The most recommended liberalism books

Who picked these books? Meet our 34 experts.

34 authors created a book list connected to liberalism, and here are their favorite liberalism books.
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Book cover of The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age

Doug White Author Of Wounded Charity: Lessons Learned from the Wounded Warrior Project Crisis

From my list on the complex worlds of philanthropy and nonprofits.

Who am I?

The nonprofit sector is important to society and I often marvel at how many of us – which is to say all of us – have been touched by the generosity of others. With few exceptions, anyone who has graduated from college, who has been admitted to a hospital, who has attended a faith-based service, who has examined art at a gallery, who – literally, and there are no exceptions here – breathes air has benefited from the work of nonprofit organizations and the philanthropists who support them. It is therefore important to me to understand how the system works and how important charities are to society and a functioning democracy. 

Doug's book list on the complex worlds of philanthropy and nonprofits

Doug White Why did Doug love this book?

In The Givers David Callahan asks questions – and answers them – about the power philanthropists possess to influence public policy in America. 

He wonders how much influence donors have and what their goals are. He says that some of us are happy about the causes the wealthy promote, but are terrified about others. 

As well, he contends, the process is undemocratic. Philanthropy, he says, is a strong power center in its own right, and “is set to surpass government to shape society’s agenda.” He points out that private donors, who are accountable to no one, have more influence than the public officials who are accountable to the voters. 

Callahan is unafraid to question how much good philanthropists actually do.

By David Callahan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An inside look at the secretive world of elite philanthropists—and how they're quietly wielding ever more power to shape American life in ways both good and bad.

While media attention focuses on famous philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Charles Koch, thousands of donors are at work below the radar promoting a wide range of causes. David Callahan charts the rise of these new power players and the ways they are converting the fortunes of a second Gilded Age into influence. He shows how this elite works behind the scenes on education, the environment, science, LGBT rights, and many other…

Book cover of Quest for Democracy: Liberalism in the Modern Arab World

Sean Yom Author Of From Resilience to Revolution: How Foreign Interventions Destabilize the Middle East

From my list on democracy and dictatorship in the Middle East.

Who am I?

I have always been interested in the politics of democracy and dictatorship. Governing is a funny business: the masses must entrust a very few to lead them, and often with vast power. Where does that trust come from? And why do some rulers act so viciously while others serve with grace? Understanding these very human concerns is a worthy pursuit of knowledge.

Sean's book list on democracy and dictatorship in the Middle East

Sean Yom Why did Sean love this book?

Westerners often believe that in the Middle East, ideas of democratic freedom and human rights are gifts of Western civilization. Not so, this book shows. Across the Arab world, there are generations – and in some cases, centuries – of local activism, organization, and intellectual life focused on democracy and liberalism. This is an extraordinary heritage, and one that inverts the script of Western condescension: Arab thinkers were debating democratic possibilities well before women could vote in America.

By Line Khatib,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Since the uprisings of 2010 and 2011, it has often been assumed that the politics of the Arab-speaking world is dominated, and will continue to be dominated, by orthodox Islamic thought and authoritarian politics. Challenging these assumptions, Line Khatib explores the current liberal movement in the region, examining its activists and intellectuals, their work, and the strengths and weaknesses of the movement as a whole. By investigating the underground and overlooked actors and activists of liberal activism, Khatib problematizes the ways in which Arab liberalism has been dismissed as an insignificant sociopolitical force, or a mere reaction to Western formulations…

Book cover of A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism

Greg Berman Author Of Gradual: The Case for Incremental Change in a Radical Age

From my list on if you want government to work better.

Who am I?

I have spent my professional career attempting to reform the justice system and create safer communities. For nearly two decades, I served as the executive director of the Center for Court Innovation (now the Center for Justice Innovation). Now, I co-edit a policy journal called Vital City that attempts to spark new thinking about how to achieve public safety. Over the years, I have worked with numerous city, state, and federal officials. I have seen that most of the people working within government are trying their best in difficult circumstances. I have also seen that it is enormously difficult to change government systems and solve complicated social problems.

Greg's book list on if you want government to work better

Greg Berman Why did Greg love this book?

When I was the executive director of the Center for Court Innovation (now the Center for Justice Innovation), I made a habit of sharing interesting essays with the rest of the team.

One of my all-time favorites was Adam Gopnik’s “The Caging of America.” In the essay, Gopnik offers this analysis of how crime was reduced in New York City throughout the 1990s and 2000s: “There was no miracle cure, just the intercession of a thousand smaller sanities.”

