The most recommended books about authoritarianism

Who picked these books? Meet our 62 experts.

62 authors created a book list connected to authoritarianism, and here are their favorite authoritarianism books.
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What type of authoritarianism book?


Book cover of The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran

Dora Levy Mossanen Author Of Harem

From the list on Persian history and its people.

Who am I?

I was born in Israel, but spent my formative years in Iran, a country rich in culture, superstition, and a history that is nothing short of an author’s dream. I also joined a large, colorful family, whose members possessed their own quirks and habits, which my future fictional characters inherited in one or another of my novels. Although the Iran I knew during the reign of the Shah was quite different than the Iran I had to flee at the onset of the Islamic revolution and the arrival of Ayatollah Khomeini, her history remains ever timely, and never ceases to captivate me.

Dora's book list on Persian history and its people

Why did Dora love this book?

The grandson of an eminent ayatollah and the son of an Iranian diplomat, Hooman Majd offers perspective on Iran's complex and misunderstood culture through an insightful tour of Iranian culture, introducing fascinating characters from all walks of life, including zealous government officials, tough female cab drivers, and open-minded, reformist ayatollahs. It's an Iran that will surprise readers and challenge Western stereotypes.

By Hooman Majd,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Hooman Majd, acclaimed journalist and New York-residing grandson of an Ayatollah, has a unique perspective on his Iranian homeland. In this vivid, warm and humorous insider's account, he opens our eyes to an Iran that few people see, meeting opium-smoking clerics, women cab drivers and sartorially challenged presidential officials, among others.

Revealing a country where both t-shirt wearing teenagers and religious martyrs express pride in their Persian origins, that is deeply religious yet highly cosmopolitan, authoritarian yet reformist, this is the one book you should read to understand Iran and Iranians today.

Seeing Like a State

By James C. Scott, James C. Scott,

Book cover of Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed

Seth Dickinson Author Of The Traitor Baru Cormorant

From the list on about how the world really works.

Who am I?

As a writer, I’m much more interested in characters who want to change the world than those who want to defend the status quo. In popular storytelling, villains are usually the ones who want to radically remake everything. But as we hurtle towards a climate catastrophe that threatens to undo so much of our growth as a species, it’s clear that we need heroes in favor of radical change now. And you can’t make good change without understanding what you’re changing. Despite all the books I’ve recommended here about the failures of our own cognition – I think our only chance to make a better world is to figure out how the world operates and where we’re going wrong.

Seth's book list on about how the world really works

Why did Seth love this book?

Have you ever wondered why we can’t just make the world better? Sure, we’ve made enormous strides in agriculture and medicine over the past few centuries. We can generate electricity and move around the world in a day. We can feed and heal people. But why haven’t we just sat down and figured out the right way to live? Planned it all out on a clean sheet, like an architect.

Seeing Like a State is a book about why it’s impossible for ambitious programs of top-down control to succeed, and why they so often end up with millions of people dead. The world is always more complicated than the maps you make of it, and in a lot of situations, it turns out that complexity matters. You can’t design and build the perfect city. You have to grow it.  

This book matters to me as an artist because it…

By James C. Scott, James C. Scott,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Seeing Like a State as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"One of the most profound and illuminating studies of this century to have been published in recent decades."-John Gray, New York Times Book Review

"A powerful, and in many insightful, explanation as to why grandiose programs of social reform, not to mention revolution, so often end in tragedy. . . . An important critique of visionary state planning."-Robert Heilbroner, Lingua Franca

Hailed as "a magisterial critique of top-down social planning" by the New York Times, this essential work analyzes disasters from Russia to Tanzania to uncover why states so often fail-sometimes catastrophically-in grand efforts to engineer their society or their…

On Tyranny

By Timothy Snyder,

Book cover of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Richard Dresser Author Of It Happened Here

From the list on to read when fascism is creeping in the window.

Who am I?

I’m President of the Writers Guild Initiative, with a mission of giving a voice to populations not being heard (LGBT asylum seekers, exonerated death row prisoners, Dreamers, etc.). In our writing workshops I see how marginalized communities are deprived of their rights and how insidiously minority rule is seizing power. Fascism depends on demonizing the Other, which was weaponized during the Trump years and is exploding on the right. This issue animates my life and work as a writer, mentor, speaker, and teacher. In the USA, democracy is hanging by a thread. My book takes a deep dive into what this means for an American family over the next fifteen years.

