100 books like Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding

By Daniel Patrick Moynihan,

Here are 100 books that Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding fans have personally recommended if you like Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding. 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 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 A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism

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?

When I was the executive director of the Center for Court Innovation (now the Center for Justice Innovation), I made a habit of sharing interesting essays with the rest of the team.

One of my all-time favorites was Adam Gopnik’s “The Caging of America.” In the essay, Gopnik offers this analysis of how crime was reduced in New York City throughout the 1990s and 2000s: “There was no miracle cure, just the intercession of a thousand smaller sanities.”

The idea that small changes can make a big difference has been a bit of a personal crusade for me ever since. 

In A Thousand Small Sanities, Gopnik expands upon this argument, offering a full-throated defense of liberalism against critics on both the right and the left. 

By Adam Gopnik,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Thousand Small Sanities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'WITTY, HUMANE, LEARNED' NEW YORK TIMES

The New York Times-bestselling author offers a stirring defence of liberalism against the dogmatisms of our time

Not since the early twentieth century has liberalism, and liberals, been under such relentless attack, from both right and left. The crisis of democracy in our era has produced a crisis of faith in liberal institutions and, even worse, in liberal thought.

A Thousand Small Sanities is a manifesto rooted in the lives of people who invented and extended the liberal tradition. Taking us from Montaigne to Mill, and from Middlemarch to the civil rights movement, Adam…


Book cover of Reformers to Radicals: The Appalachian Volunteers and the War on Poverty

Matthew Algeo Author Of All This Marvelous Potential: Robert Kennedy's 1968 Tour of Appalachia

From my list on Appalachia (for people who aren’t from Appalachia).

Why am I passionate about this?

I was born and raised in the suburbs of eastern Pennsylvania, not far from the Appalachian Mountains, but a world away from the place the rest of the country calls “Appalachia.” Researching All This Marvelous Potential, my book about Robert Kennedy’s 1968 tour of eastern Kentucky, was a revelation. Appalachia is rich in Black history, and queer history, and labor history, and a national leader in education. I am a journalist and author. All This Marvelous Potential is my sixth book.

Matthew's book list on Appalachia (for people who aren’t from Appalachia)

Matthew Algeo Why did Matthew love this book?

The Appalachian Volunteers began in the early ’60s as a ragtag group of college kids who spent their summers fixing up one-room schoolhouses in rural Kentucky. With funding from government anti-poverty programs, it grew into a formidable organization dedicated to fighting strip mining and economic injustice. Then it was killed, like so many good things, by the Nixon administration. This superb history of the AVs is really a history of Appalachia—and America—in the 1960s.

By Thomas Kiffmeyer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reformers to Radicals as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Appalachian Volunteers formed in the early 1960s, determined to eliminate poverty through education and vocational training and improve schools and homes in the mountainous regions of the southeastern United States. In Reformers to Radicals: The Appalachian Volunteers and the War on Poverty, Thomas Kiffmeyer illustrates how the activists ultimately failed, mainly because they were indecisive about the fundamental nature of their mission. The AVs, many of them college students, were also distracted by causes not directly connected with the war on poverty, such as civil rights and opposition to the Vietnam War. Despite some progress, the organization finally lost…


Book cover of The Color of Welfare: How Racism Undermined the War on Poverty

Kevin H. Wozniak Author Of The Politics of Crime Prevention: Race, Public Opinion, and the Meaning of Community Safety

From my list on racism and the politics of public investment.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ever since I first visited a prison during college and was shocked by its horrific conditions, I’ve been fascinated with America’s punitiveness—our tolerance for harsh, dehumanizing punishments. I pursued a Ph.D. in criminology in order to better understand the politics of crime and justice. I am constantly searching for “political space” within which to pursue meaningful criminal justice reform without provoking a punitive backlash. I was previously an associate professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and I am now a lecturer in criminology at the National University of Ireland Maynooth.

Kevin's book list on racism and the politics of public investment

Kevin H. Wozniak Why did Kevin love this book?

