The best books about legislators

Many authors have picked their favorite books about legislators and why they recommend each book.

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Joseph McCarthy

By Arthur Herman,

Book cover of Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America's Most Hated Senator

This is a balanced view of Senator McCarthy that, read in conjunction with Venona, Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, replaces the mendacity of historical orthodoxy with the truth, as columnist Nicholas Von Hoffman acknowledged in 1996: “Point by point Joe McCarthy got it all wrong, and yet he was still closer to the truth than those who ridiculed him.” The collapse of the Soviet Union opened both Soviet and American intelligence archives to Western scholars, if only briefly, and we now know that McCarthy’s charges were not, as we have been told for more than half a century, baseless, groundless, and irrational. Herman also reveals the dishonesty of Harry Truman and his enablers, who worked strenuously to obstruct investigations into Soviet espionage and poisoned political relations in this country.  

Joseph McCarthy

By Arthur Herman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Senator Joseph McCarthy is remembered as a self-serving and hypocritical man who recklessly destroyed people's lives through anticommunist witch hunting. This re-evaluation shows that the more that is learnt about communism in America, the more McCarthy is proven to be accurate in his charges.

Who am I?

I entered the United States Army in August 1970, two months after graduation from high school, completed flight school on November 1971, and served a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot in Troop F (Air), 8th US Cavalry, 1st Aviation Brigade. After my discharge, I served an additional 28 years as a helicopter pilot in the Illinois National Guard, retiring in 2003. I graduated from Triton Junior College, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Northwestern University Law School in 1981. My passion for this subject arises, as one would expect, from my status as a veteran. My expertise is based on my own experience and 16 years of research and writing that went into the preparation of my book.


I wrote...

Reckoning: Vietnam and America's Cold War Experience, 1945-1991

By Neal Thompson,

Book cover of Reckoning: Vietnam and America's Cold War Experience, 1945-1991

What is my book about?

America’s triumph over Soviet Communism, orthodoxy tells us, was a splendid bi-partisan accomplishment in which all Americans can take pride, marred only by America’s singularly unjust, ill-advised campaign in Vietnam, which was undertaken in good faith by well-meaning and intelligent men acting in the country’s interest. Nonsense.

In Reckoning, I identify facts that have been hiding in plain sight—“elephants in the room” as they are commonly known—and prove that: 1) the war in Vietnam, while winnable, was lost by a corrupt political class that was focused on domestic politics and opponents in Washington rather than Communists in Asia; 2) the war crimes allegations advanced by the antiwar left are false. The facts and figures regarding day-to-day operations in Vietnam, when compared to those of Korea and World War II, prove clearly that the men who fought in Vietnam were as honorable as any generation of American veterans. Finally, I demonstrate conclusively that you will never understand the Vietnam War by reading about the Vietnam War. You must begin with the “legacy of the 1930s” and the policies to which it gave rise. For the Vietnam War was but one campaign among many within the Truman Doctrine, and if it was the “Bad War fought for all the wrong reasons and in all of the wrong ways” that orthodoxy tells us it was, the Truman Doctrine itself becomes nothing but a long campaign of, in Daniel Ellsberg’s words, “American aggression.”

Book cover of His Truth Is Marching on: John Lewis and the Power of Hope

An intimate and historically accurate portrait of an extraordinary civil rights icon. Meachem carefully recreates the struggles for equality in the life of John Lewis. The passing of Lewis to the close proximity of our loss of Elijah Cummings left a deep hole in my heart that was soothed by this masterful portrayal of a real American hero. An uplifting book that shines a bright light of hope for future improvement.

His Truth Is Marching on

By John Meacham,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked His Truth Is Marching on as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I don’t know when I became aware of and bothered by racial inequality but looking back, I see touchstones that lighted my path even before Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech stiffened my spine in middle school. I participated in sit-ins at lunch counters and sat in the back of buses. Even though I was a white kid in a predominately white school, it became personal to me. The injustice and unfairness of prejudice and discrimination was the antithesis of what I believed was the promise of America. In recent years, the quiet background noise of racial inequity has amplified to an ugly level. I recommend these books as a start to understanding and rectifying the current unacceptable situation.


I wrote...

Written in Blood

By Diane Fanning,

Book cover of Written in Blood

What is my book about?

