The best books about politicians

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

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All the King's Men

By Robert Penn Warren,

Book cover of All the King's Men

The early ‘30s were marked by the rise of Huey P. Long, Louisiana’s populist governor, senator, and cult leader whom FDR called “the most dangerous man in America.” In All the King’s Men, the character of Willie Stark is based on Long and gives us a richly detailed look into the labyrinthine politics of the times. Fiction, but painfully true, not just to Long and the ways he corrupted decent people but to our own political times, as well. Favorite quote: “Politics is a matter of choices, and a man doesn't set up the choices himself. And there is always a price to make a choice. You know that. You've made a choice, and you know how much it cost you. There is always a price.”

All the King's Men

By Robert Penn Warren,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked All the King's Men as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Willie Stark's obsession with political power leads to the ultimate corruption of his gubernatorial administration.

Who am I?

I’m a writer and history buff who loves to make fiction out of facts. For me, the best stories are imagined out of truths we have all lived, real places that are mapped in our memories, real people whose names conjure events, past times that are prelude to our own. I like to read books built on plots and puzzles, so I write mysteries. I love books about real people, so I write biographical novels bent around the secret selves of people we only thought we knew: Eleanor Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Georgia O’Keeffe. 


I wrote...

The Darling Dahlias and the Red Hot Poker

By Susan Wittig Albert,

Book cover of The Darling Dahlias and the Red Hot Poker

What is my book about?

It’s Labor Day weekend, 1935, and the Darling Dahlias―the garden club in little Darling, Alabama―are trying to keep their cool at the end of a sizzling summer. This isn’t easy, though, since there’s a firebug on the loose in Darling. A dangerous hurricane is poised offshore and a hurricane of a different sort is making a whirlwind campaign stop: the much-loved-much-hated senator from Louisiana, Huey P. Long, whom President Roosevelt calls the “most dangerous man in America.”

The people of Darling face the challenges of the Great Depression with courage and grace, reminding us that friends offer the best of themselves to each other, community is what holds us together, and even when life seems too hot to handle, there’s always hope.

The Architects

By Stefan Heym,

Book cover of The Architects

Set in 1955-56, The Architects by German-Jewish author Stefan Heym is a rare find. It delivers a stark portrait of East Germany in the period around Khrushchev’s “secret speech” denouncing Stalin, which Heym lived through. The author uses the politics of architecture to expose hypocrisy and personal jealousy in the new “anti-Fascist” German state. At the heart of the book is a devastating personal betrayal that gives the lie to communist claims of moral superiority. Written in the 1960s’, The Architects is a searing critique of the New Germany by a convinced socialist. This helps explain why Heym wrote it in English and did not publish it until 2000, a year before his death, in his own German translation.

The Architects

By Stefan Heym,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Written between 1963 and 1966, when its publication would have proved to be political dynamite - and its author's undoing - this novel of political intrigue and personal betrayal takes readers into the German Democratic Republic in the late 1950s, shortly after Khruschev's ""secret speech"" denouncing Stalin and his methods brought about a ""thaw"" in the Soviet bloc and, with it, the release of many victims of Stalinist brutality. Among these is Daniel, a Communist exile from Hitler who has been accused of treachery while in Moscow and who now returns to Germany after years of imprisonment. A brilliant architect,…

Who am I?

I’m a Scottish journalist. In the 1980s, I studied German at Karl-Marx University in Leipzig, East Germany. It was a fascinating experience that changed my perceptions of the world. I didn’t become a communist, but I did begin to see that where you stand depends on where you sit and that principles are easy to maintain when it costs you nothing to do so. There was a bleak glamour to East Germany that I loved, and so I decided to set my first novel in the shadowy world of intense personal connections, underground artists, and unofficial informers that I’d found in Leipzig. 


I wrote...

The Leipzig Affair

By Fiona Rintoul,

Book cover of The Leipzig Affair

What is my book about?