The Color of Welfare is a classic text on the history of American social policy.

The American welfare state was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal in the wake of the Great Depression. Quadagno explains how Roosevelt compromised with conservative southern members of Congress in order to enact the New Deal into law. These consequences shaped early anti-poverty policies in ways that disproportionately excluded African Americans by design. 

Quadagno then traces how this legacy of racially discriminatory social policymaking continued through President Johnson’s War on Poverty in the 1960s. The Color of Welfare taught me why the American welfare state is so underdeveloped compared to the nations of Western Europe and why it is characterized by so many racial disparities.

By Jill Quadagno,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From Reconstruction to Lyndon Johnson and beyond, Jill Quadagno reveals how American social policy has continuously foundered on issues of race. She draws on extensive primary research to show how social programmes became entwined with the civil rights movement and subsequently suffered by association at the hands of a white backlash.


Book cover of Poverty, by America

Troy Tassier Author Of The Rich Flee and the Poor Take the Bus: How Our Unequal Society Fails Us During Outbreaks

From my list on connecting poor health and poverty.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in rural northern Michigan. My family lived in comfort, never lacking essentials. Yet, many of those living around me had difficulty making ends meet. Many lacked health insurance and year-round jobs. As a child, I viewed my community as normal and typical of the American experience. In many ways, it was–in part, that is the point of this list. At the time, I didn’t know that we could do better for those around me who worked so hard daily. Now I do. I selected these books to highlight the vast disparities between those with and without the comfort and luxury of good health.    

Troy's book list on connecting poor health and poverty

Troy Tassier Why did Troy love this book?

From the opening page, Desmond challenges us to confront our role in maintaining poverty in America. He uses simple examples: Why do we view a tax deduction for home mortgage interest differently than a housing voucher for a low-income renter? Both are government subsidies, yet many people consider the first one “earned” and the second one a “handout.”

Desmond provides many similar examples that force us to confront the varied ways that our society maintains an ongoing underclass. He makes clear that the maintenance of poverty is a choice. If we truly want to end poverty, we can, and he provides a roadmap for us to do so. So, do we maintain the status quo or join Desmond as a “poverty abolitionist?”  It’s our choice. 

By Matthew Desmond,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Poverty, by America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Evicted reimagines the debate on poverty, making a “provocative and compelling” (NPR) argument about why it persists in America: because the rest of us benefit from it.

“Urgent and accessible . . . Its moral force is a gut punch.”—The New Yorker
 
ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2023: The Washington Post, Time, Esquire, Newsweek, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Elle, Salon, Lit Hub, Kirkus Reviews

The United States, the richest country on earth, has more poverty than any other advanced democracy. Why? Why does this land of plenty allow…


Book cover of The Injustice of Place: Uncovering the Legacy of Poverty in America

Troy Tassier Author Of The Rich Flee and the Poor Take the Bus: How Our Unequal Society Fails Us During Outbreaks

From my list on connecting poor health and poverty.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in rural northern Michigan. My family lived in comfort, never lacking essentials. Yet, many of those living around me had difficulty making ends meet. Many lacked health insurance and year-round jobs. As a child, I viewed my community as normal and typical of the American experience. In many ways, it was–in part, that is the point of this list. At the time, I didn’t know that we could do better for those around me who worked so hard daily. Now I do. I selected these books to highlight the vast disparities between those with and without the comfort and luxury of good health.    

Troy's book list on connecting poor health and poverty

Troy Tassier Why did Troy love this book?

People often think of poverty as an urban phenomenon, but many of the most impoverished locations in the US are distinctly rural–and many of the families living in these places have faced poverty for decades.

This book took me on a tour through several of these towns in the hills of Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, and other small towns dotted throughout the country. Along the way, I saw how perpetual poverty is derived from the deep and long-lasting history of slavery, Jim Crow, and the firm exploitation of the less fortunate. Each of these, and more, bring poverty to the present.

This book forced me to consider the many simultaneous and interrelated aspects of poverty and explained to me why poverty of place is so hard to change without concentrated and multifaceted effort.

