100 books like Sustaining Democracy

By Robert B. Talisse,

Here are 100 books that Sustaining Democracy fans have personally recommended if you like Sustaining Democracy. 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 Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Larry Cahoone Author Of The Emergence of Value: Human Norms in a Natural World

From my list on history and science books that tell us who we are now.

Why am I passionate about this?

A philosophy professor, my central interest has always been something historical: what is going on in this strange modern world we live in? Addressing this required forty years of background work in the natural sciences, history, social sciences, and the variety of contemporary philosophical theories that try to put them all together. In the process, I taught philosophy courses on philosophical topics, social theory, and the sciences, wrote books, and produced video courses, mostly focused on that central interest. The books listed are some of my favorites to read and to teach. They are crucial steps on the journey to understand who we are in this unprecedented modern world.

Larry's book list on history and science books that tell us who we are now

Larry Cahoone Why did Larry love this book?

Best recent book examining human morality from a scientific, psychological point of view.

Darwinians used to think humans had to be selfish and immoral. Contemporary evolution argues the opposite, that humans evolved moral limits on our selfishness in order to live together. Haidt’s is the best book presenting this new evolutionary psychology.

But it goes further to connect those scientific issues with contemporary politics, explaining why people from “red” and “blue” states cannot understand each other: they each embody a short list of human moral values, but different ones. This is a great book for thinking carefully about human morality and contemporary politics. Students love it, and so do I. 

By Jonathan Haidt,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked The Righteous Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A landmark contribution to humanity's understanding of itself' The New York Times

Why can it sometimes feel as though half the population is living in a different moral universe? Why do ideas such as 'fairness' and 'freedom' mean such different things to different people? Why is it so hard to see things from another viewpoint? Why do we come to blows over politics and religion?

Jonathan Haidt reveals that we often find it hard to get along because our minds are hardwired to be moralistic, judgemental and self-righteous. He explores how morality evolved to enable us to form communities, and…


Book cover of The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict

Zachary Elwood Author Of Defusing American Anger: A Guide to Understanding Our Fellow Citizens and Reducing Us-vs-Them Polarization

From my list on healing the political divides in America.

Why am I passionate about this?

For my psychology podcast, I’ve interviewed many political and psychology experts on the subject of political polarization and conflict resolution. That led to me writing my book Defusing American Anger. I believe extreme us-vs-them polarization is humanity’s biggest problem: I see it as an existential threat not just to specific nations, including America, but to humanity as a whole, especially as our weapons and technologies get more powerful. And I think we need more people working on reducing our seemingly natural tendency to always be fighting with each other. 

Zachary's book list on healing the political divides in America

Zachary Elwood Why did Zachary love this book?

This book is not about America, and not directly about politics or political polarization. It's a well-known conflict resolution book. I included it because I think it might help some people see our divides through a different and more healthy lens. 

This book uses an engaging fictional premise to walk through some important points about resolving conflict. For example, it talks about how even when we're sure we're right in a conflict (as most people in conflicts tend to be), we may still be wrong in how we treat others. And it talks about how our animosity and contempt towards others can cause them to behave in the very ways that most upset us.

By The Arbinger Institute,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the authors of Leadership and Self-Deception (over 2 million copies sold) comes a new edition of this bestseller that has been thoroughly revised to more effectively address the diversity, equity, and inclusion challenges that plague our communities and hinder our organizations.

What if conflicts at home, at work, and in the world stem from the same root cause? What if we systematically misunderstand that cause? And what if, as a result, we unwittingly perpetuate the very problems we think we are trying to solve?

The Anatomy of Peace uses a fictional story of an Arab and a Jew—both of…


Book cover of The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker

Taylor Dotson Author Of The Divide: How Fanatical Certitude Is Destroying Democracy

From my list on healing America’s dying democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Conflict and disagreement have always interested me. I was a middle child, so I naturally fell into the role of peacemaker. But I also had strong opinions, and I always thought I knew the right answer. The pursuit of education, love, and a career brought me to rural Montana, an Asian metropolis, and everywhere in between. These experiences deepened my fascination regarding how people could have such different beliefs, and how we are to live together despite those differences. A PhD in Science and Technology Studies, supervised by a political scientist, sent me on the path to diagnosing what ails American democracy, and what the cure might be.

Taylor's book list on healing America’s dying democracy

Taylor Dotson Why did Taylor love this book?

Before Trump, there was Scott Walker. The controversial former governor of Wisconsin, Walker waged war against the state’s unionized public employees and universities.

I tell everyone I know to read this book, because it is an honest and incisive portrayal of why rural people vote for politicians like Walker and Trump. Too often leftists seem to want to unfairly dismiss all rural conservatives as hopelessly ignorant, racist, or even worse. The Politics of Rural Resentment’s humanizing portrayal helped me to better understand the motivations of people who don’t live in urban centers.

