The best books about elections

4 authors have picked their favorite books about elections and why they recommend each book.

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The Verdict

By Prannoy Roy, Dorab R. Sopariwala,

Book cover of The Verdict: Decoding India's Elections

History often offers clues into what’s happening in the current times. This book, written by one of the most popular faces decoding Indian elections on television, provides an account of elections starting from India’s first election in 1952 until now. As I read through this book, I realized that what seems to be unprecedented to a young person might not be so when viewed through a historical perspective, and this book offers that important perspective. It also documents how election campaigns have transformed over the years and the major challenges disadvantaged groups face when trying to exercise their democratic right of voting, making it an excellent read for those looking to understand India’s democratic setup. 


Who am I?

I graduated early from the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor to come back to my home country and work in Indian politics. Since then I’ve worked with a Member of Parliament, handled campaign design in states across India, and headed data analytics for India’s largest political party. This experience gave me an inside view of how politics operates and how elections are actually won. The fact that this was at a time when Indian politics was going through massive changes with micro-targeting, digital technologies and disinformation gaining ground made the experience even more unique. Based on this experience, my books detail how power is gained, (mis)used, and lost.


I wrote...

How to Win an Indian Election

By Shivam Shankar Singh,

Book cover of How to Win an Indian Election

What is my book about?

Written by a former election campaign consultant for a major political party, How to Win an Indian Election takes readers into the forbidden world of election war-rooms and gives them a glimpse of how strategy is formulated, what works with voters on the ground and what doesn't. Based on research, interviews, and the author's own experiences, this book is invaluable for its insight into the inner workings of politics, political parties, and what really makes for a winning election campaign.

Campaign of the Century

By Irwin F. Gellman,

Book cover of Campaign of the Century: Kennedy, Nixon, and the Election of 1960

Gellman is a nationally-recognized historian, whose writings reflect thorough and insightful research. His earlier books – on Nixon’s time in Congress (The Contender) and as Eisenhower’s vice president (The President and the Apprentice) – meticulously debunked derogatory stories about Nixon, and this one on the 1960 campaign does the same. Many believe Theodore White’s Making of the President,1960 is the only authoritative account of that contest, but Gellman points out how White set out to idolize Kennedy and villainize Nixon – never once actually speaking to Nixon, either during or following the campaign. Gellman is an excellent writer, putting his readers right in the center of historic events. His final chapter, bringing the campaign all together is simply outstanding.


Who am I?

I joined the Nixon administration as a White House Fellow upon Harvard Law School graduation in 1969, so I wasn’t part of Nixon’s 1968 campaign. I served for five years, rising to associate director of the Domestic Council and ending as deputy counsel on Nixon’s Watergate defense team. Given my personal involvement at the time, coupled with extensive research over the past fifteen years, I’m among the foremost authorities on the Watergate scandal, but essentially unknowledgeable about people and events preceding the Nixon presidency. My five recommended books have nicely fill that gap – principally by friends and former colleagues who were actually “in the arena” during those heady times. 


I wrote...

The Nixon Conspiracy: Watergate and the Plot to Remove the President

By Geoff Shepard,

Book cover of The Nixon Conspiracy: Watergate and the Plot to Remove the President

What is my book about?

The Nixon Conspiracy is a detailed and definitive account of the Watergate prosecutors’ internal documents uncovered after years of painstaking research in previously sealed archives. Shepard reveals the untold story of how a flawed but honorable president was needlessly brought down by a corrupt, deep state, big media alliance — a circumstance that looks all too familiar today. In this hard-hitting exposé, Shepard reveals the real smoking gun: the prosecutors’ secret, but erroneous, “Road Map” which caused grand jurors to name Nixon a co-conspirator in the Watergate cover-up and the House Judiciary Committee to adopt its primary Article of Impeachment.

The Greatest Comeback

By Patrick J. Buchanan,

Book cover of The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority

Pat Buchanan joined Nixon’s staff in 1966 and was the conservative guru on his White House staff throughout Nixon’s terms in office. Totally written off for dead after his 1962 loss to Edmund “Pat” Brown as California’s governor, Nixon remerged to be sworn in as our 37th President in January 1969 – and Pat was with him every step of the way. This book is Buchanan’s insider account of how that recovery was planned, executed, and ultimately achieved. Its stories reflect lessons and insights for everyone interested in national campaigns. I served alongside Pat in the Nixon White House, but this volume fills in intimate details of Nixon’s wilderness years – before he took the oath of office.