The idea that small changes can make a big difference has been a bit of a personal crusade for me ever since. 

In A Thousand Small Sanities, Gopnik expands upon this argument, offering a full-throated defense of liberalism against critics on both the right and the left. 

By Adam Gopnik,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Thousand Small Sanities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


The New York Times-bestselling author offers a stirring defence of liberalism against the dogmatisms of our time

Not since the early twentieth century has liberalism, and liberals, been under such relentless attack, from both right and left. The crisis of democracy in our era has produced a crisis of faith in liberal institutions and, even worse, in liberal thought.

A Thousand Small Sanities is a manifesto rooted in the lives of people who invented and extended the liberal tradition. Taking us from Montaigne to Mill, and from Middlemarch to the civil rights movement, Adam…

Book cover of Liberalism, Community, and Culture

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Author Of Just, Reasonable Multiculturalism: Liberalism, Culture and Coercion

From my list on multiculturalism and the role of culture in our lives.

Who am I?

I'm intrigued by boundaries and the relationships between different ideologies, or isms. In 1992, I joined the European Project at The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. This was a fascinating group of people from Israel, Palestine, and Germany who studied the connections between Europe and the Middle East. Then I opened a new field of studies that continues to engage me: multiculturalism. In my books and articles (most recent: The Republic, Secularism and Security: France versus the Burqa and the Niqab), I examine the extent to which democracy may interfere in the cultural affairs of minorities within democracy, how to find a balance between individual rights and group rights, and whether liberalism and multiculturalism are reconcilable. 

Raphael's book list on multiculturalism and the role of culture in our lives

Raphael Cohen-Almagor Why did Raphael love this book?

Studying at Oxford, I was surprised that quite a few of my lecturers, including Ronald Dworkin and Jerry Cohen, hardly ever discussed the importance of culture in our lives. As someone who believes in the motto Know from where you are coming in order to know where you are going, I do not underestimate the power of culture, religion, and tradition in shaping communities. My library research discovered the excellent DPhil dissertation that Kymlicka wrote while he was in Oxford. This dissertation was a fresh air for me, accentuating the need to take culture seriously. Kymlicka reshaped his dissertation into this book which I regard as one of his very best books. Kymlicka presents the liberal view about the nature and value of community culture and bridges between liberalism and multiculturalism. I share this view and promote it in my own studies.

Kymlicka and I later cooperated in writing together…

By Will Kymlicka,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Liberalism is often described as a theory about the proper relationship between the individual and the state, but it also contains a broader account of the relationship between the individual and society. This book presents the liberal view about the nature and value of community and culture in an unusually explicit and systematic way, and links it to more familiar liberal views on individual rights and state neutrality.

Book cover of Don't Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party

Robert L. Fleegler Author Of Brutal Campaign: How the 1988 Election Set the Stage for Twenty-First-Century American Politics

From my list on explaining today’s polarized US politics.

Who am I?

I'm a history professor at the University of Mississippi and I've been a political junkie for a long time. I really began following politics during the 1988 presidential election and I vividly remember reading about the race in the newspaper every morning and then watching the evening news coverage each night. Thus, it seemed like the perfect topic for my second book. It was really fascinating to see the similarities and differences between my memories and the sources from the time.

Robert's book list on explaining today’s polarized US politics

Robert L. Fleegler Why did Robert love this book?

This book is engaging because it shows how the base of the Democratic party has changed since Franklin Roosevelt first assembled the New Deal political coalition in the 1930s. 

Today, it is increasingly the party of college-educated suburban voters and reflects their cultural and political priorities. From the Great Depression until the 1960s, however, working-class urban voters formed the heart of the party. Geismer uses metropolitan Boston as a template to depict this important transition, which helped produce suburban candidates such as Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, whose political career emerged from and was shaped by his life in Brookline, MA.  

By Lily Geismer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Don't Blame Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Don't Blame Us traces the reorientation of modern liberalism and the Democratic Party away from their roots in labor union halls of northern cities to white-collar professionals in postindustrial high-tech suburbs, and casts new light on the importance of suburban liberalism in modern American political culture. Focusing on the suburbs along the high-tech corridor of Route 128 around Boston, Lily Geismer challenges conventional scholarly assessments of Massachusetts exceptionalism, the decline of liberalism, and suburban politics in the wake of the rise of the New Right and the Reagan Revolution in the 1970s and 1980s. Although only a small portion of…

Book cover of Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think

Ronnie Janoff-Bulman Author Of The Two Moralities: Conservatives, Liberals, and the Roots of Our Political Divide

From my list on the psychology behind our politics.