If we are to bridge the divides in this country, it will be only by following Cramer’s lead.

By Katherine Cramer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Since the election of Scott Walker, Wisconsin has been seen as ground zero for debates about the appropriate role of government in the wake of the Great Recession. In a time of rising inequality, Walker not only survived a bitterly contested recall that brought thousands of protesters to Capitol Square, he was subsequently reelected. How could this happen? How is it that the very people who stand to benefit from strong government services not only vote against the candidates who support those services but are vehemently against the very idea of big government?

With The Politics of Resentment, Katherine J.…


Book cover of Dealing with an Angry Public: The Mutual Gains Approach to Resolving Disputes

Taylor Dotson Author Of The Divide: How Fanatical Certitude Is Destroying Democracy

From my list on healing America’s dying democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Conflict and disagreement have always interested me. I was a middle child, so I naturally fell into the role of peacemaker. But I also had strong opinions, and I always thought I knew the right answer. The pursuit of education, love, and a career brought me to rural Montana, an Asian metropolis, and everywhere in between. These experiences deepened my fascination regarding how people could have such different beliefs, and how we are to live together despite those differences. A PhD in Science and Technology Studies, supervised by a political scientist, sent me on the path to diagnosing what ails American democracy, and what the cure might be.

Taylor's book list on healing America’s dying democracy

Taylor Dotson Why did Taylor love this book?

This book is a classic. I recommend it to all my students. While the events discussed are dated: Three Mile Island, silicone breast implants, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, I found the lessons to be perennial.

Lawrence Susskind and Patrick Field show that when companies or government agencies focus on defending themselves during a crisis and fail to take responsibility, public confidence is only further eroded. I really enjoyed that, in the end, Dealing with an Angry Public is a practical guide to restoring and keeping trust, one that professionals in nuclear energy, public health, and other controversial fields would do well to read and understand. 

By Lawrence Susskind, Patrick Field,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dealing with an Angry Public as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Some portion of the American public will react negatively to almost any new corporate initiative, as Disney discovered when it announced its plans to build an historical theme park in Virginia. Similarly, government efforts to change policy or shift budget priorities are invariably met with stiff resistance. In this enormously practical book, Lawrence Susskind and Patrick Field analyze scores of both private and public-sector cases, as well as crisis scenarios such as the Alaskan oil spill, the silicone breast implant controversy, and nuclear plant malfunction at Three Mile Island. They show how resistance to both public and private initiatives can…


Book cover of Vaccine Hesitancy: Public Trust, Expertise, and the War on Science

Taylor Dotson Author Of The Divide: How Fanatical Certitude Is Destroying Democracy

From my list on healing America’s dying democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Conflict and disagreement have always interested me. I was a middle child, so I naturally fell into the role of peacemaker. But I also had strong opinions, and I always thought I knew the right answer. The pursuit of education, love, and a career brought me to rural Montana, an Asian metropolis, and everywhere in between. These experiences deepened my fascination regarding how people could have such different beliefs, and how we are to live together despite those differences. A PhD in Science and Technology Studies, supervised by a political scientist, sent me on the path to diagnosing what ails American democracy, and what the cure might be.

Taylor's book list on healing America’s dying democracy

Taylor Dotson Why did Taylor love this book?

Despite ever louder calls to “follow the science,” vaccine skepticism only seems to be rising.

Maya Goldenberg’s arguments helped me see why handwringing over the “war on expertise” fails and how we could do better. She shows that the crisis is rooted in declining public trust of medical institutions. Vaccine Hesitancy helped open my eyes to a critical fact: Medical skepticism is a rational response to a history of research scandals, corporate misconduct, and discrimination.

I honestly believe that had public officials paid attention to books like Vaccine Hesitancy, the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic would not have torn Americans apart. 

By Maya J. Goldenberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The public has voiced concern over the adverse effects of vaccines from the moment Dr. Edward Jenner introduced the first smallpox vaccine in 1796. The controversy over childhood immunization intensified in 1998, when Dr. Andrew Wakefield linked the MMR vaccine to autism. Although Wakefield's findings were later discredited and retracted, and medical and scientific evidence suggests routine immunizations have significantly reduced life-threatening conditions like measles, whooping cough, and polio, vaccine refusal and vaccine-preventable outbreaks are on the rise.

