The best books on political corruption

Who picked these books? Meet our 56 experts.

56 authors created a book list connected to political corruption, and here are their favorite political corruption books.
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What type of political corruption book?


China's Gilded Age

By Yuen Yuen Ang,

Book cover of China's Gilded Age: The Paradox of Economic Boom and Vast Corruption

George Magnus Author Of Red Flags: Why XI's China Is in Jeopardy

From the list on on understanding modern China.

Who am I?

I used to be Chief Economist at the UK bank SG Warburg and then at UBS, starting out in 1987 and finally cutting the cord in 2016 as Senior Economic Advisor. I visited China twice or three times a year from about 1994 and then the pandemic intervened. After the financial crisis, I decided that China would be the world’s next big thing. So I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out what’s going on there and for the last few years, I've been an associate at the China Centre at Oxford University and SOAS in London. Red Flags was a book I simply had to write. Maybe there’ll be another. We shall see.

George's book list on on understanding modern China

Discover why each book is one of George's favorite books.

Why did George love this book?

Everyone knows China has experienced amazingly long and rapid development, but also that in an autocratic country with plenty of laws but no rule of law, corruption is rife. Normally, deeply corrupt countries don’t ‘make it’, but China has, and I found Yuen Yuen Ang’s book an illuminating guide to just how and why a particular form of corruption in China has worked to its advantage. 

She calls this ‘access money’ as opposed to other forms of corruption such as embezzlement, petty bribery, extortion, and thuggery. She shows how to access money while producing perverse and risky outcomes, has actually nurtured investment and growth. It’s an interesting perspective on China’s long economic march since the 1980s, though she concludes that even this form of corruption is now generating problems and changes that will most likely end up undermining Xi Jinping’s China.

By Yuen Yuen Ang,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked China's Gilded Age as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Why has China grown so fast for so long despite vast corruption? In China's Gilded Age, Yuen Yuen Ang maintains that all corruption is harmful, but not all types of corruption hurt growth. Ang unbundles corruption into four varieties: petty theft, grand theft, speed money, and access money. While the first three types impede growth, access money - elite exchanges of power and profit - cuts both ways: it stimulates investment and growth but produces serious risks for the economy and political system. Since market opening, corruption in China has evolved toward access money. Using a range of data sources,…

The Sorrows of Mexico

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

Book cover of The Sorrows of Mexico

Marcus Sedgwick Author Of Saint Death

From the list on the USA / Mexico border, drug cartels, and misery.

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.

Marcus' book list on the USA / Mexico border, drug cartels, and misery

Discover why each book is one of Marcus' favorite books.

Why did Marcus love this book?

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.

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

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

With contributions from seven of Mexico's finest journalists, this is reportage at its bravest and most necessary - it has the power to change the world's view of their country, and by the force of its truth, to start to heal the country's many sorrows.

Supported the Arts Council Grant's for the Arts Programme and by PEN Promotes

Veering between carnival and apocalypse, Mexico has in the last ten years become the epicentre of the international drug trade. The so-called "war on drugs" has been a brutal and chaotic failure (more than 160,000 lives have been lost). The drug cartels…

Blackfish City

By Sam J. Miller,

Book cover of Blackfish City

Stephanie Feldman Author Of Saturnalia

From the list on fantastical cities.

Who am I?

When I decided to set my new novel, Saturnalia, in Philadelphia, I was excited to draw on my experience as a native and current resident of the City of Brotherly Love. But I also love magic and the supernatural as much as I love research—my Philadelphia had to be a fantastical one. I drew on real landmarks, real history, and real social dynamics, but added wild festivals, secret societies, and an occult history to create a place all my own. Fortunately, I had a number of fictional fantasy cities to guide my world-building.

Stephanie's book list on fantastical cities

Discover why each book is one of Stephanie's favorite books.

Why did Stephanie love this book?

Qaanaak, Blackfish City’s floating Arctic city, is science-fictional—it’s maintained by artificial intelligence and other futuristic technology—but it’s built with all the world-building care the fantasy reader desires, including a text-within-a-text that explains the city’s origins. What most inspired me, though, is how Qaanaak exposes a city’s class structure, and questions what makes a city worth saving.

By Sam J. Miller,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?