Richard's book list on to read when fascism is creeping in the window

Why did Richard love this book?

This is a short, urgently written handbook for the heart-stopping moments when you hear the sounds of fascism downstairs and realize you forgot to lock the window. “To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blazing light.” Fake news, Fox News, alternative facts, the Big Lie, QAnon, the replacement theory, the MAGA movement, evangelical theocracy, and fascism have made their way into our house and are creeping up the stairs and we wait, foolishly believing it will listen to reason.

By Timothy Snyder,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


'A sort of survival book, a sort of symptom-diagnosis manual in terms of losing your democracy and what tyranny and authoritarianism look like up close' Rachel Maddow

'These 128 pages are a brief primer in every important thing we might have learned from the history of the last century, and all that we appear to have forgotten' Observer

History does not repeat, but it does instruct.

In the twentieth century, European democracies collapsed into fascism, Nazism and communism. These were movements in which a leader or a party claimed to give voice to the people, promised…


By Catherine Hernandez,

Book cover of Crosshairs

Rachel A. Rosen Author Of Cascade

From the list on Canadian dystopia (that aren’t The Handmaid’s Tale).

Who am I?

As both a high school teacher and an activist, I am preoccupied by the world we are leaving to the next generation. And as a long-time Toronto resident, I also just love seeing my city get destroyed in fiction, which is far more cathartic than watching it get bungled up in real life. I am drawn to the type of story that exposes the wounds that run deep in our political, economic, and social structures. The best dystopian fiction shines a mirror on our history and our present, and brings the experiences of marginalized voices—for whom the apocalypse is not merely theoretical—to a broader audience.

Rachel's book list on Canadian dystopia (that aren’t The Handmaid’s Tale)

Why did Rachel love this book?

Another Toronto post-apocalyptic novel (sorry, but we are the centre of the universe, after all).

Hernandez’ dystopia is also caused by climate catastrophe, ushering in a fascist dictatorship that imprisons BIPOC, disabled, and queer people in labour camps. This relentless story exposes the lie of Canadian politeness and civility, the fraught politics of allyship, and the complicity and banality of evil required to maintain authoritarian structures.

It’s a grim read and often its reach exceeds its grasp, but woven through it is queer joy and resilience and I admire that it doesn’t pull its punches.

By Catherine Hernandez,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The author of the acclaimed novel Scarborough weaves an unforgettable and timely dystopian tale about a near-future, where a queer Black performer and his allies join forces to rise up when an oppressive regime gathers those deemed "Other" into concentration camps.

Set in a terrifyingly familiar near-future, with massive floods leading to rampant homelessness and devastation, a government-sanctioned regime called The Boots seizes on the opportunity to round up communities of color, the disabled, and the LGBTQ+ into labour camps.

In the shadows, a new hero emerges. After he loses his livelihood as a drag queen and the love of…

How to Save a Constitutional Democracy

By Tom Ginsburg, Aziz Z Huq,

Book cover of How to Save a Constitutional Democracy

Natasha Lindstaedt Author Of Democratic Decay and Authoritarian Resurgence

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

Who am I?

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

Why did Natasha love this book?

Legal scholars have offered a lot of insights into how democracies fall apart, but one of the more interesting books from constitutional scholars is How to Save a Constitutional Democracy. Using a case study of the US to illustrate, this book demonstrates how important constitutional design is in preventing democratic backsliding, as the book explains how would-be autocrats can take advantage of constitutions to flex their own power. And though the US constitution has often been heralded as a model document for new democracies to follow, somewhat surprisingly, it’s not ideal for maintaining a democracy; it actually suffers from two sins of being overly rigid on the one hand, and too vague in shaping the parameters of executive power on the other. This book is both a guide and a cautionary tale.

By Tom Ginsburg, Aziz Z Huq,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Save a Constitutional Democracy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Democracies are in danger. Around the world, a rising wave of populist leaders threatens to erode the core structures of democratic self-rule. In the United States, the tenure of Donald Trump has seemed decisive turning point for many. What kind of president intimidates jurors, calls the news media the "enemy of the American people," and seeks foreign assistance investigating domestic political rivals? Whatever one thinks of President Trump, many think the Constitution will safeguard us from lasting damage. But is that assumption justified? How to Save a Constitutional Democracy mounts an urgent argument that we can no longer afford to…


By George Orwell,

Book cover of 1984

Jonathan R.P. Taylor Author Of Soviet Propaganda & The Classroom

From Jonathan's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Plant-based Animal lover Singer-songwriter Novelist Digital nomad

Jonathan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Jonathan love this book?

