parents or siblings, coping with grief, mental illness, or bullying. My plot will always be at least partly driven by the secrets my characters form in their childhood or early life, and so I also really value this depth in the psychological thrillers I read.

Sarah's book list on psychological thrillers with secrets from the past

Sarah Clarke Why did Sarah love this book?

The first thing that drew me into this book is the feeling of “I could see that happening… what would I do if it were me?” The second really enticing element comes when McAllister introduces a future timeline where the three siblings have had a falling out and their cover-up plan seems to have not worked. There is then a constant question of how did they get from here to there? The book is further enriched by the interesting relationships between the two sisters and brother. They each have their role in the family dynamic, largely set by a traumatic event in their childhood, and these have a significant impact on how they respond – individually and collectively – to this new highly stressful event.

By Gillian McAllister,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

THE SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLING RICHARD & JUDY SUMMER PICK AND THIS SUMMER'S MOST COMPULSIVE NOVEL

'Incredibly tense and gripping' ADELE PARKS
'Kept me guessing and kept me fooled. Clever, pacy and so gripping that my heart raced' C.L. TAYOR
'This absolutely blew me away. Properly unputdownable' 5***** READER REVIEW
'Another unputdownable what-would-you-do thriller, rich with McAllister's trademark twists and emotional depth' ERIN KELLY
________

What would you do to protect your family?

ANYTHING.

During a family holiday in Italy, you get an urgent call from your sister.

There's been an accident: she hit a man with her car and he's…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Italy, democracy, and presidential biography?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Italy, democracy, and presidential biography.

Italy Explore 391 books about Italy
Democracy Explore 114 books about democracy
Presidential Biography Explore 19 books about presidential biography