'A remarkable work of dystopian imagination' - Starburst

'Incisive and beautifully written . . . Blackfish City simmers with menace and heartache, suspense and wonder' - Ann Leckie, Hugo, Nebula and Clarke Award-winning author


After the climate wars, a floating city was constructed in the Arctic Circle. Once a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering it is now rife with corruption and the population simmers with unrest.

Into this turmoil comes a strange new visitor - a woman accompanied by an orca and a chained…

The Terminal List

By Jack Carr,

Book cover of The Terminal List

Carl Michaelsen Author Of The Last of a Dying Breed

From the list on to bring on an airplane/vacation.

Who am I?

If you’re at all like me, then finding time to sit down and read a book is incredibly challenging given how busy our everyday lives are. It seems like the only time I truly can dive into a book is on vacation. And so, all of the books I recommended I have either read on vacation or on an airplane. In my opinion, a good vacation book needs to be two things. It needs to be a quick read and it needs to be impossible to put down. When I sit down to write a book, I try to keep both of these in mind!

Carl's book list on to bring on an airplane/vacation

Discover why each book is one of Carl's favorite books.

Why did Carl love this book?

The ultimate thrill ride from start to finish, Jack Carr’s first novel following Navy Seal Commander James Reece is one to remember. I bought this book at the airport in Anaheim, California, and started reading while waiting for my flight. A few delays and a five-hour flight later I had finished the entire book. It is a fantastically written book, laced with complex characters, government, and corporate conspiracies, and reminds us all why you must always be wary of those closest to us.

By Jack Carr,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Terminal List as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'With a particular line in authentic tradecraft, this fabulously unrelenting thrill-ride was a struggle to put down' Mark Dawson, bestselling author of The Cleaner

James Reece has nothing to live for and everything to kill for in the debut thriller from former Navy SEAL Jack Carr, perfect for fans of Lee Child and David Baldacci.

On deployment in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Commander James Reece's entire team is killed in a catastrophic ambush. But the deaths don't stop there, and Reece soon discovers that this was not an act of war by a…

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

Alex Finley Author Of Victor in the Rubble

From the list on adventures in Africa.

Who am I?

I have traveled throughout Africa and had the great opportunity to live in West Africa for two years, while I was working for the CIA. That experience was wild and challenging, but also transforming. West Africa became the setting for my first novel, Victor in the Rubble, because I loved the absurdity and adventure I experienced there, where nothing is logical but everything makes sense. I have read a number of novels that take place in different parts of Africa, as well as a wide array of nonfiction books about various African countries, their history, and their leaders. There are so many great stories there that pique my interest and inspire me.

Alex's book list on adventures in Africa

Discover why each book is one of Alex's favorite books.

Why did Alex love this book?

This is a true story that reads like a geopolitical spy thriller, with reckless mercenaries, colorful dictators, and money, money, money.

This is one of the first books I ever read about outsiders looking to take advantage of Africa’s natural resources and the havoc that wreaks.

It revealed to me some of the darkest realities of Africa, the ruthlessness of some leaders, the ubiquitous corruption, and the desire of profiteers to take advantage of it all.

By Adam Roberts,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Wonga Coup as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Equatorial Guinea is a tiny country roughly the size of the state of Maryland. Humid, jungle covered, and rife with unpleasant diseases, natives call it Devil Island. Its president in 2004, Obiang Nguema, had been accused of cannibalism, belief in witchcraft, mass murder, billiondollar corruption, and general rule by terror. With so little to recommend it, why in March 2004 was Equatorial Guinea the target of a group of salty British, South African and Zimbabwean mercenaries, travelling on an American-registered ex-National Guard plane specially adapted for military purposes, that was originally flown to Africa by American pilots? The real motive…

The Etched City

By K.J. Bishop,

Book cover of The Etched City

Noah Lemelson Author Of The Sightless City

From the list on fantasy about weird and wonderful cities.

Who am I?

Growing up in Los Angeles, I am well familiar with strange, grotesque, illogical, and wonderful cities. My love of fantasy has always been for the odd ones out, less the bucolic farmlands and forest, more for those that present a twisted mirror of modern urban life. As an amateur lover of history, I love to study the evolution, mutation, and decay of cities. I find most interesting cities, in both real life and fantasy, to be those shaped by not one single culture, but by many over history and space.