An army brat-turned-marine, he saw combat in Vietnam, and returned a decorated soldier. An avid reader, his dreams of being an acclaimed novelist came true. His desire to find love was fulfilled when he married brilliant executive Kathleen Atwater, the first female student accepted at Duke University's School of Engineering. The Petersons seemed the ideal academic couple- well-respected, prosperous, and happy.

All that came crashing down in December of 2001, when Kathleen apparently fell to her death in their secluded home in an exclusive area of Durham, North Carolina. But blood-spattered evidence and a missing fireplace poker suggested calculated, cold-blooded murder. Her trusted husband stood accused. 

Terry

By George McGovern,

Book cover of Terry: My Daughter's Life-And-Death Struggle with Alcoholism

In a world where addiction is associated with “abuse” and “addicts” are often depicted as morally depraved, physically unfit, and mentally unsound, it’s not difficult to figure out why people suffering from addiction – and their family members– are in denial. They simply don’t fit the stereotype. When Terry McGovern, daughter of Senator George McGovern, was a college student, she drank an average of five or six beers, three or four shots of hard liquor, or a bottle of wine every day. Despite her increasingly heavy drinking, occasional marijuana and barbiturate use, and suicidal behavior, Terry’s psychotherapist did not believe that she was an alcoholic; instead, he diagnosed her underlying problems as depression and unresolved psychological conflicts – a clear case of “professional denial.” It’s a fact that many of us have experienced childhood trauma. But when drug use continues despite serious and recurring problems, the “real problem” that must…

Terry

By George McGovern,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"McGovern's story is riveting as he investigates his daughter's life, reads her anguished and accusatory diaries, interviews her friends and doctors, sifts through the sordid police and medical records... a family drama of love and loss."-New York Times

Rarely has a public figure addressed such difficult, intimate issues with such courage and bravery. In a moving, passionate memoir, former Senator George McGovern recalls the events leading up to his daughter Terry's death as a result of alcoholism. What McGovern learned from Terry is an unforgettable, poignant tale certain to engender controversy and compassion.

Who am I?

Katherine Ketcham is the coauthor of 17 books about alcoholism/addiction, recovery, spirituality, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and empathy. She is also the author of the memoir, The Only Life I Could Save. She recently updated and revised her first book, Under the Influence: A Life-Saving Guide to the Myths & Realities of Alcoholism, for a 40th anniversary edition (published in September 2021 by Penguin Random House).  A dedicated photographer, columnist, and storyteller, she isn't sure what her 70s have in store for her but she's saving 12 hours of every day for her husband, three children, two grandchildren, extended family, and friends.  Books, walks, golf, yoga, gardening, story-collecting, daydreaming, and a good night's sleep should fill up the rest.


I wrote...

Book cover of Under the Influence: A Life-Saving Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcholism

What is my book about?

Tens of millions of Americans suffer from alcoholism, yet most people still wrongly believe that alcoholism is a psychological or moral problem, and that it can be cured by psychotherapy or sheer willpower. Based on groundbreaking scientific research, Under The Influence examines the physical factors that set alcoholics and non-alcoholics apart, and suggests a bold, stigma-free way of understanding and treating the alcoholic.

Huey Long

By T. Harry Williams,

Book cover of Huey Long

I began reading Williams’s biography as research for a recent historical novel, scanning passages listed in the index. Soon enough, I was gulping whole sections and chapters; I couldn’t stop reading the thing.  Williams reminded me how exuberant political narrative nonfiction can be and taught me as much about writing as about Huey Long. He showed ways to showcase characters’ traits and tells, portraits-in-miniature, in a “God is in the details” vibe. He showed how to set a story in its historical context while also using history as a mirror for contemporary times. And, through Long himself, Williams made me again admire the boundless audacity and ambition that I’d never possessed – and again made me thankful for its absence.

Huey Long

By T. Harry Williams,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

Political power has intrigued me since I read Macbeth and Machiavelli in high school – how to acquire it, wield it, and keep it, and how it seduces and ultimately corrupts. Political bosses fascinated me – Svengalis who built empires, often through charisma, populism, and ruthlessness. I began writing about politics as a newspaper reporter, then ran press shops for lawmakers and candidates, including a presidential campaign; co-wrote three nonfiction books with senators, including a former majority leader; then turned to writing fiction, a passion since boyhood, largely under the theme “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  


I wrote...

