The best books on political corruption

33 authors have picked their favorite books about political corruption and why they recommend each book.

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The Sorrows of Mexico

By Emiliano Ruiz Parra, Juan Villoro, Marcela Turati, Anabel Hernández, Lydia Cacho

Book cover of The Sorrows of Mexico

Seven esteemed Mexican writers: analyse and dissect the repeated failings of their country’s government. Uncomfortable but necessary reportage for anyone who wants to understand the situation in modern Mexico.

Who am I?

I became passionate about the Mexico/US border question after meeting someone who is now a close friend, a Mexican academic who introduced me to some of the issues. She helped me write Saint Death as a way to explore the politics of ultra-capitalism, in the form of multinational business, and the action of drug cartels.

I wrote...

Saint Death

By Marcus Sedgwick,

Book cover of Saint Death

What is my book about?

Anapra is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Mexican city of Juarez – twenty metres outside town lies a fence, and beyond it, America – the dangerous goal of many a migrant. Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he’s been working for. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he’s on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re both as good as dead.

Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santa Muerte) – she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.

Putin's Kleptocracy

By Karen Dawisha,

Book cover of Putin's Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?

The late Karen Dawisha offers the best account so far of Putin's early career and the connections and corruption that paved his path to power. Her historical examples of Putin's greed and connections with organized crime shed important light on the way Russia is ruled today.

Who am I?

David Satter is a leading commentator on Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is the author of five books on Russia and the creator of a documentary film on the fall of the U.S.S.R. He is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. He has been a fellow of the Foreign Policy Institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, and an associate of the Henry Jackson Society in London.

I wrote...

The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin

By David Satter,

Book cover of The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia's Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin

What is my book about?

In December 2013, David Satter became the first American journalist to be expelled from Russia since the Cold War. The Moscow Times said it was not surprising he was expelled, "it was surprising it took so long." Satter is known in Russia for having written that the apartment bombings in 1999, which were blamed on Chechens and brought Putin to power, were actually carried out by the Russian FSB security police.

In this book, Satter tells the story of the apartment bombings and how Boris Yeltsin presided over the criminalization of Russia, why Vladimir Putin was chosen as his successor, and how Putin has suppressed all opposition while retaining the appearance of a pluralist state. As the threat represented by Russia becomes increasingly clear, Satter's description of where Russia is and how it got there will be of vital interest to anyone concerned about the dangers facing the world today.

A Man in Full

By Tom Wolfe,

Book cover of A Man in Full

Read this – or anything by Wolfe, the writer who has had the most influence on me. Why? Because Tom Wolfe was what I aspire to be, a joyful explainer. He dropped himself into worlds he knew nothing about and let their most engaged players just talk. He came back with deep-inside tours of lives we would otherwise never know. In The Molecule of More, my co-author Dan Lieberman (one of the great psychiatric minds in America, I say) gave me a thrilling tour of neuroscience, leveraging my own interests as a playwright and a trained physicist so we could combine our knowledges into something that first passed the test of fascinating us as old friends. Wolfe does all that by himself, and magnificently in this tour of 1990s America.

Who am I?

I’m interested in everything – which is a problem, because there’s not time for everything. So how do you find the best of the world and your own place in it? Understanding your motivations is a good place to start, hence The Molecule of More. The rest comes from exploring as much as you can, and that begins with understanding the scope of what’s out there: ideas, attitudes, and cultures. The greatest joy in my life comes from the jaw-dropping realization that the world is so full of potential and wonder. These books are a guide to some of the best of it, and some of the breadth of it.

I wrote...

The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity—and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race

By Daniel Z. Lieberman, Michael E. Long,

Book cover of The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity—and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race

What is my book about?

The brain chemical dopamine ensured the survival of early man by setting our focus on getting things we don’t have, which were most often the requirements for staying alive. The modern world is a different place, but dopamine still drives us toward “more.” It is now what makes an ambitious professional sacrifice everything in pursuit of success, or a satisfied spouse risk it all for the thrill of someone new. It is why we seek and succeed; it is also why we gamble and squander. Our book explains the process and points toward a solution.


By Malka Older,

Book cover of Infomocracy: Book One of the Centenal Cycle

Infomocracy has one of the most original science fiction concepts that I’ve read in in a very long time. It’s set in a grounded near future with a radically different, but still democratic, global governance system. The story and characters are engaging, but what really stood out for me is how well Older has thought through this new form of geopolitics. It’s a fascinating read, and if you’re like me, you’ll be thinking about whether this is a good and workable solution long after you’ve finished the book.

Who am I?