Who am I?

A university professor for 40 years (now emerita), I focused my most recent research on moral psychology. I am also a political junkie, so perhaps it is no surprise that I have combined these two interests. As both a social psychologist and political psychologist, I have conducted numerous studies on the moral underpinnings of our political ideologies. In addition to two books, I have published over 90 papers, many devoted to morality and/or politics, and I was awarded a generous three-year National Science Foundation grant to study the two moralities that are discussed in my book.   

Ronnie's book list on the psychology behind our politics

Ronnie Janoff-Bulman Why did Ronnie love this book?

This was George Lakoff’s groundbreaking early book linking morality and politics.

Here the renowned cognitive psychologist, draws from his expertise as a linguist to uncover the unconscious worldviews of liberals and conservatives. More specifically, he argues that distinct conceptual metaphors, each associated with the family, underlie the politics of the left and right, specifically the strict father for conservatives and the nurturant parent for liberals.  

By George Lakoff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

When Moral Politics was first published two decades ago, it redefined how Americans think and talk about politics through the lens of cognitive political psychology. Today, George Lakoff's classic text has become all the more relevant, as liberals and conservatives have come to hold even more vigorously opposed views of the world, with the underlying assumptions of their respective worldviews at the level of basic morality. Even more so than when Lakoff wrote, liberals and conservatives simply have very different, deeply held beliefs about what is right and wrong. Lakoff reveals radically different but remarkably consistent conceptions of morality on…

Book cover of The False Promise of Liberal Order: Nostalgia, Delusion and the Rise of Trump

Philip Cunliffe Author Of The New Twenty Years’ Crisis 1919-2019: A Critique of International Relations

From my list on liberal international order in the 21st century.

Who am I?

Having come of age at the End of History in the late 1990s, it seemed to me back then that the only big political questions left were international ones. Everything in domestic politics appeared to be settled. As I pursued this interest through my scholarly work as an academic, I came to understand how questions of international and domestic order were intertwined – and that one could not be understood without the other. As we’re now living through the end of the End of History, unsurprisingly we’re seeing tremendous strain on political systems at both the national and international level. These books will provide, I hope, some signposts as to what comes next.  

Philip's book list on liberal international order in the 21st century

Philip Cunliffe Why did Philip love this book?

Despite having been maligned for so long in the British academy, in this book Porter shows the continuing vitality of the intellectual tradition of classical realism for understanding power politics today. He gratifyingly sweeps away the dewy-eyed nostalgia for the so-called ‘rules-based order’ that supposedly crumbled on Trump’s election to the White House in 2016. In addition to usefully reminding us of all the hypocrisy bound up with liberal internationalism, Porter also forces us to reckon with the core question of all politics – how far power is needed to underpin political order. Although I demur from some of his conclusions, Porter scrapes the tablet clean, offering the possibility of a more forthright and meaningful debate. 

By Patrick Porter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The False Promise of Liberal Order as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In an age of demagogues, hostile great powers and trade wars, foreign policy traditionalists dream of restoring liberal international order. This order, they claim, ushered in seventy years of peace and prosperity and saw post-war America domesticate the world to its values.

The False Promise of Liberal Order exposes the flaws in this nostalgic vision. The world shaped by America came about as a result of coercion and, sometimes brutal, compromise. Liberal projects - to spread capitalist democracy - led inadvertently to illiberal results. To make peace, America made bargains with authoritarian forces. Even in the Pax Americana, the gentlest…

Book cover of Trials of Nation Making: Liberalism, Race, and Ethnicity in the Andes, 1810–1910

Miguel La Serna Author Of With Masses and Arms: Peru's Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement

From my list on reads before your trip to Peru.

Who am I?

I am a professor of Latin American history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My teaching and research focus on Andean history, and I have written several books on the period of political violence that pitted guerrillas of the Shining Path and Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) against Peruvian security forces and peasant militias during the 1980s and 1990s. I have been researching in Peru for twenty years, from Lima’s shantytowns, to the Andes mountains, to the Amazon jungle. A Peruvian-American, I maintain strong family ties to the region and am a proud, yet frequently heartbroken, supporter of the national soccer team.

Miguel's book list on reads before your trip to Peru

Miguel La Serna Why did Miguel love this book?