Who am I?

I joined the Nixon administration as a White House Fellow upon Harvard Law School graduation in 1969, so I wasn’t part of Nixon’s 1968 campaign. I served for five years, rising to associate director of the Domestic Council and ending as deputy counsel on Nixon’s Watergate defense team. Given my personal involvement at the time, coupled with extensive research over the past fifteen years, I’m among the foremost authorities on the Watergate scandal, but essentially unknowledgeable about people and events preceding the Nixon presidency. My five recommended books have nicely fill that gap – principally by friends and former colleagues who were actually “in the arena” during those heady times. 


I wrote...

The Nixon Conspiracy: Watergate and the Plot to Remove the President

By Geoff Shepard,

Book cover of The Nixon Conspiracy: Watergate and the Plot to Remove the President

What is my book about?

The Nixon Conspiracy is a detailed and definitive account of the Watergate prosecutors’ internal documents uncovered after years of painstaking research in previously sealed archives. Shepard reveals the untold story of how a flawed but honorable president was needlessly brought down by a corrupt, deep state, big media alliance — a circumstance that looks all too familiar today. In this hard-hitting exposé, Shepard reveals the real smoking gun: the prosecutors’ secret, but erroneous, “Road Map” which caused grand jurors to name Nixon a co-conspirator in the Watergate cover-up and the House Judiciary Committee to adopt its primary Article of Impeachment.

Democracy for Realists

By Christopher H. Achen, Larry M. Bartels,

Book cover of Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government

This book came out after my own, but the authors had already laid out the main themes in papers going back years, so I was familiar with their argument that voters (1) don't know much about politics, (2) don't pay much attention to issues, and (3) therefore base their political choices on something else. What that something else is depends on multiple factors like age, geography, self-interest, whim, and even the weather. The weather explanation is startling. The authors' studies show that droughts and floods affect how people vote. When misfortune frowns on voters they tend to vote against incumbents, whether it is reasonable or not to hold the people in power responsible for what's triggered their feeling of malaise. Throw the bums out!

But one factor above all others determines how people vote. And that's their social identity. Voters take their cues from people like themselves. What influences voters…


Who am I?

Rick Shenkman is a New York Times bestselling author, historian, and journalist who, after reading and writing history books for 40 years, decided to spend the past decade discovering what social scientists have to say. To his great joy, he learned that since he had last studied their work in college they had come to a vast new understanding of human political behavior. He now uses their insights into political psychology, evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and genetics to help explain our fucked up politics.


I wrote...

Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics

By Rick Shenkman,

Book cover of Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics

What is my book about?

My book begins with a question: Why are we so bad at politics? The answer turns out to be that we evolved to thrive in a world vastly different from the one in which we find ourselves. Our gut instincts, designed to help us cope with a community of about 150 people, fail us repeatedly and nearly completely when facing the challenges of a society composed of millions. This is why we elect morons, are taken in by nonsense, and are susceptible to conspiracy thinking.

I wrote my book before Donald Trump was elected. But a Washington Post reviewer wrote that my book explained Trump's election better than others that focused on Trump. We don't have a Donald Trump problem. We have a human being problem.

The (Un)Popular Vote

By Jasper Sanchez,

Book cover of The (Un)Popular Vote

This book hits all the right points for me. A diverse cast, teens figuring out who they are, and the problem of obstacles thrown in their way. That’s real life. In this divisive climate, we see and hear a lot of arguments played out on the news. Parents arguing against this, teachers and librarians fighting for that. What we don’t see and hear enough of are the kids, the ones who are truly affected by these disagreements. What I love about this book is that we get to hear their points of views, their feelings. We see what happens when a parent refuses to accept their child for who they are and puts limitations on their love. I love this book because it gives me that perspective.

Who am I?

The topic of mental health, which is prominent in all the books I’ve recommended, including my own, is one I am passionate about. As a neurodivergent person, I know first-hand how difficult the teen years can be. Not only are you dealing with the issues like friends, family, and school, but you are working with other factors that can make learning and socializing especially difficult. When I was a teen, I did not have books like these to guide me and let me know I was not alone in my feelings and struggles. It is my deepest wish that all kids have books, tools, and guides to help them.