Back in college, I switched from being an astrophysics major to computational neuroscience. The reasons are complicated, but suffice it to say that I found the human brain to be as big of a mystery as black holes. I’ve worked as an engineer for two decades on applications ranging from medical devices, to digital music recognition, to high speed chip design. Writing science fiction is the second act of my life, and I love drawing on my science background to inform my stories. I especially love taking cutting-edge technology and thinking about how it could impact future society, from the global to the individual.

I wrote...


By S.B. Divya,

Book cover of Machinehood

What is my book about?

It’s 2095, and humanity is entirely dependent on pills that not only help them stay alive but allow them to compete with artificial intelligence in a ubiquitous gig economy. Welga Ramirez, executive bodyguard and ex-special forces, is about to retire early when her client is killed by the Machinehood, a new and mysterious terrorist group. Their operatives seem to be part human, part machine, something the world has never seen. They issue an ultimatum: stop all pill production in one week. 

Welga, determined to take down the Machinehood, is pulled back into intelligence work by the government that betrayed her. But who are the Machinehood, and what do they really want? A thrilling and thought-provoking novel that asks: if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?

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

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.

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. 

I wrote...

International Aid and Democracy Promotion: Liberalization at the Margins

By Bann Seng Tan,

Book cover of International Aid and Democracy Promotion: Liberalization at the Margins

What is my book about?

To advance democracy realistically, we should account for the reluctance of Western donors and the pushback by recipients. Since political liberalization hurts authoritarian recipients, they can be expected to offer alternative policy concessions for aid in lieu of democratization and donors, eager for policy compliance, may not do enough to promote political liberalization. This means some recipients like Egypt, will have leverage against the West and are effectively immune to donor pressure. It also implies some recipients, like Fiji, will lack the attributes to make counteroffers attractive enough to the West. The latter group should be the proper emphasis of democracy aid. If the West filters recipients by their leverage, democracy promotion with foreign aid need not be a lost cause.   

Boardwalk Empire

By Nelson Johnson,

Book cover of Boardwalk Empire: The Birth, High Times, and Corruption of Atlantic City

Most people were drawn to this work because of the HBO television series of the same name. While there was, to be kind, a great deal of exaggeration in the series, Johnson’s thorough research for the book provides an accurate and fascinating account of the history of Atlantic City and its legendary political boss Enoch “Nucky” Johnson.

Who am I?

I grew up in New Jersey and my paternal ancestors have lived here since 1732. My ancestors served in the Civil War, my father served in World War II and I also served in the military. From an early age, I wanted to be a writer, and that ambition, as well as my experience as an army officer in the Vietnam War, provided the sparks that ignited my writing career.

I wrote...

The Rise and Fall of the Ku Klux Klan in New Jersey

By Joseph G. Bilby, Harry Ziegler,

Book cover of The Rise and Fall of the Ku Klux Klan in New Jersey

What is my book about?

The book traces how the social dysfunction that followed World War I merged with myths of the Civil War and Reconstruction and gave rise to a new Ku Klux Klan with a nationwide presence. It specifically traces the unlikely story of the 1920s Klan in New Jersey and the peculiar characters who orchestrated its rise, and whose blundering led to its fall.

Cadillac Desert

By Marc Reisner,

Book cover of Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

“In the west, it is said, water flows uphill towards money.” With that line, Marc Reisner captures all of the absurdity of the economic development of the arid lands west of the 100th meridian. First published in 1986, Cadillac Desert remains indispensable in understanding the hubris, greed, and stupidity that has marked so much of that development. Exhaustively researched and reported, and seasoned with the perfect amount of moral indignation, it is timeless. With the water crisis only deepening as climate change brings devastating droughts—reservoirs are at record lows and the Colorado River runs dry long before it reaches the sea— understanding how we got here is more important than ever. 

Who am I?

I have been writing about nature and nature conservation for nearly 35 years. I have seen it from all angles—government, non-government, private, local—in the US, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. I have written five books about how we can do better at both saving wild places and wild creatures, while also understanding how those efforts must also account for the human communities that depend on those places for their lives and livelihoods. Over the decades I have seen enormous and promising shifts in conservation practices, and although we are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis that is entirely of our own making, we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past. 

I wrote...

Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature

By Mark R. Tercek, Jonathan S. Adams,

Book cover of Nature's Fortune: How Business and Society Thrive by Investing in Nature

What is my book about?

Nature is not only the foundation of human well-being, but also the smartest commercial investment any business or government can make. The forests, floodplains, and oyster reefs often seen simply as raw materials or as obstacles to be cleared in the name of progress are, in fact as important to our future prosperity as technology or law, or business innovation.