By Kathryn J. Edin, H. Luke Shaefer, Timothy J. Nelson

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A sweeping and surprising new understanding of extreme poverty in America from the authors of the acclaimed $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America. 

“This book forces you to see American poverty in a whole new light.” (Matthew Desmond, author of Poverty, by America and Evicted)

 Three of the nation’s top scholars ­– known for tackling key mysteries about poverty in America – turn their attention from the country’s poorest people to its poorest places. Based on a fresh, data-driven approach, they discover that America’s most disadvantaged communities are not the big cities that get the most notice.…


Book cover of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America

Robert L. Tsai Author Of Demand the Impossible: One Lawyer's Pursuit of Equal Justice for All

From my list on the role of race and poverty in the criminal justice system.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a law professor at Boston University who has studied and written about constitutional law, democracy, and inequality for over 20 years. I’m troubled by America’s rise to become the world’s leader in imprisoning its own citizens and the continued use of inhumane policing and punishment practices. These trends must be better understood before we can come up with a form of politics that can overcome our slide into a darker version of ourselves. 

Robert's book list on the role of race and poverty in the criminal justice system

Robert L. Tsai Why did Robert love this book?

I loved this book about the War on Crime for its deep research and historical sweep.

Hinton amasses a great deal of material about federal laws and agency priorities to go with changes in policing strategy on the ground (e.g., stop and frisk, militarization of policing equipment) to tell a disturbing story about how mass incarceration was developed as a national priority and carried out. Haunting.

By Elizabeth Hinton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Co-Winner of the Thomas J. Wilson Memorial Prize
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A Wall Street Journal Favorite Book of the Year
A Choice Outstanding Academic Title of the Year
A Publishers Weekly Favorite Book of the Year

In the United States today, one in every thirty-one adults is under some form of penal control, including one in eleven African American men. How did the "land of the free" become the home of the world's largest prison system? Challenging the belief that America's prison problem originated with the…


Book cover of The Passage of Power

Don Glickstein Author Of After Yorktown: The Final Struggle for American Independence

From my list on political biographies that are well written.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Massachusetts, which produced four presidents and untold presidential candidates including Mitt Romney, Mike Dukakis, John Kerry, Elizabeth Warren, and Gov. William Butler, who ran in 1884. My first career was as a newspaper reporter and editor, and I worked for papers in Massachusetts, New York, Colorado, and Washington state. I’ve dabbled in politics myself, working as a campaign press secretary for the late Washington Gov. Booth Gardner. Newspapers gave me an abiding hatred for adverbs, the passive voice, and bias in word selection. (No, historians shouldn’t use “patriot” in describing the Revolution’s American rebels, because loyalists and Indian nations were just as patriotic in their own minds.)

Don's book list on political biographies that are well written

Don Glickstein Why did Don love this book?

Imagine you’re Vice President Lyndon Johnson on Nov. 22, 1963. The Secret Service just hustled you into a secure room at the Dallas hospital where doctors are desperately trying to keep President John F. Kennedy alive after an assassination attempt. What’s going through your mind? If Kennedy dies, what are your next steps? Robert Caro found out. Pulitzer-winner Caro is the greatest historian of our lifetime—and a brilliant, accessible writer who makes it impossible to put down a 700-page nonfiction book. The Passage of Power is the fourth of a planned five-volume biography of Johnson, the man who helped turn Martin Luther King’s dream into reality, and then self-imploded with the Vietnam War. Caro’s final volume will be an instant best-seller.

By Robert A. Caro,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE, THE MARK LYNTON HISTORY PRIZE, THE AMERICAN HISTORY BOOK PRIZE

Book Four of Robert A. Caro’s monumental The Years of Lyndon Johnson displays all the narrative energy and illuminating insight that led the Times of London to acclaim it as “one of the truly great political biographies of the modern age. A masterpiece.”

The Passage of Power follows Lyndon Johnson through both the most frustrating and the most triumphant periods of his career—1958 to1964. It is a time that would see him trade the extraordinary power…


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