The best books about democracy 📚

Browse the best books on democracy as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America

Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America

By Nancy MacLean

Why this book?

This is a brilliant book by a professor of history holding an endowed chair at Duke University, a scholar who took a year off from her academic duties to tour the country, giving talks about this book. It is the other book that has most affected me since the publication of my last book, After Capitalism. It’s a very readable scholarly study, not explicitly focused on climate change, but which explains more compellingly than any other book I’ve read, as to why, given what we know about the causes of, and solutions to, climate change, we are not doing what…

From the list:

The best books that will change the way you look at climate change

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Book cover of Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy

Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy

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

Why this book?

Putnam and his Italian colleagues studied the performance of Italy’s regional governments over a 20-year period. They asked why some democratic governments succeeded while others failed. They thought differences in success would correlate with a region’s economic vitality. Instead, they found that a strong civic community was a better indicator of success. When citizens sought information from reliable news sources, they tended to interact with one another on political matters.  Informed interaction encouraged trust in political dialogue and encouraged engagement in public affairs. 

Equally, when citizens had access to networks of secondary associations, where they interacted with strangers, they were…

From the list:

The best books on why ordinary citizen voices matter to a democracy

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Book cover of Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom

Teaching Critical Thinking: Practical Wisdom

By bell hooks

Why this book?

This is a slim, passionate, personal book by one of the most significant American educators and activists of the last century. It’s part of her “teaching” trilogy (the other two books cover Community and Freedom) and is founded on the belief that “one could choose to educate for the practice of freedom.” Critical thinking is often treated as an emotionless, logical discipline, but this book shows how it’s rooted in a deep human longing for understanding—and is also vital to informed, equitable democratic participation. Teaching Critical Thinking is a profound testament to the significance of emotionally, politically, and intellectually engaged…

From the list:

The best books about critical thinking

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Book cover of Democracy in America

Democracy in America

By Alexis de Tocqueville

Why this book?

And no such list is complete without Alexis de Tocqueville's classic from the 19th century, Democracy in America. Weighing in just two pages short of Don Quixote's 937 (paperback both, the ECCO Grossman Quixote translation and the Penguin Gerald Bevan de Tocqueville edition), Tocqueville ponders a question most of us contemplate and plenty of us act on: "Why Americans are so restless in the midst of their prosperity..."

From the list:

The best books to understand the America between New Jersey and Oakland

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Book cover of Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution

Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution

By Wendy Brown

Why this book?

More than most authors on neoliberalism, Brown takes it seriously as a philosophy and worldview that aims to reshape human society and our individual sense of self. Drawing on classic philosophers like Aristotle, Marx, and Arendt, she argues that neoliberalism is hollowing our sense of what it means to be human by turning us all into hyper-competitive, self-marketing, self-branding drones. I wind up arguing with her a lot in my book, but whether you wind up agreeing or disagreeing with her, she’s an essential point of reference.

From the list:

The best books for understanding neoliberalism

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Book cover of Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy

By Cathy O’Neil

Why this book?

The more data the better? Not necessarily. Cathy O’Neil, an academic mathematician turned Wall Street quant turned data scientist, shows again and again how big data “threatens democracy." The ‘weapons of math destruction’ are models or algorithms that claim to quantify important human traits but can harm the poor, reinforce racism, and amplify inequality. Her glimpse of the dark side of big data shows how computers are only smart as the people who use them, the people who write their algorithms, the people who supply their data, and the people who curate all those data and algorithms. The old saw…

From the list:

The best books to understand what big data is and how it impacts us

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