The Accomplice

By Charles Robbins,

Book cover of The Accomplice

What is my book about?

An eager young politico finds himself on the rise only to discover the perilous costs of success. Henry Hatten wangles a job as communications director for a senator’s presidential campaign and vows to shuck his ethical qualms after pulling a political punch that may have cost his last boss a governorship. Then the presidential campaign’s depths of greed emerge. Led by a ruthless chairman and filled with warring aides, hired thugs, fractious union bosses, and snooping reporters, the new gig turns out to be rife with the kind of politics Henry had so fervently sought to banish. When someone close to the campaign is murdered, Henry can no longer turn a blind eye or walk away.

Book cover of A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton

Bill Bradley was as far from a typical college and NBA superstar as can possibly be imagined. He was 6’5” but could barely dunk. In a race between the tortoise and the hare, he would be the tortoise. Yet, with an uncanny set of shooting, passing, and rebounding skills, he became the nation’s top high school prospect, with more than 70 colleges, including every powerhouse in the sport, offering him a scholarship. Instead, he chose to play at lowly Princeton, in one of the game’s weakest conferences—the Ivy League—where he averaged more than 30 points a game over the course of his career, becoming a two-time first-team All-American and, in his senior season, national player of the year, leading the Tigers to the 1965 NCAA tournament’s Final Four, in which he scored an unheard of 58 points against Wichita State and was named the tournament’s MVP—the only player to this…

A Sense of Where You Are

By John McPhee,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Sense of Where You Are as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I’m a narrative nonfiction writer whose subjects range from politics to professional football, from racial conflict to environmental destruction, from inner-city public education to social justice to spinal cord injury. The settings for my books range from the Galapagos Islands to the swamps of rural Florida, to Arctic Alaska. I typically live with and among my subjects for months at a time, portraying their lives in an intimately personal way.


I wrote...

Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

By Michael D'Orso,

Book cover of Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

What is my book about?

In October of 2004, I flew from my home in Norfolk, Virginia, to the tiny Arctic village of Fort Yukon, Alaska, where I rented a small cabin and spent the next six months climbing into the day-to-day lives of the community’s indigenous Native population while shadowing the village’s boys high school basketball team through the course of an entire season as they, their families, and their neighbors faced a myriad of challenges (poverty, inadequate schooling, alcoholism, suicide, teen pregnancy, and the loss of their traditional culture) while clinging to the one thing that gives their community hope and pulls together most of the state’s 200 “bush” villages: the game of basketball.

Helen Suzman

By Robin Renwick,

Book cover of Helen Suzman: Bright Star in a Dark Chamber

This is a heart-warming true story of the courage of one woman you have probably never heard of but you need to. A woman of great courage and integrity who took on the South African apartheid regime and for a while as a liberal was the only opposition member (and I think the only woman) in the racist all-white parliament. Some are naturally courageous, some have courage thrust upon them. Nelson Mandela and the ANC took on the racist regime from outside, Helen Suzman almost single-handedly took it on from within parliament. A real hero.

Helen Suzman

By Robin Renwick,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'The task of all who believe in multiracialism in this country is to survive. Quite inevitably time is on our side...' Helen Suzman was the voice of South Africa's conscience during the darkest days of apartheid. She stood alone in parliament, confronted by a legion of highly chauvinist male politicians. Armed with the relentless determination and biting wit for which she became renowned, Suzman battled the racist regime and earned her reputation as a legendary anti-apartheid campaigner. Despite constant antagonism and the threat of violence, she forced into the global spotlight the injustices of the country's minority rule. Access to…

Who am I?

We all need to understand more about how the world ticks, who is in control, and why they act as they do. And we need to salute those of courage who refuse to go along with the flow in a craven or unthinking way. I was an MP for 18 years and a government minister at the Department for Transport with a portfolio that included rail, bus, active travel, and then at the Home Office as Crime Prevention minister. After leaving Parliament, I became managing director of The Big Lemon, an environmentally friendly bus and coach company in Brighton. I now act as an advisor to the Campaign for Better Transport, am a regular columnist and broadcaster, and undertake consultancy and lecturing work.