1984 is the better-known political work of Orwell. This was the author’s ninth and final book, and what a legacy it left for us.

Thematically, it presents its reader with the consequences of totalitarianism, repression, and mass surveillance of one’s citizens. The story is modeled on the brutal regime of the Soviet Union, but equally Nazi Germany, who, with such ease, manipulated truth and fact within a perpetual war.

By George Orwell,

Why should I read it?

37 authors picked 1984 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


1984 is the year in which it happens. The world is divided into three superstates. In Oceania, the Party's power is absolute. Every action, word, gesture and thought is monitored under the watchful eye of Big Brother and the Thought Police. In the Ministry of Truth, the Party's department for propaganda, Winston Smith's job is to edit the past. Over time, the impulse to escape the machine and live independently takes hold of him and he embarks on a secret and forbidden love affair. As he writes the words 'DOWN WITH BIG…

The Danish Way of Parenting

By Jessica Joelle Alexander, Iben Dissing Sandahl,

Book cover of The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know about Raising Confident, Capable Kids

Linda Åkeson McGurk Author Of There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather: A Scandinavian Mom's Secrets for Raising Healthy, Resilient, and Confident Kids (from Friluftsliv to Hygge)

From the list on parenting secrets from other cultures.

Who am I?

I’m a Swedish American journalist, blogger, and author whose writings about Scandinavian parenting culture have appeared in newspapers, magazines, and online publications across the world, including,, and Green Child Magazine. I’m particularly interested in the role of nature in childhood and believe the best memories are created outside, while jumping in puddles, digging in dirt, catching bugs and climbing trees. In 2013, I started the blog Rain or Shine Mamma to inspire other parents and caregivers to get outside with their children every day, regardless of the weather. I’m currently working on my second book, about the Nordic outdoor tradition friluftsliv, which will be published by Tarcher Perigee in 2022.

Linda's book list on parenting secrets from other cultures

Why did Linda love this book?

Danish parenting advice is the best thing to come out of Denmark since hygge and in this book, authors Jessica Joelle Alexander and Iben Sandahl explain why. Stressing emotional health, free play, and – of course – hygge, The Danish Way of Parenting makes a strong case for a more empathetic way of raising children than the old school authoritarian style and gives parents practical tools to avoid yelling and spanking. A modern parenting classic with a decidedly Scandinavian flavor.

By Jessica Joelle Alexander, Iben Dissing Sandahl,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'A shining alternative to high-stress modern parenting, and families from New Delhi to New York will shout with joy' Heather Shumaker, author of It's OK Not to Share and It's OK to Go Up the Slide


What makes Denmark the happiest country in the world -- and how do Danish parents raise happy, confident, successful kids, year after year? This upbeat and practical guide reveals the six essential principles that have been working for parents in Denmark for decades:

- Play: essential for development and well-being
- Authenticity: fosters…

Don't Cross the Line!

By Isabel Minhos Martins, Bernardo Carvalho (illustrator),

Book cover of Don't Cross the Line!

Diego Vaisberg Author Of Dino

From the list on album books to unleash your children´s imagination.

Who am I?

I live in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and I'm the head behind DGPH illustration and design studio. I'm also an illustration professor of the illustrator major at Palermo University (UP). My passion for kids books and illustration turned me into a full time illustrator combining both passions, illustration, and design. And with time, I started writing my own stories too.

Diego's book list on album books to unleash your children´s imagination

Why did Diego love this book?

This is one of those books, where not only the words and illustrations make the story, but also the pages and book format are part of the plot, where the book´s gutter is one of the main characters. A book to have on paper! A story about community and peaceful revolutions, and how things can be changed with dialogue and working together. 

By Isabel Minhos Martins, Bernardo Carvalho (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Don't Cross the Line! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The guard always follows the general's orders without question. This time, the order is that no one must cross the line! The right-hand page of this book must be kept blank for the general. As the crowd builds up on the border, the guard is under pressure. If no one is allowed onto the next page, what will happen to the story?