The Leipzig Affair is a tale of love, betrayal, and redemption set in East Germany in the dying days of the Cold War. Magda, a brilliant but disillusioned young linguist, is desperate to flee to the West. When a black-market deal brings her into contact with Robert, a young Scot studying at Leipzig University, she sees a way to realize her escape plans. As Robert falls in love with her, he stumbles into a complex world of shifting half-truths that will undo them both. Many years later, long after the Berlin Wall has been torn down, Robert returns to Leipzig in search of answers. Can he track down the elusive Magda? And will the past give up its secrets?

Book cover of The Alan Clark Diaries: In Power 1983-1992

Clark was a nasty man – not a lovable rogue but a real bastard with Nazi sympathies and a taste for young girls. The first volume of his diaries, however, are brilliant because they are so extraordinarily uninhibited. He reveals everything about himself including his own fraudulence.

The Alan Clark Diaries

By Alan Clark,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The first volume of Alan Clark's diaries, covering two Parliaments during which he served under Margaret Thatcher - until her ousting in a coup which Clark observed closely from the inside - and then under John Major, constitute the most outspoken and revealing account of British political life ever written. Cabinet colleagues, royalty, ambassadors, civil servants and foreign dignitaries are all subjected to Clark's vivid and often wittily acerbic pen, as he candidly records the daily struggle for ascendancy within the corridors of power.

Who am I?

Richard Vinen is a Professor of History at King's College, London, and the author of a number of major books on 20th century Europe. He won the Wolfson Prize for History for his last book, National Service. Vinen is a specialist in 20th-century European history, particularly of Britain and France.


I wrote...

National Service: A Generation in Uniform 1945-1963

By Richard Vinen,

Book cover of National Service: A Generation in Uniform 1945-1963

What is my book about?

Richard Vinen's new book is a serious - if often very entertaining - attempt to get to grips with the reality of National Service, an extraordinary institution which now seems as remote as the British Empire itself. With great sympathy and curiosity, Vinen unpicks the myths of the two 'gap years', which all British men who came of age between 1945 and the early 1960s had to fill with National Service. Millions of teenagers were thrown together and under often brutal conditions taught to obey orders and to fight. The luck of the draw might result in two years of boredom in some dilapidated British barracks, but it could also mean being thrown into a dangerous combat mission in a remote part of the world.

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.”

Wangari's Trees of Peace

By Jeanette Winter,

Book cover of Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa

Wangari is from Kenya and grew up among many trees. When she is older and returns home, she notices that the trees have all been cut down. She decides to replant her own trees which starts a movement with many to reforest the land. She has many obstacles to overcome but, in the end, prevails. This is a story that shows determination in the face of many challenges to make a difference. I, of course, love that it also introduces children to a very different and very beautiful part of the world. This is another story that can connect us all. Jeanette Winter’s text and beautiful illustrations complement each other perfectly. 

Wangari's Trees of Peace

By Jeanette Winter,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Wangari's Trees of Peace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As a young girl growing up in Kenya, Wangari was surrounded by trees. But years later when she returns home, she is shocked to see whole forests being cut down, and she knows that soon all the trees will be destroyed. So Wangari decides to do something - and starts by planting nine seedlings in her own backyard. And as they grow, so do her plans . . .

This true story of Wangari Maathai, environmentalist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, is a shining example of how one woman's passion, vision, and determination inspired great change.

Includes an…

Who am I?

I am passionate about writing books for children that create windows to the world, teaching empathy. Children that are empathic grow up to be kind and compassionate adults. I write because I long for a world that is more accepting and compassionate.  


I wrote...

A Thirst for Home: A Story of Water across the World

By Christine Ieronimo, Eric Velasquez (illustrator),

Book cover of A Thirst for Home: A Story of Water across the World

What is my book about?

Alemitu lives with her mother in a poor village in Ethiopia, where she must walk miles for water and hunger roars in her belly. Even though life is difficult, she dreams of someday knowing more about the world. When her mother has no choice but to leave her at an orphanage to give her a chance at a better life, an American family adopts Alemitu. In her new home, water and food are plentiful but she searches for the connection to her homeland and the mother that gave up so much for her. This is our story that I wrote not only to bring awareness to issues of walking for water, which is typically a girl’s job, but also to honor the incredible sacrifice made by my daughter’s birth mother.