When is protecting nature a good investment? With stories from the South Pacific to the California coast, from the Andes to the Gulf of Mexico, Nature's Fortune shows how viewing nature as green infrastructure allows for breakthroughs not only in conservation -- protecting freshwater; enhancing fisheries; making cities more livable; and dealing with unavoidable climate change -- but in economic progress, as well.

American Tabloid

By James Ellroy,

Book cover of American Tabloid

One of the masters of Los Angeles historical crime (along with Walter Mosely), Ellroy has written numerous outstanding novels, but my favorite is American Tabloid, which I think is Ellroy at the absolute top of his game.

Pete Bondurant, former cop and current freelance enforcer, troubleshooter, and troublemaker, just can’t keep his nose out of trouble. That trouble includes the FBI and the mob, but that’s just the start. The tendrils stretch from Cuba to the White House to the office of Howard Hughes. A sprawling, yet tightly plotted novel, American Tabloid is a masterpiece of crime fiction.

Who am I?

I am the author of the Will Anderson Detroit mystery series, which began with The Detroit Electric Scheme. I love vivid novels, those that pull me inside the pages and into the story. My interests balance between crime, historical fiction, and literary fiction. In short, I like a good story, and I don’t much care what label is placed on it. I live in Michigan with my wife and a pair of reasonably friendly cats.

I wrote...

The Detroit Electric Scheme: A Mystery

By D.E. Johnson,

Book cover of The Detroit Electric Scheme: A Mystery

What is my book about?

Will Anderson is a drunk, heartbroken over the breakup with his fiancée, Elizabeth. He's barely kept his job at his father's company—Detroit Electric, 1910's leading electric automobile manufacturer. Late one night, Elizabeth's new fiancé and Will's one-time friend, John Cooper, asks Will to meet him at the car factory. He finds Cooper dead, crushed in a huge hydraulic roof press. Surprised by the police, Will panics and runs, leaving behind his cap and automobile, and buries his blood-spattered clothing in a garbage can.

What follows is a fast-paced, detail-filled ride through early-1900s Detroit. Through it all, Will learns that clearing himself of the crime he was framed for is only the beginning. To survive, and for his loved ones to survive, he must also become a man.

When Crime Pays

By Milan Vaishnav,

Book cover of When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics

There’s an inexorable nexus between crime and politics in many developing nations around the world. India is no exception. This book presents statistics to show just how much Indian politics are dominated by people with serious criminal cases against them and uses case studies to show why such individuals continue to win elections. For me, the book served as an excellent introduction to understanding voter behaviour and why many developmental projects failed to have the desired impacts. For anyone trying to understand the politics of India, the book serves as an excellent introduction.

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.

The Wonga Coup

By Adam Roberts,

Book cover of The Wonga Coup: Guns, Thugs, and a Ruthless Determination to Create Mayhem in an Oil-Rich Corner of Africa

An uncompromising look at a real-life mercenary operation gone bad by a veteran journalist in Africa. In 2004, a group of salty British, South African, and Zimbabwean mercenaries sought to takeover — wait for it — Equatorial Guinea. Simon Mann, a former EO mercenary from the British upper classes, leads the mercenary coup, backed financially by Sir Mark Thatcher, son of famed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Unknown to them, South African intelligence had penetrated their organization and set a trap. It goes badly for the mercenaries. I knew one of them.

Who am I?

Dr. Sean McFate is an expert on international relations and a former military contractor. He is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, a Washington DC think tank, and a professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, Syracuse University's Maxwell School, and the National Defense University. He began his career as a paratrooper and officer in the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division. 

I wrote...

The New Rules of War: How America Can Win--Against Russia, China, and Other Threats

By Sean McFate,

Book cover of The New Rules of War: How America Can Win--Against Russia, China, and Other Threats

What is my book about?

The New Rules of War has been called the “The Freakonomics of modern warfare”. It was named a “Book of the Year” by The Economist, The Times [UK], and Evening Standard. Additionally, it is an Amazon bestseller and Editor's Pick, and is included on West Point’s “Commandant’s Reading List”. 

The book provides ten new rules of modern warfare and explains how to win. China, Russia, and Iran understand these new principles but the “West” doesn't and struggles against weak foes like terrorists and the Taliban. But we can win, if we update our strategic IQ. Admiral Jim Stavridis, the former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, said: “Sean McFate is a new Sun Tzu.” In the U.K it is titled: Goliath: Why the West Doesn't Win Wars. And What We Need to Do About It

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