Noah's book list on fantasy about weird and wonderful cities

Discover why each book is one of Noah's favorite books.

Why did Noah love this book?

Speaking of books that push up against the genre boundaries of fantasy, Bishop’s The Etched City crafts a dark, foreboding, but somehow one of the beautiful cities in fantasy.

Ashamoil is a grim place, decadent and decayed, a humid jungle-born city filled with disgraced freedom fighters, slavers, and crime lords. Its fantasy elements are less floating magic gemstones and dragons and more weird, inexplicable things, miracles, and their dark inverse.

At times The Etched City feels like a dream, but the best kind of dream, the one you want to tell everyone about, if you could just find the right words.

By K.J. Bishop,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“Combine equal parts of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and Chine Miéville’s Perdido Street Station, throw in a dash of Aubrey BeardsleyandJ.K. Huysmans, and you’ll get some idea of this disturbing, decadent first novel.”—Publishers Weekly

Gwynn and Raule are rebels on the run, with little in common except being on the losing side of a hard-fought war. Gwynn is a gunslinger from the north, a loner, a survivor . . . a killer. Raule is a wandering surgeon, a healer who still believes in just—and lost—causes. Bound by a desire to escape the ghosts of the past, together they flee…


By Gary Beacom,

Book cover of Apology

Alina Adams Author Of Figure Skating Mystery Series (5 Books in 1)

From the list on figure skating and it’s scandals.

Who am I?

As a researcher, writer, and producer for ABC Sports, ESPN, NBC, and TNT, I first wrote two non-fiction books, Inside Figure Skating, and Sarah Hughes: Skating to the Stars (and this was before she won the Olympic Gold in 2002). With the Figure Skating Mystery series, I was finally able to tell all the juicy stories I couldn’t when I was working for television or writing non-fiction. It was very therapeutic. But I wasn’t just a writer of books about figure skating. I was a reader, too. I learned so much from the experts, especially those willing to admit how things really were, rather than how the sport would like to appear on the surface.

Alina's book list on figure skating and it’s scandals

Discover why each book is one of Alina's favorite books.

Why did Alina love this book?

There are plenty of skating autobiographies out there. There is only one by an author who performed with skates on his hands, does a headstand on the ice (no hands!), who protested his low score on a figure by quitting in the middle of the championship and retiring from competitive skating then and there. And who served two years in prison while maintaining his innocence. Everyone claims to be an original these days. Beacom did it first. And he explains why.

By Gary Beacom,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This unbelievable story of government corruption and usurpation will make you laugh and cry. Skating sensation and celebrity, Gary Breacom, tells the shocking story of is brush with government corruption and injustice. Gary's humorous account of his personal brush with the law is more than a story of psycholoical survival, it is a keeenly insightful first-hand assessment of a system gone terribly astray.

The shocking truth is -- it could happen to you!

American Tabloid

By James Ellroy,

Book cover of American Tabloid

Anthony Schneider Author Of Lowdown: A Mafia Romance Thriller

From the list on character-driven gangsters.

Who am I?

Growing up on a diet of The Godfather, The Sopranos, thrillers, and gangster novels, and living in New York City with eye-opening trips to Sicily, I became slightly obsessed with the Mafia. I came to see the American Mafia as a quintessentially American fabric, woven of family, power, immigrants, money, history, loyalty, legacy, and, yes, crime.  

Anthony's book list on character-driven gangsters

Discover why each book is one of Anthony's favorite books.

Why did Anthony love this book?

A history of the early 1960s in America, leading up to the assassination of JFK, seen through the eyes of the mobsters and criminals, crooked cops, spies, and sleazos who power the machines of history.

A comprehensive romp through the underbelly of American crime and politics (and you might, after reading this book, wonder what’s the difference), it’s a novel about characters you don’t like—but they’re vivid and fascinating.

Much more than a gritty gangster novel, it’s a tale about the people in history’s shadows, and, ultimately, history and the “never innocent” America itself. 

By James Ellroy,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked American Tabloid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first novel in Ellroy's extraordinary Underworld USA Trilogy as featured on BBC Radio 4's A Good Read.

1958. America is about to emerge into a bright new age - an age that will last until the 1000 days of John F Kennedy's presidency.