The Petticoat Affair

By John F. Marszalek,

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

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.  

The Petticoat Affair

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.

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. 


I wrote...

A Companion to the Era of Andrew Jackson

By Sean Patrick Adams,

Book cover of A Companion to the Era of Andrew Jackson

What is my book about?

Andrew Jackson’s story mirrored that of the United States; from his childhood during the American Revolution, through his military actions against both Native Americans and Great Britain, and continuing into his career in politics. As president, Jackson attacked the Bank of the United States, railed against disunion in South Carolina, defended the honor of Peggy Eaton, and founded the Democratic Party. This edited collection features more than thirty original essays by leading scholars and historians that consider various aspects of the life, times, and legacy of the seventh president of the United States. Topics include Jackson’s impact on politics, race, religion, and culture; the rise of the Democratic Party; Native American removal; the Panic of 1837; the birth of women’s suffrage, and much more.

The Stars Look Down

By A.J. Cronin,

Book cover of The Stars Look Down

The book describes various injustices in a coal mining community and gives an excellent description of working-class life of the time in the North of England.

The story portrays the different careers or paths of individuals against the odds: a miner's son who tries to defend his people from political pressure, a miner who turns into a businessman, and the mine owner's son in a clash with his overbearing father. Having had similar experiences in my own life, the story had jogged my memory.

The Stars Look Down

By A.J. Cronin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Stars Look Down was A.J. Cronin's fourth novel, published in 1935, and this tale of a North country mining family was a great favourite with his readers.

Robert Fenwick is a miner, and so are his three sons. His wife is proud that all her four men go down the mines. But David, the youngest, is determined that somehow he will educate himself and work to ameliorate the lives of his comrades who ruin their health to dig the nation's coal. It is, perhaps, a typical tale of the era in which it was written - there were many…


Who am I?

I felt compelled to write this story, not just because the eventful lives of myself and members of my family, but mostly because of its historical content. Until this day the West knows very little of what actually happened in the early 1940s and after 1945 to countries and people who, after the war, finished up behind the Iron Curtain. From Fascism to Communism, they had fallen “Out of the frying pan into the fire.” People in those European countries, who had lived through and experienced those events, are now very thin on the ground.


I wrote...

Retrospect

By Tom Tottis,

Book cover of Retrospect

What is my book about?

In the aftermath of the First World War, Julia, a young woman in Budapest, is working hard to contribute to the family’s income. Julia marries Sándor and despite being told by her doctor that she must not have children, she has a son, Tommy. The turbulent years of WWII reduce the family to just mother and son and Julia and Tommy are forced to draw upon their determination, courage, wit, and self-preservation to survive. In the wake of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, crushed by Soviet tanks, Tommy risks his life and escapes from behind the Iron Curtain and from the Communism that has risen from the ashes of Fascism.

From Budapest in the ‘twenties to London in the ‘nineties, this is a family saga of three generations, ravaged by wars and adverse circumstances.

Planting the Trees of Kenya

By Claire A. Nivola,

Book cover of Planting the Trees of Kenya: The Story of Wangari Maathai

I really like this book because it is a story about a strong woman, a science student, someone who studied at university. The message “if you are part of the problem, you can be part of the solution” and the message of education, and environmental responsibility resonates with me. The illustrations are gentle pastoral scenes and the fact that it was the women who saved Kenya from hunger and devastation makes this a must-read. My favourite scene is when Wangari is telling soldiers to have a gun in one hand and a seed in the other. The true story that just one person beginning with a small act of planting some seeds made a big difference is definitely worth a read.

Planting the Trees of Kenya

By Claire A. Nivola,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Planting the Trees of Kenya as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I really am passionate about children and education. Reading to children is such a joy especially when they snuggle in and get absorbed in the story. Education is the only way to achieve some sort of equity in our world. The world I knew as a child is no more and that is a good thing. Cruel biases and intolerance hurt so many. Today there is more freedom and the potential to live true to yourself whatever that may be. I like books that show the diversity of our humanity, that can be read to children to broaden their understanding, acceptance, and tolerance of family which may be very different from their own.


I wrote...