This book explores vaccine hesitancy and refusal among parents in the industrialized North. Although biomedical, public health, and popular science literature has…


Book cover of Defusing American Anger: A Guide to Understanding Our Fellow Citizens and Reducing Us-vs-Them Polarization

Daniel F. Stone Author Of Undue Hate: A Behavioral Economic Analysis of Hostile Polarization in US Politics and Beyond

From my list on understanding and defusing political polarization in America.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been doing research on polarization for most of my career as an economist and have focused on affective polarization in US politics since 2015. As a behavioral economist, I’m interested in how false and biased beliefs contribute to affective polarization. As a microeconomist I’m also generally interested in economy—not “the economy,” but the efficient use of resources—and affective polarization leads to a lot of wasted time and resources. This happens in politics at all levels, and in relationships of all types—neighbors, colleagues, spouses, siblings—as we all know from experience. So, I’m hoping to try to understand this bias better and cut down on it where we can.

Daniel's book list on understanding and defusing political polarization in America

Daniel F. Stone Why did Daniel love this book?

This book is quite different from the others on my list in that the author is a total outsider to politics: Elwood is a former professional poker player.

But it’s the book that resonates with me the most as it directly makes the case that affective polarization is bad for the country and is to a large extent misguided—and citizens across the spectrum should actively try to overcome and fight it. Elwood writes informally and engagingly while still referring to tons of academic research and tackling many thorny recent issues in detail.

If there was one book that I would ask my most polarized fellow Americans to read carefully this would probably be it. Poker champs tend to be astute observers of human psychology—think Annie Duke and Maria Konnikova—and Elwood maintains this tradition. 

By Zachary Elwood,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This is a book about our American divides by Zachary Elwood, host of the psychology podcast People Who Read People. Learn more about this book and its author at www.American-Anger.com.

"I can’t think of anyone I’ve seen who better practices what they preach, who better lives their ideals about depolarization. His book has an earnest, vulnerable, plainspoken style which parallels his speaking style in his podcast. He seems throughout to anticipate negative reactions from readers on both the left and the right..." - from a review by David Foster at KnowTheSystem.org

America is deeply divided. We don't just disagree on…


Book cover of Undue Hate: A Behavioral Economic Analysis of Hostile Polarization in US Politics and Beyond

Zachary Elwood Author Of Defusing American Anger: A Guide to Understanding Our Fellow Citizens and Reducing Us-vs-Them Polarization

From my list on healing the political divides in America.

Why am I passionate about this?

For my psychology podcast, I’ve interviewed many political and psychology experts on the subject of political polarization and conflict resolution. That led to me writing my book Defusing American Anger. I believe extreme us-vs-them polarization is humanity’s biggest problem: I see it as an existential threat not just to specific nations, including America, but to humanity as a whole, especially as our weapons and technologies get more powerful. And I think we need more people working on reducing our seemingly natural tendency to always be fighting with each other. 

Zachary's book list on healing the political divides in America

Zachary Elwood Why did Zachary love this book?

A major factor in our extreme polarization is the distorted, overly pessimistic views people on both sides can have of their fellow citizens.

As Stone points out, we can dislike the people on the "other side" much more than we should, even based on our own standards for disliking people. If you're looking for an in-depth, academic examination of our "undue hate," this is the book to read. 

Our distorted perceptions are very important because the animosity and disrespect and insults we aim at the "other side" helps create their animosity, which in turn gives more power to highly polarized and polarizing leaders, and other influencers.

By Daniel F. Stone,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How to understand the mistakes we make about those on the other side of the political spectrum—and how they drive the affective polarization that is tearing us apart.

It’s well known that the political divide in the United States—particularly between Democrats and Republicans—has grown to alarming levels in recent decades. Affective polarization—emotional polarization, or the hostility between the parties—has reached an unprecedented fever pitch. In Undue Hate, Daniel F. Stone tackles the biases undergirding affective polarization head-on. Stone explains why we often develop objectively false, and overly negative, beliefs about the other side—causing us to dislike them more than we…


Book cover of Our Common Bonds: Using What Americans Share to Help Bridge the Partisan Divide

Zachary Elwood Author Of Defusing American Anger: A Guide to Understanding Our Fellow Citizens and Reducing Us-vs-Them Polarization

From my list on healing the political divides in America.

Why am I passionate about this?

For my psychology podcast, I’ve interviewed many political and psychology experts on the subject of political polarization and conflict resolution. That led to me writing my book Defusing American Anger. I believe extreme us-vs-them polarization is humanity’s biggest problem: I see it as an existential threat not just to specific nations, including America, but to humanity as a whole, especially as our weapons and technologies get more powerful. And I think we need more people working on reducing our seemingly natural tendency to always be fighting with each other. 

Zachary's book list on healing the political divides in America

Zachary Elwood Why did Zachary love this book?

Due to the overly negative, pessimistic views we often have of each other, we'll often miss the many things we have in common. This is what Levendusky's book focuses on.

He examines survey results that show us that, despite many people's perceptions, Democrats and Republicans actually have a surprising amount in common. And this is especially true when you ask about people's policy preferences and remove the more polarizing party-associated language and labels. 