I wrote...

...And What Do You Do?: What the Royal Family Don't Want You to Know

By Norman Baker,

Book cover of ...And What Do You Do?: What the Royal Family Don't Want You to Know

What is my book about?

The royal family is the original Coronation Street – a long-running soap opera with the occasional real coronation thrown in. Its members have become celebrities, like upmarket versions of film stars and footballers. But they have also become a byword for arrogance, entitlement, hypocrisy, and indifference to the gigantic amount of public money wasted by them.

In this book, former government minister Norman Baker argues that the British public deserves better than this puerile diet. … And What Do You Do? is a hard-hitting analysis of the royal family, exposing its extravagant use of public money and the highly dubious behaviour of some among its ranks, whilst being critical of the knee-jerk sycophancy shown by the press and politicians. Baker also considers the wider role the royals play in society, including the link with House of Lords reform, and the constitutional position of the monarch, which is important given Prince Charles’s present and intended approach.

Shirley Chisholm Dared

By Alicia Williams, April Harrison (illustrator),

Book cover of Shirley Chisholm Dared: The Story of the First Black Woman in Congress

I can still remember when Shirley Chisholm became the first African American woman elected to Congress. Unabashedly, “unbought and unbossed,” she also threw her hat in the ring in the race for president—the first woman to run. I dare anyone to read her biography and not be inspired.

Shirley Chisholm Dared

By Alicia Williams, April Harrison (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

Carole Boston Weatherford, author of Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre, has over 60 books, including the Newbery Honor winner, BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom, and three Caldecott Honor winners: Freedom in Congo Square, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, and Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom. Recent titles include Beauty Mark: A Verse Novel of Marilyn Monroe, R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul, and The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop. A two-time NAACP Image Award winner, she teaches at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.


I wrote...

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

By Carole Boston Weatherford, Ekua Holmes (illustrator),

Book cover of Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

What is my book about?

Stirring poems and stunning collage illustrations combine to celebrate the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a champion of equal voting rights.

Despite fierce prejudice and abuse, even being beaten to within an inch of her life, Fannie Lou Hamer was a champion of civil rights from the 1950s until her death in 1977. Integral to the Freedom Summer of 1964, Ms. Hamer gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention that, despite President Johnson’s interference, aired on national TV news and spurred the nation to support the Freedom Democrats. Featuring vibrant mixed-media art full of intricate detail, Voice of Freedom celebrates Fannie Lou Hamer’s life and legacy with a message of hope, determination, and strength.

Walking with the Wind

By John Lewis, Michael D'Orso,

Book cover of Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement

There is a spiritual quality in Lewis’ beautiful writing as he remembers a historic life. Lewis’ testament is of his journey from an Alabama farm to meeting a young Dr. King to becoming a leader in the Nashville sit-in movements and SNCC, all the way to the White House after speaking at the March on Washington. This book should be read forever.

Walking with the Wind

By John Lewis, Michael D'Orso,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

My father and I have written three books of narrative history. We tell stories from the American past that have a theme of interracial collaboration. Not sentimentally, but so that in a clear-eyed way, we can learn from moments in our history that may offer us hopeful ways forward. Growing up, I was shaped by narrative history techniques such as Simple Justice: The History of Brown v. Board of Education and Black America's Struggle for Equality by Richard Kluger and Taylor Branch’s America in the King Years trilogy. For this list, I wanted to share five favorite civil rights movement memoirs.


I wrote...

Nine Days: The Race to Save Martin Luther King Jr.'s Life and Win the 1960 Election

By Stephen Kendrick, Paul Kendrick,

Book cover of Nine Days: The Race to Save Martin Luther King Jr.'s Life and Win the 1960 Election

What is my book about?

Nine Days tells the story of a young Martin Luther King Jr.’s courageous first overnight imprisonment with Atlanta sit-in students and how it clarified the path of his activism to change a nation. The book also traces how an interracial team of civil rights advisors for the Kennedy campaign went rogue for Dr. King and shifted the Black vote to narrowly elect Kennedy over Nixon—a decisive moment in shaping the political parties we have today.