Three men move beneath the glossy surface of power, men allied to the makers and shakers of the era. Pete Bondurant - Howard Hughes's right-hand man, Jimmy Hoffa's hitman. Kemper Boyd - employed by J Edgar Hoover to infiltrate the Kennedy clan. Ward Littell - a man seeking redemption in Bobby Kennedy's drive against organised crime.…

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

Bann Seng Tan Author Of International Aid and Democracy Promotion: Liberalization at the Margins

From the list on using foreign aid to do good in a realistic way.

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. 

Bann's book list on using foreign aid to do good in a realistic way

Discover why each book is one of Bann's favorite books.

Why did Bann love this book?

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.

By Bruce Bueno de Mesquita (lead author), Alastair Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith's canonical book on political science turned conventional wisdom on its head. They started from a single assertion: leaders do whatever keeps them in power. They don't care about the "national interest"-or even their subjects-unless they must.

Newly updated to reflect the global rise of authoritarianism, this clever and accessible book illustrates how leaders amass and retain power. As Bueno de Mesquita and Smith show, democracy is essentially just a convenient fiction. Governments do not differ in kind, but only in the number of essential supporters or backs that need scratching. The size of…

When Crime Pays

By Milan Vaishnav,

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

Shivam Shankar Singh Author Of How to Win an Indian Election

From the list on understanding Indian politics.

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.

Shivam's book list on understanding Indian politics

Discover why each book is one of Shivam's favorite books.

Why did Shivam love this book?

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.

By Milan Vaishnav,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked When Crime Pays as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first thorough study of the co-existence of crime and democratic processes in Indian politics

In India, the world's largest democracy, the symbiotic relationship between crime and politics raises complex questions. For instance, how can free and fair democratic processes exist alongside rampant criminality? Why do political parties recruit candidates with reputations for wrongdoing? Why are one-third of state and national legislators elected-and often re-elected-in spite of criminal charges pending against them? In this eye-opening study, political scientist Milan Vaishnav mines a rich array of sources, including fieldwork on political campaigns and interviews with candidates, party workers, and voters, large…

Cadillac Desert

By Marc Reisner,

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

Laurie Marr Wasmund Author Of My Heart Lies Here

From the list on why the American West always will be the "Wild West”.

Who am I?

Raised in the American West, I have watched the explosive growth in Colorado with dismay. In my lifetime, metro Denver has grown from a population of about 500,000 people to more than 5.5 million. The Colorado of large ranches and wide, open spaces is disappearing. I have named my publishing company “lost ranch books,” in honor of the ranch where I grew up, which was sold and developed with cookie-cutter houses. I’ve now set out to recapture historic Colorado by writing about it. My award-winning books center on Colorado’s and the American West’s history, for not only is it fascinating and, often, troubling, but it still resonates today.

Laurie's book list on why the American West always will be the "Wild West”

Discover why each book is one of Laurie's favorite books.

Why did Laurie love this book?

Water, water everywhere—but not in the American West. I first read Reisner’s book soon after its publication in 1986, when it presented a haunting, frightening future for the western United States that is being realized today. The book reveals the inadequacy of the management of water in the western states that began as soon as there was settlement, and it takes an especially hard look at the treaties surrounding the Colorado River, which has all but disappeared in the past few years, causing panic at the Hoover Dam and in Las Vegas, Arizona, and Mexico. Reisner amply demonstrates why major cities should not be built in semi-arid and arid climes—and still, the western states’ populations continue to explode. 

By Marc Reisner,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Cadillac Desert as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The definitive work on the West's water crisis." --Newsweek

The story of the American West is the story of a relentless quest for a precious resource: water. It is a tale of rivers diverted and dammed, of political corruption and intrigue, of billion-dollar battles over water rights, of ecological and economic disaster. In his landmark book, Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner writes of the earliest settlers, lured by the promise of paradise, and of the ruthless tactics employed by Los Angeles politicians and business interests to ensure the city's growth. He documents the bitter rivalry between two government giants, the Bureau…

The Labyrinth of the Spirits

By Carlos Ruiz Zafón,

Book cover of The Labyrinth of the Spirits

Veronica Gutierrez Author Of As You Look

From the list on badass female detectives on location.

Who am I?