I wrote...

List of Ten

By Halli Gomez,

Book cover of List of Ten

What is my book about?

Ten: three little letters, one ordinary number. For Troy Hayes, a sixteen-year-old suffering from Tourette Syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, the number dictates his life. Fed up with the daily humiliation, loneliness, and physical pain, Troy writes a list of ten things to do by the tenth anniversary of his diagnosis—culminating in suicide on the actual day. But the process of working his way through the list changes Troy’s life: he becomes friends with Khory, a classmate with her own troubled history who unwittingly helps him cross off items on his list. He moves ever closer to his grand finale, even as Khory shows him that life may have more possibilities than he imagined. 

Practicing Democracy

By Margaret Lavinia Anderson,

Book cover of Practicing Democracy: Elections and Political Culture in Imperial Germany

People learn democracy by practicing it. The Germans practiced and practiced, and eventually got better at it. This is the main argument of Margaret Lavinia Anderson’s stunning book. Scrutinizing hundreds of contested elections, Anderson shows how Germans gradually reformed their authoritarian structures without significant constitutional reform. She demonstrates that the grassroots struggle for more democracy brought voters out of their narrow communities and helped form a wider civic culture. Alas, however, practice did not make perfect, and Germany was not saved from its own aggressive militarism.


Who am I?

I am a historian of modern Germany at Vanderbilt University and have followed this field for more than thirty years. After a bit of respite, interest in Imperial Germany is suddenly chic again, as 2021 Germany looks back on the past 150 years of its unification in 1871. These five books, all published since 2000, are major recent contributions to the history of Imperial Germany’s prewar period; they also raise questions about the extent to which this conflict-ridden era represents a distant if imperfect mirror for our own contentious times.


I wrote...

Germany: A Nation in Its Time: Before, During, and After Nationalism, 1500-2000

By Helmut Walser Smith,

Book cover of Germany: A Nation in Its Time: Before, During, and After Nationalism, 1500-2000

What is my book about?

With a wide array of sources, including oodles of maps and images, this book shows how the idea of the German nation developed and changed over half a millennium. Modern nationalism was a major, if extremely destructive part of the story of the German nation. But it was not the whole story. In Germany, as in other countries, nationalism was always only one possible way of imagining the nation.

The Plot Against America

By Philip Roth,

Book cover of The Plot Against America: A Novel

I had this book recommended to me by a student. It’s counter-factual historical fiction, but all too believable. Roth conveys a sense of creeping dread that feels uncomfortably familiar in the 2020s. Charles Lindbergh’s role in the story is central, as his America Firsters take over the Republican Party, and then the country.

Who am I?

I've found the creep of authoritarianism to be very disquieting. One would have to be willfully blind to not see its manifestations both here and abroad. I wanted to better understand how this phenomenon cast its shadow over the world and I found the '33 Chicago World's Fair an ideal lens to view this through. I've been fascinated by world's fairs since I was a child and the '33 Fair was the first to consciously feature the future. I'm also strangely drawn to this period – if I believed in reincarnation it might provide answers, but I don't. The Zeitgeist just before the full, brutal ugliness of fascism broke over the world, fascinates me.


I wrote...

Broken Icarus: The 1933 Chicago World's Fair, the Golden Age of Aviation, and the Rise of Fascism

By David Hanna,

Book cover of Broken Icarus: The 1933 Chicago World's Fair, the Golden Age of Aviation, and the Rise of Fascism

What is my book about?

In Broken Icarus, author David Hanna tracks the inspiring trajectory of aviation leading up to and through the World’s Fair of 1933, as well as the field of flight’s more sinister ties to fascism domestic and abroad to present a unique history that is both riveting and revelatory.

“Interweaving colorful anecdotes and incisive cultural analysis, this entertaining history strikes a cautionary note about the promise and peril of technology.” - review in Publishers Weekly

What It Takes

By Richard Ben Cramer,

Book cover of What It Takes: The Way to the White House

I won’t kid you: I wish this book were about 200 pages shorter. But then it would not feel as bone-deep exhausting—and exhaustive—as an actual presidential campaign. And before one wields political power in America, there has to be a campaign. No one has taken us inside the psychological demands and personal toll of campaigning at the highest level like Cramer. Indeed, no journalist conceived that such an epic could be written until Cramer wrote it. And since his deep dive into the 1988 campaign, candidates have sworn never to be so exposed. Thus, this book is a revelation unlikely to be repeated.