And then a ball bounces across the line . . .

This slapstick postmodern tale is also a profound statement about dictatorship and peaceful revolution, from an award-winning author/illustrator team.

Minority Report

By Philip K. Dick,

Book cover of Minority Report

Mark Bartholomew Author Of Intellectual Property and the Brain: How Neuroscience Will Reshape Legal Protection for Creations of the Mind

From the list on how neuroscience will change our lives.

Who am I?

I’m a law professor who has been teaching and writing in the area of intellectual property for 20 years. As my career went along, I came to realize how important it is to not just mechanically apply the legal rules but to think about why they are there. Intellectual property law—a 7 trillion-dollar legal regime governing one-third of the U.S. economy—continually guesses as to how the minds of artists and audiences work. The more I read about neuroscientific advances, the more I realized that these guesses are often wrong and need to be updated for a new technological age.

Mark's book list on how neuroscience will change our lives

Why did Mark love this book?

Sure, this book was written way back in 1956, but its dark tale of “mind reading” police is still just as captivating and relevant today. In Dick’s imagined future, three mutants are able to foresee crime before it occurs, allowing the cops to stop crime before it gets started. Like the mutants, today’s neural imaging machines are heralded as ways to see what people are thinking, revealing what they can’t or won’t voluntarily describe. The novel explores questions about expectations of privacy, the dangers of authoritarian regimes controlling invasive technologies, and the nature of free will—all issues that society will need to wrestle with as our understanding of the brain advances. 

By Philip K. Dick,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Imagine a future where crimes can be detected before they are committed, and criminals are convicted and sentenced for crimes before committing them. This is the scenario of Philip K. Dick's classic story, now filmed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Cruise.

In addition to MINORITY REPORT this exclusive collection includes nine other outstanding short stories by the twentieth century's outstanding SF master, three of which have been made into feature films.


By Guillermo O'Donnell,

Book cover of Counterpoints: Selected Essays on Authoritarianism and Democratization

Joe Foweraker Author Of Polity: Demystifying Democracy in Latin America and Beyond

From the list on democracy in Latin America.

Who am I?

I fell in love with Latin America as I meandered around Mexico in the summer of 1969. The passion has never died. Within a year I walked into Brazil’s ‘wild west’ to research the violence along its moving frontier, while over fifty years later I am an emeritus professor of Latin American politics at the University of Oxford and an honorary professor at the University of Exeter. An early decision to look at politics from the ‘bottom up’ led to a life-long inquiry into the theory and practice of democracy, and the publication of many essays and books that are available to view on my Amazon author page.

Joe's book list on democracy in Latin America

Why did Joe love this book?

Anyone who aspires to an understanding of Latin American democracy must read the work of Guillermo O’Donnell, who almost single-handedly set the terms of the key debates over a period of thirty to forty years; and the only possible reason for this not being my 1st pick is that it is a collection of essays, not a monograph. O’Donnell was a passionate scholar, and both his passionate engagement and meticulous scholarship are amply illustrated in the discussions here of the vicissitudes and possibilities of democracy in Latin America, his wide survey encompassing everything from democratic struggles against authoritarian regimes to the flaws arising in the new democracies from defective institutionalism and extreme social inequalities. Read and admire.

By Guillermo O'Donnell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The central, driving theme of this volume is democracy, its vicissitudes and its possibilities in Latin America. Guillermo O’Donnell considers the pattern of political and social alliances that have shaped Argentina’s agitated history, and focuses on the tensions and intrinsic weaknesses of bureaucratic-authoritarianism, especially in its most repressive guises, at a time when it projected itself as an enduring, efficient, and potentially legitimate form of political authority. He includes detailed empirical analysis of daily life under extremely repressive regimes and argues throughout that the struggle for democracy is the most appropriate way, both morally and strategically, to take advantage of…

The Anatomy of Fascism

By Robert O. Paxton,

Book cover of The Anatomy of Fascism

Archie Brown Author Of The Human Factor: Gorbachev, Reagan, and Thatcher, and the End of the Cold War

From the list on authoritarianism and totalitarianism.

Who am I?