I’ve loved mystery novels since picking up my older sister’s Agatha Christie collection as a pre-teen. Over the years I’ve come to love novels with badass women detectives, especially when the world-building pulls you into a place and time that is almost an additional character, where you can feel the weather, smell the buildings, and taste the fear. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to add a social justice angle. Having read so many, I finally decided to write my own mystery set in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights where I grew up, not anywhere near the Hollywood version.

Veronica's book list on badass female detectives on location

Discover why each book is one of Veronica's favorite books.

Why did Veronica love this book?

This Cemetery of Books series prompted my wife and me to repeatedly interrupt our reading with “Check out this passage” comments. Zafón’s prose and Lucia Graves’ translation are that beautiful. In the final book, they superbly depict repressive, Franco-era Barcelona and characters like Alicia Rico, who carries the pain and scars of the Spanish civil war while uncovering injustices with the help of book lovers who safeguard banned books and deep secrets. We visited Barcelona before reading the series but welcomed this return to Las Ramblas and other locales.

By Carlos Ruiz Zafón,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As a child, Daniel Sempere discovered among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books an extraordinary novel that would change the course of his life. Now a young man in the Barcelona of the late 1950s, Daniel runs the Sempere & Sons bookshop and enjoys a seemingly fulfilling life with his loving wife and son. Yet the mystery surrounding the death of his mother continues to plague his soul despite the moving efforts of his wife Bea and his faithful friend Fermin to save him.

Just when Daniel believes he is close to solving this enigma, a conspiracy more…

Book cover of The Light at the Bottom of the World

Tanvi Berwah Author Of Monsters Born and Made

From the list on oceanic YA fantasy.

Who am I?

I’m a South Asian writer who grew up in dry plains and the desert, so when I saw the ocean for the first time—it was an absolute shock to my senses. I was drawn to its vastness, its strangeness. Everything about our seas is fascinating, from the way they sustain life on the planet to the alien creatures that inhabit them. Since I’m a reader, I began to look for books featuring seas, and after nonfic ones, found fantasy books that were set in imaginative water-based worlds. This lifelong love has now led to my own debut being an oceanic fantasy. So I hope you enjoy this list. :)

Tanvi's book list on oceanic YA fantasy

Discover why each book is one of Tanvi's favorite books.

Why did Tanvi love this book?

I love inventive worldbuilding, more than anything else in a story. And The Light at the Bottom of the World, set in a post-apocalyptic future where our world is underwater is a criminally underrated gem. The whole book is as brilliant as it is surrealistic. It follows protagonist Leyla McQueen from submerged London who’s competing in a marathon in the hopes of freeing her political prisoner father — and who finds out there’s much more going on with the corrupt government than she knew. An astutely plotted thriller, The Light at the Bottom of the World is an achievement in imagination.

By London Shah,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Light at the Bottom of the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From debut author London Shah, comes a thrilling futuristic Sci-Fi mystery perfect for fans of Illuminae and These Broken Stars.

In the last days of the twenty-first century, sea creatures swim through the ruins of London. Trapped in the abyss, humankind wavers between hope and fear of what lurks in the depths around them, and hope that they might one day find a way back to the surface.

When sixteen-year-old submersible racer Leyla McQueen is chosen to participate in the city's prestigious annual marathon, she sees an opportunity to save her father, who has been arrested on false charges. The…

The Petticoat Affair

By John F. Marszalek,

Book cover of The Petticoat Affair: Manners, Mutiny, and Sex in Andrew Jackson's White House

Sean Patrick Adams Author Of A Companion to the Era of Andrew Jackson

From the list on Andrew Jackson’s bizarre, violent, divisive life.

Who am I?

I’ve been a historian of the period for more than two decades, and I am still fascinated by Andrew Jackson. He captures the attention of my undergraduate students and his name offers one of the best ways to start a shouting match at an academic conference. As I sifted through the various accounts of Jackson for this book, I was amazed at the range. Writers dealing with the same individual concluded that he was either a product of his age, a hero, the founder of American democracy, a populist, a racist, or a monstrous psychopath. All of these interpretations might have some merit, which made the project, in my opinion, all the more interesting. 

Sean's book list on Andrew Jackson’s bizarre, violent, divisive life

Discover why each book is one of Sean's favorite books.