An American Dream

By Norman Mailer,

Book cover of An American Dream

Three harrowing days in the broken-down life of Stephen Rojack, self-appointed existential psychologist, TV personality of dubious distinction, novice mystic, and all-around deeply-frightened soul who one night strangles his wife in a fit of rage over a particular sexual practice of his, goes downstairs, buggers the German maid, visions of the four Nazi soldiers he killed during the war dancing through his head, tosses the wife’s corpse over the balcony which causes a traffic jam down below whose complications will reverberate throughout the rest of the novel and all that’s just in the first two chapters.

The whole feverish melodrama is recounted in a compelling, first-person, metaphorically-enriched voice of which the electric charge of simply one of its crackling paragraphs would power several pages of many lesser novels.

You’ve seen the almost daily news stories: "Ex Kills Wife and Family" and "Man Stabs Girlfriend of 5 Years". This provocative work…

An American Dream

By Norman Mailer,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I’ve always had a special fondness for novels that either touch upon or are entirely written from a point located somewhere within liminal space, that hazy borderland between wakefulness and dream where conventional reality undergoes powerful alteration and the imaginative force comes alive and speaks most vividly and truthfully. Works written in this manner are those I most like to read, those I most like to write. 


I wrote...

Going Native

By Stephen Wright,

Book cover of Going Native

What is my book about?

It was while watching the 80’s TV show America’s Most Wanted that I became fascinated with questions of identity and violence and the mysterious connection between the two. That, combined with Hume’s notion of the self as an unknowable bundle of sensory impressions led to the writing of this novel which is yet another depiction of several crucial months in the life of a serial killer. In this case, though, the conventional storyline has been turned inside out with the central character being relegated to the background and the traditionally minor figures whose lives our psychopath moves disastrously in and out of are presented center stage in separate disconnected chapters that trace a criminal journey westward through a contemporaneous addled America.

Unthinkable

By Jamie Raskin,

Book cover of Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin was not only inside the Capitol on January 6 when it was stormed, he had just tragically buried his 25-year-old son the previous day. His book, a cathartic exercise for himself and a shocked nation, drills down to the heart of what happened, showing in graphic detail how violent and terrifying that day was from an insider’s perspective. 

As a former constitutional law professor at American University who later became a Trump impeachment manager and member of the U.S. House Select Committee investigating the attack, Raskin eloquently explains the underlying events and issues that led to the violent breach. He argues forcefully why the former president himself must be held accountable before the country can begin a crucial, difficult healing process.

Unthinkable

By Jamie Raskin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER.

In this searing memoir, Congressman Jamie Raskin tells the story of the forty-five days at the start of 2021 that permanently changed his life-and his family's-as he confronted the painful loss of his son to suicide, lived through the violent insurrection in our nation's Capitol, and led the impeachment effort to hold President Trump accountable for inciting the political violence.

On December 31, 2020, Tommy Raskin, the only son of Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin, tragically took his own life after a long struggle with depression. Seven days later on January 6, Congressman Raskin returned…


Who am I?

I was born in Washington, D.C., in a hospital not far from the U.S. Capitol. I remember being awestruck walking through its halls on tours as a kid. As a journalist, I covered some hearings and interviewed Congress representatives and staff there. The attack on January 6, 2021, was more than a breach of a landmark, historic building representing the top legislative body in the country; it was an assault on the fabric of democracy itself. A tragic crime occurred there that left several people dead and many injured, both physically and emotionally. We must hold everyone involved, especially those at the top who planned this invasion, accountable for what occurred that day.


I wrote...

Operation Chaos: The Capitol Attack and the Campaign to Erode Democracy

By Kevin James Shay,

Book cover of Operation Chaos: The Capitol Attack and the Campaign to Erode Democracy

What is my book about?

In early 2020, Team Trump executed Operation Chaos, a little-known dirty trick ploy to disrupt Democratic Party primaries.

After the election was called for Joe Biden, Trump and allies put pressure on Vice President Mike Pence to overturn election results through Operation Pence Card, where Pence would send results back to states when he oversaw the ratification in Congress on January 6, 2021. Operation Occupy the Capitol, where Proud Boys, militias, party activists, top Trump advisers, and even Trump himself conspired to stop the legal process in Congress by taking over the building while Trump lawyers attempted to force state legislators to change election results. Trump and his operatives liked to use military-style, code names for their dirty campaigns. But no matter what they called it, the result was chaos.

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