Throughout the forty-one years (thirty-four of them at Oxford) I spent as a university teacher, I taught a course on Communist government and politics (latterly ‘Communist and post-Communist government’). Communist-ruled systems were never less than highly authoritarian (when they became politically pluralist, they were, by definition, no longer Communist), and in some countries at particular times they were better described as totalitarian. That was notably true of Stalin’s Soviet Union, especially from the early 1930s to the dictator’s death in 1953. The books I’ve written prior to The Human Factor include The Rise and Fall of Communism and The Myth of the Strong Leader: Political Leadership in the Modern Age.

Archie's book list on authoritarianism and totalitarianism

Why did Archie love this book?

Fascism and Communism purported to explain all social and political phenomena and, on that basis, justified their authoritarian or totalitarian rule. The term ‘fascist’ tends to be loosely applied to intolerant and autocratic political behaviour, but the outstandingly lucid, and highly readable, book by Robert Paxton not only surveys fascism in practice – in Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Germany and in fascist movements and parties in many different countries – it also shows what its distinctive components are. What he calls the ‘mobilizing passions’ of fascism include the glorification of war and violence, expansionism, racism, a fixation on national solidarity, rejection of the legitimacy of diverse interests and values within a society, and, not least, a cult of the heroic leader, with the leader’s instincts counting for more than reasoned, evidence-based argument.

By Robert O. Paxton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Fascism was the major political invention of the twentieth century and the source of much of its pain. How can we try to comprehend its allure and its horror? Is it a philosophy, a movement, an aesthetic experience? What makes states and nations become fascist?

Acclaimed historian Robert O. Paxton shows that in order to understand fascism we must look at it in action - at what it did, as much as what it said it was about. He explores its falsehoods and common threads; the social and political base that allowed it to prosper; its leaders and internal struggles;…

Memed, My Hawk

By Yashar Kemal, Edouard Roditi (translator),

Book cover of Memed, My Hawk

Christiane Bird Author Of A Thousand Sighs, a Thousand Revolts: Journeys in Kurdistan

From the list on classics about the world of the Kurds.

Who am I?

I first became interested in the Kurds during a 1998 journey I took to Iran to work on my first book about the Middle East, Neither East nor West. While there, I traveled to Sanandaj, Iran’s unofficial Kurdish capital, where I was immediately struck by how different the area seemed from the rest of the Islamic Republic—heartbreaking in its lonesome beauty, and defiant. Despite a large number of Revolutionary Guards on the streets, the men swaggered and women strode. These people are not cowed, I thought—no wonder they make the Islamic government nervous. I had to find out more.

Christiane's book list on classics about the world of the Kurds

Why did Christiane love this book?

A Kurd born in Turkey in 1923, Kemal was a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature for years, and this book is the real deal, a classic novel of adventure and heroism that has been compared to works by Faulkner. It’s not overtly about the Kurds—the ethnicity of its main character, Memed, is not mentioned—and yet it is, as Memed is a rebel who refuses to submit to authoritarian rule and risks everything for freedom. Fast-paced and gripping, yet also lyrical and meditative, the book is set in southeastern Turkey—i.e., Kurdistan—and its descriptions of the land are unforgettable. 

By Yashar Kemal, Edouard Roditi (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Memed grows up a serf to a vicious overlord on the thistle-clad plains of Turkey's Taurus region. When his plan to escape is dashed, and the young woman he loves murdered, Memed makes for the mountains to become an outlaw. Before long he has transformed from a young rebel to an infamous bandit, the scourge of corrupt oppressors and hero to the poor. With vividness and simplicity, Kemal's classic novel evokes the fierce beauty of his country and the struggles of its oppressed people.

Games People Play

By Eric Berne,

Book cover of Games People Play

Tony Sandy Author Of Logic List English: Rhyming Word etc. - Vol 1 A

From the list on honest communication and language usage.

Who am I?

What qualifies me to compile this list of books, probably goes back to my childhood and the confusion I felt about human society and its conflict in word usage, compared to actual meaning. This fascination with psychology and linguistics, culminated in me reading perhaps hundreds of books, some of which are included here. My mother described me as a quiet baby and a child who would only say something, if they thought it was important, possible indicators of autism and the little professor syndrome of silent observation and study.

Tony's book list on honest communication and language usage

Why did Tony love this book?