Why did Sean love this book?

One of Jackson’s earliest—and most critical—biographers wrote in 1860: “the political history of the United States, for the last thirty years, dates from the moment when the soft hand of Mr. Van Buren touched Mrs. Eaton's knocker.” This earnest statement has not aged particularly well, but the significance of the Peggy Eaton Affair, in which Andrew Jackson risked an enormous amount of political capital defending the honor of one of his Secretary of War’s spouse, still fascinates. Marszalek reconstructs the world of gender, respectability, and the inner workings of Jackson’s White House with skill and grace.  

By John F. Marszalek,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This account of the Eaton Affair describes the story of how Peggy O'Neale Eaton, the wife of President Andrew Jackson's secretary of war, was branded a "loose woman" and snubbed by Washington society. The president's defence of her honour fuelled intense speculation and a scandal began.


By Malka Older,

Book cover of Infomocracy

Lavanya Lakshminarayan Author Of The Ten Percent Thief

From the list on science fiction novels exploring the near future.

Who am I?

I’m a novelist and game designer from Bangalore. I’ve been a lifelong reader of science fiction and fantasy. Growing up, I almost never encountered futures that included people like me—brown women, from a country that isn’t the UK/ US, and yet, who are in sync with the rapidly changing global village we belong to. Over the last decade, though, I've found increasing joy in more recent science fiction, in which the future belongs to everyone. The Ten Percent Thief is an expression of my experiences living in dynamic urban India, and represents one of our many possible futures. 

Lavanya's book list on science fiction novels exploring the near future

Discover why each book is one of Lavanya's favorite books.

Why did Lavanya love this book?

I’m fascinated by the possibilities presented by post-nation futures. Infomocracy looks at a future where ‘centenals’—groups of 100,000 people without historic nationalist borders—elect an international corporate-affiliated body to govern the world.

High-stakes political intrigue fuels the biggest election in a century as multiple factions battle it out to seize power through the vehicle of futuristic democracy. To me, the highlight of this novel is its exploration of democracy—it’s peppered with paradoxical and intense arguments that are rewarding to engage with, and enhance the richness of its world. 

By Malka Older,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Infomocracy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It's been twenty years and two election cycles since Information, a powerful search engine monopoly, pioneered the switch from warring nation-states to global microdemocracy. The corporate coalition party Heritage has won the last two elections. With another election on the horizon, the Supermajority is in tight contention, and everything's on the line. With power comes corruption. For Ken, this is his chance to do right by the idealistic Policy1st party and get a steady job in the big leagues. For Domaine, the election represents another staging ground in his ongoing struggle against the pax democratica. For Mishima, a dangerous Information…

House of Cards

By Michael Dobbs,

Book cover of House of Cards

DC Alden Author Of The Angola Deception

From the list on coverups and conspiracies.

Who am I?

I’ve always been a voracious reader, and from an early age I was drawn to military, political, and science fiction thrillers because they explored a world of black operations, ruthless cabals, and clandestine government programmes. Later, I discovered that such a world exists, one where the military-industrial complex exerts enormous power and influence, a world of secretive global agendas, of dark actors controlling corrupt politicians, and cold-blooded military contractors, their allegiances no longer tied to any national flag but to mega-wealth cabals, offshore accounts, and vast pension funds. A world of shadows, where the light rarely shines, and the truth remains hidden. A truth often stranger than fiction.

DC's book list on coverups and conspiracies

Discover why each book is one of DC's favorite books.

Why did DC love this book?

The book that triggered my deeper exploration into the world of political corruption, Dobb’s classic still stands shoulder to shoulder with HBO’s powerhouse TV reimagining of the source material, and ticks all the political thriller boxes—corruption, blackmail, and murderous intent at the highest levels of government. The masterfully crafted Francis Urquhart is one of the most intriguing fictional characters I’ve met, determined, manipulative, and utterly ruthless, and the twisty plot moves along at a cracking pace. Do people like Urquhart really exist? Undoubtedly, although the real versions are infinitely crueler and more corrupt. If you loved the TV show, as I did, the original book will not disappoint.  

By Michael Dobbs,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked House of Cards as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The acclaimed political thriller that first introduced the unforgettable Francis Urquhart MP and launched Michael Dobbs' No 1 bestselling career - now updated with brand new material.