Making our culture less toxic will require us to focus more on our common bonds, and less on those things that drive us apart. The more we adjust that focus, the more we'll shift how people view their fellow Americans and our divides, and the more we’ll create a culture of healthier disagreement.

By Matthew Levendusky,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Our Common Bonds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A compelling exploration of concrete strategies to reduce partisan animosity by building on what Democrats and Republicans have in common.

One of the defining features of twenty-first-century American politics is the rise of affective polarization: Americans increasingly not only disagree with those from the other party but distrust and dislike them as well. This has toxic downstream consequences for both politics and social relationships. Is there any solution?

Our Common Bonds shows that-although there is no silver bullet that will eradicate partisan animosity-there are concrete interventions that can reduce it. Matthew Levendusky argues that partisan animosity stems in part from…


Book cover of Citizens: Why the Key to Fixing Everything is All of Us

Cath Bishop Author Of The Long Win: The Search for a Better Way to Succeed

From my list on reframing success to sustain high performance.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by the question of ‘what does success look like’ throughout my life: from growing up, to becoming an Olympic rower, to working as a diplomat in high-pressure situations and conflict-affected environments, to becoming a parent, and now my current work as a leadership and culture coach in organisations across business, sport, and education. History and social conventions have led us to define success in ever narrower ways; I wanted to help us understand that and redefine success more meaningfully, for the long-term. I think it’s a question in all our minds - I hope you enjoy the books on this list as you reflect on what success looks like for you!

Cath's book list on reframing success to sustain high performance

Cath Bishop Why did Cath love this book?

Fascinated as I am with definitions of success across society, from sport to business, education to politics, Jon Alexander’s book really fired my brain up with how we could reinvent our political systems in order to better address the challenges of our time. 

Politics is the area where I have found that definitions of success – dominated by winning elections in the short-term – get in the way of effective performance, in this case, governing countries.

Jon Alexander uses practical examples from around the world to show how we could rethink our role as citizens and proactively create collaborative, caring, creative communities, organisations, and nations.

By Jon Alexander, Ariane Conrad,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

MCKINSEY TOP 5 RECOMMENDED READ

'An underground hit' - Best Politics Books, Financial Times

'Jon has one of the few big ideas that's easily applied' - Sam Conniff, Be More Pirate

'A wonderful guide to how to be human in the 21st Century' - Ece Temelkuran, How to Lose a Country: the Seven Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship

Description

Citizens opens up a new way of understanding ourselves and shows us what we must do to survive and thrive as individuals, organisations, and nations.

Over the past decade, Jon Alexander's consultancy, the New Citizenship Project, has helped revitalise some of…


Book cover of State and Revolution in Cuba: Mass Mobilization and Political Change, 1920-1940

Ariel Mae Lambe Author Of No Barrier Can Contain It: Cuban Antifascism and the Spanish Civil War

From my list on understanding Cuba’s turbulent 1930s.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was a history major when I left for a Havana study abroad semester in 2003, but I had not studied Cuba. My introduction was a University of Havana class on the period of the Cuban Republic, in which I sat surrounded by Cuban students. My classroom learning was aided by the public history representations all around me in the city. I was hooked. I wrote my undergraduate thesis at Yale on Cuban activist intellectuals of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and a few years later went on the begin my doctorate in Latin American History at Columbia. I have been a historian of Cuba ever since, 20 years.

Ariel's book list on understanding Cuba’s turbulent 1930s

Ariel Mae Lambe Why did Ariel love this book?

Robert Whitney’s classic work on popular politics in Cuba from 1920 to 1940 is a must for the reader interested in the history of Cuba’s 1930s, especially Cuba’s “other revolution,” the Revolution of 1933. The book covers an absolutely crucial time in the island’s political evolution, and yet this time period is too often glossed over between interest in the Cuban Wars of Independence on the one hand and the Cuban Revolution of 1959 on the other. Whitney’s book, however, follows the politics of the island from the high corruption of 1920, through anti-dictatorial and anti-imperialist struggles, to the triumphant (if short-lived) arrival of constitutional democracy in 1940. An important scholar of Fulgencio Batista, Whitney traces the Cuban leader’s political twists and turns during the era, beginning with his critical role as a revolutionary in the 1933 uprising.

By Robert Whitney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked State and Revolution in Cuba as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Illuminates a critical period in Cuba's political evolution Between 1920 and 1940, Cuba underwent a remarkable transition, moving from oligarchic rule to a nominal constitutional democracy. The events of this period are crucial to a full understanding of the nation's political evolution, yet they are often glossed over in accounts that focus more heavily on the revolution of 1959. With this book, Robert Whitney accords much-needed attention to a critical stage in Cuban history. Closely examining the upheavals of the period, which included a social revolution in 1933 and a military coup led by Fulgencio Batista one year later, Whitney…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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