In Games People Play, Eric Berne points out the way we can have three major roles in our lives, depending upon who we are communicating with and how we are speaking to them. This can include adult to adult, where communication is direct and factual or it can be parent to child (authoritarian), child to parent (I want or rebellious (I don’t want). In all these cases it is emotional, unlike adult to adult.

Wittgenstein said language was meaningful through use and consisted of word games, unlike Berne who saw them as political/psychological games and not linguistic ones alone, except in the case of adult to adult (equals).

By Eric Berne,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In excellent condition

Cultural Backlash

By Pippa Norris, Ronald Inglehart,

Book cover of Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism

James Cronin Author Of Fragile Victory: The Making and Unmaking of Liberal Order

From the list on the crisis of liberal order and democracy.

Who am I?

Well before I trained as a scholar, I was an activist motivated by opposition to the Vietnam War and support for civil rights and social justice. Those commitments continued throughout my academic career and have now morphed into a resolve to write about recent threats to liberal order, democracy, and justice. The election results of 2016 – the triumph of “leave” in the Brexit vote and of Donald Trump in the Presidential election, forced me to rethink the history of things I have come to cherish – liberal order, democracy, and social and racial justice – how support for them has ebbed, and why they now require vigorous and informed defense.

James' book list on the crisis of liberal order and democracy

Why did James love this book?

Cultural Backlash is aimed at sorting out the roots of the recent rise of what the authors call authoritarian populism, which is much the same thing as plutocratic populism.

They locate its origins in a backlash against the social consequences and policies that grew from socio-economic shifts that began in the 1960s and 1970s.

These include, obviously enough, the sexual revolution and changing gender norms, the civil rights movement and the increasingly multi-racial and multi-cultural character of modern societies, and the turn toward values that Inglehart, decades ago, termed post-materialist.

The book is distinguished by the vast amount of quantitative data it presents and deploys to illustrate its central argument.  

By Pippa Norris, Ronald Inglehart,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Authoritarian populist parties have advanced in many countries, and entered government in states as diverse as Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland. Even small parties can still shift the policy agenda, as demonstrated by UKIP's role in catalyzing Brexit. Drawing on new evidence, this book advances a general theory why the silent revolution in values triggered a backlash fuelling support for authoritarian-populist parties and leaders in the US and Europe. The conclusion highlights the dangers of this development and what could be done to mitigate the risks to liberal democracy.

The Dictator's Handbook

By Bruce Bueno de Mesquita (lead author), Alastair Smith,

Book cover of The Dictator's Handbook: Why Bad Behavior Is Almost Always Good Politics

Bann Seng Tan Author Of International Aid and Democracy Promotion: Liberalization at the Margins

From the list on using foreign aid to do good in a realistic way.

Who am I?

Bann Seng Tan is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Ashoka University. His research interests are on the causes and effects of democratization, the politics of foreign aid, the political economy of natural disasters, aid in decentralization, resurgent authoritarianism, and the democratic peace. His policy proclivities revolve around the defence of the liberal world order. Democracy promotion is but one way to push against authoritarianism. 

Bann's book list on using foreign aid to do good in a realistic way

Why did Bann love this book?

Bueno de Mesquita and Smith emphasize the desire of leaders to seek political survival after all else. The authors show how democratic and autocratic leaders respond to the political institutions that they are embedded in, by having systemically distinct policy proclivities. The academic version of the theory is in their book The Logic of Political Survival. The Dictators’ Handbook is the version meant for popular consumption. It is full of examples of leaders making policy choices that benefit their political survival at the expense of their own people who they profess to rule for. I assign the book to illustrate the theory in classes in Comparative Politics. The examples in the book, all of which are non-fiction, are always popular with undergraduate students.

By Bruce Bueno de Mesquita (lead author), Alastair Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith's canonical book on political science turned conventional wisdom on its head. They started from a single assertion: leaders do whatever keeps them in power. They don't care about the "national interest"-or even their subjects-unless they must.

Newly updated to reflect the global rise of authoritarianism, this clever and accessible book illustrates how leaders amass and retain power. As Bueno de Mesquita and Smith show, democracy is essentially just a convenient fiction. Governments do not differ in kind, but only in the number of essential supporters or backs that need scratching. The size of…

Dictators and Dictatorships

By Natasha Lindstaedt, Erica Frantz,

Book cover of Dictators and Dictatorships: Understanding Authoritarian Regimes and Their Leaders

Dalia Ghanem Author Of Understanding the Persistence of Competitive Authoritarianism in Algeria

From the list on the North African version of North Korea: Algeria.