Michael Dobbs' entertaining tale of skulduggery and intrigue within the Palace of Westminster has been a huge hit with the public. Its scheming hero, Chief Whip Francis Urquhart, who uses fair means and foul to become Prime Minister, is one of the best-known characters of the last decade - the politician we all love to hate.

Acclaimed for its authenticity and insights into a secret world…

The Ones That Got Away

By Stephen Graham Jones,

Book cover of The Ones That Got Away

Patrick Barb Author Of Pre-Approved for Haunting: And Other Stories

From the list on single-author weird and horrifying short stories.

Who am I?

Whether it’s campfire tales told with the moon high or bedtime fables told to get children to stay in their beds after lights out, I believe horror fiction is at its purest, most effective form as short prose. These collections of horror, fantasy, sci-fi, and Western tales are all touched by the weird and terrifying. The twin sensations of being unsettled by something you’ve read and of being unable to resist reading on are guiding lights in my own writerly pursuits. These collections and many more played a defining role in shaping my own debut dark fiction collection Pre-Approved for Haunting and Other Stories. 

Patrick's book list on single-author weird and horrifying short stories

Discover why each book is one of Patrick's favorite books.

Why did Patrick love this book?

No one writing horror fiction today is better at punching the reader in the guts (or ripping those guts out and showing them to you) like Stephen Graham Jones. While he’s been touted more recently for his novel-length works, I first came to know SGJ’s writing via short stories. This collection is one of several stand-outs from his catalog.

When it comes to horror and weird fiction writing, SGJ’s versatility knows no bounds. Whether it’s the literary strangeness of “Father, Son, Holy Rabbit,” or the freaky folk horror of “Raphael” (elements of which SGJ has revisited in his Indian Lake novel trilogy), there are all kinds of scares in this collection. He even pulls off a shocking jump-scare fright in “Crawlspace” that has to be experienced first-hand.

By Stephen Graham Jones,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

These thirteen stories are our own lives, inside out. A boy's summer romance doesn't end in that good kind of heartbreak, but in blood. A girl on a fishing trip makes a friend in the woods who's exactly what she needs, except then that friend follows her back to the city. A father hears a voice through his baby monitor that shouldn't be possible, but now he can't stop listening. A woman finds out that the shipwreck wasn't the disaster, but who she's shipwrecked with. A big brother learns just what he will, and won't, trade for one night of…

White Jazz

By James Ellroy,

Book cover of White Jazz

Steven Powell Author Of Love Me Fierce In Danger: The Life of James Ellroy

From the list on the king of LA noir James Ellroy.

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by James Ellroy’s life and writing since I first discovered it as a lonely teenager on a rainswept family holiday. He went through dark times; the unsolved murder of his mother and his subsequent struggles with addiction. But how he overcame this to become one of America’s greatest writers is an inspiring story and has inspired me to get through my own personal turmoil. Indeed, many Ellroy readers will attest to how his life story and writing helped them overcome their struggles. Now as Ellroy’s biographer, I am continually drawn back to his work. Reading just a few pages allows me to contemplate what Ellroy calls ‘the Wonder’.

Steven's book list on the king of LA noir James Ellroy

Discover why each book is one of Steven's favorite books.

Why did Steven love this book?

Ellroy at his most avant-garde. The plot is familiar territory for Ellroy fans; murder and political corruption in 1950s LA. But the experimental prose style, including the most pared-down clipped sentences, started to alienate some of his readers. Personally, I regard the book as Ellroy’s masterpiece and the experimentation is justified as it helps to deliver a lightning-fast pace.

By James Ellroy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The internationally acclaimed author of the L.A. Quartet and The Underworld USA Trilogy, James Ellroy, presents another literary noir masterpiece of historical paranoia.

Los Angeles, 1958. Killings, beatings, bribes, shakedowns--it's standard procedure for Lieutenant Dave Klein, LAPD. He's a slumlord, a bagman, an enforcer--a power in his own small corner of hell. Then the Feds announce a full-out investigation into local police corruption, and everything goes haywire.