Who am I?

A journalist and author for more than 40 years, I now write a twice-weekly opinion column for The Washington Post. Which is odd because I don’t have many opinions. What I do have is a lot of curiosity. One very durable question for me, which informed a couple of my books, is this: How does political power actually work in America? How does change happen?


I wrote...

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

By David Von Drehle,

Book cover of Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

What is my book about?

In telling the story of the 1911 factory fire at the Triangle Waist Co.—New York’s deadliest workplace disaster prior to 9/11—I tried to account for the profound effect of this event in a time when workers died on the job routinely. That turned out to be a rich and moving story of women’s rights, of labor organizing, of reformist zeal, and of gritty give-and-take inside a notorious political machine.

Zombie-In-Chief

By Scott Kenemore,

Book cover of Zombie-In-Chief: Eater of the Free World: A Novel Take on a Brain-Dead Election

Whatever your take on politics and elections, I thought this was a truly original addition to the zombie world. Funny, and often true-to-life in an alternate reality, this book offers another interesting and sometimes horrific view of the crazy world of politics in a year that was far from the norm.


Who am I?

Growing up in Chicago, I’ve always had a fascination for history, (even if it was sometimes a bit gory!), from Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre to reading about monsters and the unique worlds created by favorite author Stephen King. So, it’s probably not too surprising that I combined both interests and offered a new solution to the infamous Lizzie Borden axe murders of 1892 in my own book series. I enjoy reading, and writing, the serious to the not-so-serious, often incorporating touches of humor, or at least the absurd, where and whenever I can. 


I wrote...

Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter

By C.A. Verstraete,

Book cover of Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter

What is my book about?

One hot August morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden picked up an axe and murdered her father and stepmother. Newspapers claim she did it for the oldest of reasons: family conflicts, jealousy, and greed. But what if Lizzie slaughtered them because they’d become… zombies?

Thrust into a horrific world where the walking dead are part of a shocking conspiracy to infect not only Fall River, Massachusetts, but also the world beyond, Lizzie battles to protect her sister, Emma, and her hometown from nightmarish ghouls and the evil forces controlling them. Read the continuation in Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter 2: The Axe Will Fall!

Missionary Stew

By Ross Thomas,

Book cover of Missionary Stew

Critically underrated and largely unknown but described by up-and-coming writer Stephen King (in 1983) as “the Jane Austen of the political espionage story,” Ross Thomas was rumoured to have been an ex-spook himself. For those that haven’t read him, the best way I can describe his writing is: hilarious, clever, cynical, and like Elmore Leonard had a baby with Graham Greene.

Missionary Stew sees political fundraiser, Draper Haere, and “almost-Pulitzer winning” journalist, Morgan Citron, wrapped up in a caper involving the CIA, cocaine traffickers, Latin American generals, and corrupt US officials, all trying to fund a coup in a fictional Central American country. A storyline that might sound like it’s based on a true story—the Iran-Contra Affair. The only hitch is Missionary Stew was published in 1983 while Iran-Contra first came to light in 1985. Prophetic or insider knowledge?    


Who am I?

I lived in Latin America for six years, working as a red cross volunteer, a volcano hiking guide, a teacher, and an extra in a Russian TV series (in Panama). Having travelled throughout the region and returning regularly, I’m endlessly fascinated by the culture, history, politics, languages, and geography. Parallel to this, I enjoy reading and writing about the world of international espionage. Combining the two, and based on my own experience, I wrote my novel, Magical Disinformation, a spy novel set in Colombia. While there is not a huge depth of spy novels set in Latin America, I’ve chosen five of my favourites spy books set in the region.


I wrote...

Magical Disinformation

By Lachlan Page,

Book cover of Magical Disinformation

What is my book about?

Oliver Jardine is a British spy in Colombia, enamoured with local woman Veronica Velasco. As the Colombian government signs a peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas, Her Majesty’s Government decides a transfer is in order to focus on more pertinent theatres of operation. In a desperate attempt to remain in Colombia, Jardine begins to fabricate his intelligence reports. But the consequences soon take on a life of their own.

In the era of ‘fake news,’ in the land of magical realism, fiction can be just as dangerous as the truth...

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