Who am I?

I hold a doctorate in political science and am an expert on Algeria. I was a senior scholar at Carnegie for ten years before I joined the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), the EU's official think tank. I was born in Algeria, where I grew up. When I was fourteen, between 22-23 September 1997 the massacre of Bentalha took place while I was living in Algeria, and I became obsessed with that massacre. This obsession led me ten years later to write a Ph.D. on that bloody page of Algerian history, political violence, and jihadism. Eventually, my expertise encompassed all of Algeria's political, social, and economic developments. 

Dalia's book list on the North African version of North Korea: Algeria

Why did Dalia love this book?

I like this book because it is based on a qualitative investigation into the politics of authoritarian states. It contends that political outcomes in dictatorships are mostly the result of relations between leaders and elites, and the internal structures that influence the dynamics of these relations. The book analyses the differences between several authoritarian regimes and their political ramifications. Process in personalist, military, one-party, monarchical, and semi-authoritarian regimes are examined. The book explains what dictatorship entails and how authoritarian politics function. 

By Natasha Lindstaedt, Erica Frantz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This title discusses how dictatorships work, looking at leaders, elites, and regime dynamics, synthesizing foundational and cutting-edge research on authoritarian politics, and integrating theory with case studies. "Dictators and Dictatorships" is a qualitative enquiry into the politics of authoritarian regimes. It argues that political outcomes in dictatorships are largely a product of leader-elite relations. Differences in the internal structure of dictatorships affect the dynamics of this relationship. This book shows how dictatorships differ from one another and the implications of these differences for political outcomes. In particular, it examines political processes in personalist, military, single-party, monarchic, and hybrid regimes. The…

The China Fantasy

By James Mann,

Book cover of The China Fantasy: Why Capitalism Will Not Bring Democracy to China

Warren I. Cohen Author Of East Asia at the Center: Four Thousand Years of Engagement with the World

From the list on understanding the coming war with China.

Who am I?

I’ve spent all of my adult life writing about American foreign policy, especially Chinese-American relations.  My America’s Response to China, the standard text on the subject, has gone through 6 editions. I served as a line officer in the Pacific Fleet, lived in Taipei and Beijing. I also served as chairman of the State Department Advisory Committee on Historical Diplomatic Documentation and have been a consultant on Chinese affairs to various government organizations. And I cook the best mapo toufu outside of Sichuan. (where I negotiated the Michigan-Sichuan sister-state relationship in 1982). It was probably my love of Chinese food that accounts for most of the above.

Warren's book list on understanding the coming war with China

Why did Warren love this book?

When this book was published it was a sensation that divided the world of China watchers. Indeed, my wife, Nancy Bernkopf Tucker, hated it—and I loved it. 

Jim, a close personal friend of ours, was arguing that policies that most in the field endorsed, such as Permanent MFN (most favored nation tariff status), were a mistake; that the theory that as China’s economy developed, as it modernized, it would move toward becoming democratic was nonsense. He was dismissive of the Clinton administration’s policies and of the academics and other analysts who supported it. 

His arguments resonated with me based on my time living in China and my contacts with Chinese intellectuals and officials. There’s little doubt today that Jim was right—his experience as the Los Angeles Times Bureau Chief in Beijing and his research for his About Face and Rise of the Vulcans informed his views.

By James Mann,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The book that got China right: a prophetic work on how America's policies towards China led it away from liberalization and further towards authoritarianism, from the bestselling author of Rise of the Vulcans

"[The China Fantasy] predicted, China would remain an authoritarian country, and its success would encourage other authoritarian regimes to resist pressures to change . . . Mann’s prediction turned out to be true." -New York Review of Books, October 2017

"From Clinton to Bush to Obama, the prevailing belief was engagement with China  would make China more like the West.  Instead, as [James] Mann predicted, China has…

Hotel Splendide

By Ludwig Bemelmans,

Book cover of Hotel Splendide

Steven Sherrill Author Of Motorcycles, Minotaurs, & Banjos: A Modest Odyssey

From Steven's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Open (minded, hearted, etc) Scattershot Driven Epicurean Banjo-y

Steven's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Steven love this book?