Klein's been hung out as bait, "a bad cop to draw the heat," and the heat's coming from all sides: from local politicians, from LAPD brass, from racketeers and drug kingpins--all of them…

The Death of Artemio Cruz

By Carlos Fuentes, Alfred MacAdam (translator),

Book cover of The Death of Artemio Cruz

Alejandro Quintana Ph.D. Author Of Pancho Villa: A Biography

From the list on biographies of the Mexican Revolution.

Who am I?

I grew up in Mexico listening to my father´s stories about the Mexican revolution. His storytelling abilities drew me in as he described his childhood memories and those of his father, who lived through the revolution. That's why I became a historian writing about the Mexican Revolution with a preference for biographies. As the Latin Americanist historian at St. John's University in New York City, I've written two books: Maximino Avila Camacho and the One Party State, Pancho Villa: A Biography, and edited A Brief History of Mexico by Lynn V. Foster. I hope you enjoy the list of books on significant personalities that shaped the first major social revolution of the twentieth century.

Alejandro's book list on biographies of the Mexican Revolution

Discover why each book is one of Alejandro's favorite books.

Why did Alejandro love this book?

This book is one of my all-time favorites. The Death of Artemio Cruz is a historical novel by one of the most acclaimed literary figures of the Spanish language, Carlos Fuentes. It is a captivating narrative of intertwined memories experienced by Cruz while on his deathbed; this novel is a harsh condemnation of the post-revolutionary political class. It shows the path of idealist revolutionaries becoming corrupt politicians once in power. While a work of fiction, the book describes real corrupt and abusive attitudes and straight-out crimes committed by numerous revolutionary leaders turned politicians. There were many Artemio Cruz among the revolution leaders, which helps explain why the revolution failed to achieve real social change. 

By Carlos Fuentes, Alfred MacAdam (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

As the novel opens, Artemio Cruz, the all-powerful newspaper magnate and land baron, lies confined to his bed and, in dreamlike flashes, recalls the pivotal episodes of his life. Carlos Fuentes manipulates the ensuing kaleidoscope of images with dazzling inventiveness, layering memory upon memory, from Cruz's heroic campaigns during the Mexican Revolution, through his relentless climb from poverty to wealth, to his uneasy death. Perhaps Fuentes's masterpiece, The Death of Artemio Cruz is a haunting voyage into the soul of modern Mexico.

Red Tape

By Akhil Gupta,

Book cover of Red Tape: Bureaucracy, Structural Violence, and Poverty in India

Tanya Jakimow Author Of Susceptibility in Development: Micropolitics of Local Development in India and Indonesia

From the list on anthropology of development.

Who am I?

I am an anthropologist of development who has conducted ethnographic research in India, Indonesia, and more recently, Australia. Throughout my career I have grappled with questions of how power works in development, particularly in and through processes of self-making. I seek new theoretical tools to examine these questions, but always grounded in the realities of the everyday. I came of age when post-development critiques were dominant, but both my idealism and cynicism have been tempered by working alongside local development actors. In my work I try to give readers a sympathetic portrait of their lives, beliefs, and hopes, and how these shape practices, relationships, and consequences of ‘development’. 

Tanya's book list on anthropology of development

Discover why each book is one of Tanya's favorite books.

Why did Tanya love this book?

Akhil Gupta asks why so many people in India suffer extreme poverty, and yet invite so little reaction.

His answer is structural violence. State inaction, or ineffective action, are part of the conditions that let people die from poverty.

The brilliance in Akhil Gupta’s work is inviting us to look at the state not as a coherent and unified entity, but as operating through multiple levels, agencies, and departments.

As someone interested in local development actors, I find his ethnographic accounts of low-level government offices and officials particularly compelling.

By showing everyday practices in these offices, and fine-grained encounters between officials and welfare recipients, Gupta shows how state indifference is produced, and challenged, in ways that shape life and death. 

By Akhil Gupta,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Red Tape presents a major new theory of the state developed by the renowned anthropologist Akhil Gupta. Seeking to understand the chronic and widespread poverty in India, the world's fourth largest economy, Gupta conceives of the relation between the state in India and the poor as one of structural violence. Every year this violence kills between two and three million people, especially women and girls, and lower-caste and indigenous peoples. Yet India's poor are not disenfranchised; they actively participate in the democratic project. Nor is the state indifferent to the plight of the poor; it sponsors many poverty amelioration programs.…