Few scholars possess the ability to take complex historical situations and present them in a manner that is equal parts educational, palatable, and engaging. Brooke Larson is one of those rare talents. When I was in graduate school, I devoured Larson’s Cochabamba, and soon found myself looking to get my hands on anything authored by her. Needless to say, I was eager to read Trials of Nation Making when it was released. I was not disappointed. This wonderfully engaging history examines the role that race and ethnicity played in the framing, founding, and forming of Andean republics, where Creole elites sought to solve the so-called “Indian Problem.” But this is no top-down history. As Larson masterfully illustrates, Indigenous historical actors employed a range of strategies—from legal action to open rebellion—to demand participation in nation-making processes.  

By Brooke Larson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book offers the first interpretive synthesis of the history of Andean peasants and the challenges of nation-making in the four republics of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia during the turbulent nineteenth century. Nowhere in Latin America were postcolonial transitions more vexed or violent than in the Andes, where communal indigenous roots grew deep and where the 'Indian problem' seemed so daunting to liberalizing states. Brooke Larson paints vivid portraits of Creole ruling elites and native peasantries engaged in ongoing political and moral battles over the rightful place of the Indian majorities in these emerging nation-states. In this story, indigenous…

Book cover of Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City

John Rennie Short Author Of The Unequal City

From my list on cities and their power to change lives and attitudes.

Who am I?

I grew up in a small village in a very rural part of Scotland. It was perhaps inevitable, then, that I would have an interest in the urban. Cities, especially big cities, seemed wonderfully exciting when I was growing up, full of mystery and promise, intoxicating, transgressive, with a hint of danger and a whiff of excitement. That fascination has stayed with me throughout my academic career as I have explored different facets of the urban experience. I am aware of the growing inequality but remain optimistic about the progressive possibilities and redemptive power of the urban experience to change lives and attitudes.

John's book list on cities and their power to change lives and attitudes

John Rennie Short Why did John love this book?

The writer loves Amsterdam that much is clear. He deftly shows how this one city grew from the most unpromising location to become not only a great city in its own right, but also the city where tolerance, markets, and the ideals of liberal tolerant capitalist society were forged and burnished. Our modern liberal cosmopolitanism was created in Amsterdam. We owe a great deal to Amsterdam and its citizens. 

By Russell Shorto,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Amsterdam is not just any city. Despite its relative size it has stood alongside its larger cousins - Paris, London, Berlin - and has influenced the modern world to a degree that few other cities have. Sweeping across the city's colourful thousand year history, Amsterdam brings the place to life: its sights and smells; its politics and people. Concentrating on two significant periods - the late 1500s to the mid 1600s and then from the Second World War to the present, Russell Shorto's masterful biography looks at Amsterdam's central preoccupations. Just as fin-de-siecle Vienna was the birthplace of psychoanalysis, seventeenth…

Book cover of Basic Economics

Michael Muthukrishna Author Of A Theory of Everyone: The New Science of Who We Are, How We Got Here, and Where We're Going

From my list on changing how you see the world.

Who am I?

I’m a professor of economic psychology at the London School of Economics with affiliations in developmental economics and data science. Before that, I was at Harvard in Human Evolutionary Biology. During my PhD, I took graduate courses in psychology, economics, evolutionary biology, and statistics. I have undergraduate degrees in engineering and in psychology and took courses in everything from economics and biology to philosophy and political science. As a child, I witnessed the civil war in Sri Lanka; a violent coup in Papua New Guinea; the end of apartheid in South Africa, living in neighboring Botswana; and London’s 7/7 bomb attacks. I’ve also lived in Australia, Canada, USA, and UK.

Michael's book list on changing how you see the world

Michael Muthukrishna Why did Michael love this book?

This is probably the best lay introduction to economics that I've read. If you have opinions about the vices or virtues of capitalism, liberalism, socialism, or inequality, it offers a rigorous discussion of the underlying considerations.

Sowell is probably best known for his discussions on race, but in Basic Economics, his ability to explain, well, basic economic intuitions and thinking, really shines. Anyone opining on policy should read it.

By Thomas Sowell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this fifth edition of Basic Economics , Thomas Sowell revises and updates his popular book on common sense economics, bringing the world into clearer focus through a basic understanding of the fundamental economic principles and how they explain our lives. Drawing on lively examples from around the world and from centuries of history, Sowell explains basic economic principles for the general public in plain English. Basic Economics , which has now been translated into six languages and has additional material online, remains true to its core principle: that the fundamental facts and principles of economics do not require jargon,…