Bemelman’s observant eye is unparalleled. His character observations are pure magic. His wit and comic timing, so fresh and lively, even all these years later.

If you’ve ever worked in food service, you’ll get this book deeply. If you’ve ever eaten in a restaurant or stayed in a hotel, this book will resonate with you. If you’re a human, and/or interact with humans, you’ll appreciate what Bemelmans does. 

By Ludwig Bemelmans,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this uproariously funny memoir, Ludwig Bemelmans uncovers the fabulous world of the Hotel Splendide, the luxury New York hotel where he worked as a waiter. With equal parts affection and barbed wit, he records the everyday chaos that reigns behind the smooth facades of the gilded dining room and banquet halls.

In hilarious detail, Bemelmans sketches the hierarchy of hotel life and its strange and fascinating inhabitants: from the ruthlessly authoritarian maitre d'hotel Monsieur Victor to the kindly waiter Mespoulets to Frizl the homesick busboy. Illustrated with his own charming line drawings, Bemelmans' tales of a bygone era of…

Policing the Crisis

By Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke, Brian Roberts

Book cover of Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State and Law and Order

Arun Kundnani Author Of The Muslims Are Coming: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror

From the list on racism in Britain.

Who am I?

Kundnani writes about racial capitalism and Islamophobia, surveillance and political violence, and Black radical movements. He is the author of The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, extremism, and the domestic War on Terror and The End of Tolerance: racism in 21st century Britain, which was selected as a New Statesman book of the year. He has written for the Nation, the Guardian, the Washington Post, Vice, and The Intercept. Born in London, he moved to New York in 2010. A former editor of the journal Race & Class, he was miseducated at Cambridge University, and holds a PhD from London Metropolitan University. He has been an Open Society fellow and a scholar-in-residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library.

Arun's book list on racism in Britain

Why did Arun love this book?

We are brought up to think of racism as a matter of individual attitudes and biases. If only it were that simple. Stuart Hall and his colleagues taught me that understanding how racism worked required much deeper thinking. First published in 1978, Policing the Crisis argued that race is a key constituent of Britain’s social and economic structures. It presented a picture of Britain in the 1970s as caught in a crisis of authority. Society was fracturing, giving rise to new authoritarianism in response. A moral panic about black crime was the surface justification for new “law and order” policies. But in a strange way, the country was using black people to work through its own anxieties. This was Thatcherism in embryo. The same processes continue to shape our lives today. There is no better book on how politics in Britain has functioned in the last fifty years.

By Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke, Brian Roberts

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This special 35th anniversary edition contains the original, unchanged text that inspired a generation, alongside two new chapters that explore the book's continued significance for today's readers. The Preface provides a brief retrospective account of the book's original structure, the rich ethnographic, intellectual and theoretical work that informed it, and the historical context in which it appeared. In the new Afterword, each of the authors takes up a specific theme from the original book and interrogates it in the light of current crises, perspectives and contexts.

Hope in the Dark

By Rebecca Solnit,

Book cover of Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

Megan Rosenbloom Author Of Dark Archives: A Librarian's Investigation Into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin

From the list on when life throws you a curveball.

Who am I?

I’m a librarian, writer, and proponent of the death positive movement. I’ve found some people assume that being death positive means a certain callousness. For me the opposite is true: I’m an anxious ball of feelings both for myself and towards others, and the death positive mindset helps me cope better with life’s curveballs. I can say with a degree of certainty that we’ve all been pitched some doozies lately, so I wanted to offer up some books that nourish in times of darkness without turning away in denial.

Megan's book list on when life throws you a curveball

Why did Megan love this book?

The world is hell, so now what? By now we all know how easy it is to fall into despair. “Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting.” Solnit’s arguments and examples of a galvanizing hope are not naïve. They are nuanced, realistic, and give us something to cling to like a life raft as we scan for dry land.

By Rebecca Solnit,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

At a time when political, environmental and social gloom can seem overpowering, this remarkable book offers a lucid, affirmative and well-argued case for hope.

This exquisite work traces a history of activism and social change over the past five decades - from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the worldwide marches against the war in Iraq. Hope in the Dark is a paean to optimism in the uncertainty of the twenty-first century. Tracing the footsteps of the last century's thinkers - including Woolf, Gandhi, Borges, Benjamin and Havel - Solnit conjures a timeless vision of cause and effect that…