Basil's Unkie Herb

By Mary Shaw,

Book cover of Basil's Unkie Herb

What is my book about?

Basil’s Unkie Herb is a book about family, perception, and marriage equality. The book uses Basil’s birthday parties to detail how Unkie Herb’s birthday surprises usually have a funny or disastrous ending depending on your perception. The reader learns not to judge by appearances, Fred who owns a donkey and garbage truck is actually a veterinarian; the dangerous motorcycle riders turn out to be Basil’s teacher and Nana’s doctor. 

The book ends with Mom explaining to Basil that Unkie Herb and his boyfriend Ricardo can marry if they love each other because “where we live you can marry whomever you love.” This is a funny, laugh-out-loud book with a happy ending for everyone.

Book cover of The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln

Although established in the late 1700s, the United States didn’t really become a recognizably modern democracy until the middle of the 1800s. This classic history book describes in detail how this happened in response to public pressures that were populist in nature. The story of this transformation over the 19th century reveals that populism is a recurring feature of American politics, and it has often led the country to improve its democratic practices. This is not an easy read, but offers significant rewards to the persistent reader.

The Rise of American Democracy

By Sean Wilentz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Acclaimed as the definitive study of the period by one of the greatest American historians, The Rise of American Democracy traces a historical arc from the earliest days of the republic to the opening shots of the Civil War. Ferocious clashes among the Founders over the role of ordinary citizens in a government of "we, the people" were eventually resolved in the triumph of Andrew Jackson. Thereafter, Sean Wilentz shows, a fateful division arose between two starkly opposed democracies-a division contained until the election of Abraham Lincoln sparked its bloody resolution. Winner of the Bancroft Award, shortlisted for the Pulitzer…

Who am I?

I am an economist by training, who has researched and taught classes related to business, governance, and democracy for more than 30 years at the University of Southern California. My work is multidisciplinary, spanning economics, finance, law, and political science, with a grounding in empirical analysis. In addition to two books and numerous scholarly articles, I am a frequent op-ed contributor and media commentator on topics related to democracy. I also direct the Initiative and Referendum Institute, a nonpartisan education organization focused on direct democracy.


I wrote...

Let the People Rule: How Direct Democracy Can Meet the Populist Challenge

By John G. Matsusaka,

Book cover of Let the People Rule: How Direct Democracy Can Meet the Populist Challenge

What is my book about?

Many Americans of both parties feel that democracy is adrift, that government has become unresponsive to the concerns of ordinary people, and that “elites” have too much influence. My book, using an array of historical and empirical evidence, shows that this concern is not imaginary—popular control over government in fact has been declining over time. The book explains how this situation gradually came about over the last century, largely as an unanticipated byproduct of rational efforts to modernize government. There is no simple way to restore popular confidence in government, but the book shows how some pressure can be alleviated by using referendums to decide important policy issues such as abortion, immigration, and schooling.

Book cover of A Lie Too Big to Fail: The Real History of the Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

In A Lie Too Big to Fail, longtime Kennedy researcher (of both JFK and RFK) Lisa Pease lays out, in meticulous detail, how witnesses with evidence of conspiracy were silenced by the Los Angeles Police Department; how evidence was deliberately altered and, in some instances, destroyed; and how the justice system and the media failed to present the truth of the case to the public. Pease reveals how the trial was essentially a sham, and how the prosecution did not dare to follow where the evidence led.

A Lie Too Big to Fail asserts the idea that a government can never investigate itself in a crime of this magnitude. Was the convicted Sirhan Sirhan a willing participant? Or was he a mind-controlled assassin? It has fallen to independent researchers like Pease to lay out the evidence in a clear and concise manner, allowing readers to form their theories about…

A Lie Too Big to Fail

By Lisa Pease,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Lie Too Big to Fail as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In A Lie Too Big to Fail, longtime Kennedy researcher (of both JFK and RFK) Lisa Pease lays out, in meticulous detail, how witnesses with evidence of conspiracy were silenced by the Los Angeles Police Department; how evidence was deliberately altered and, in some instances, destroyed; and how the justice system and the media failed to present the truth of the case to the public. Pease reveals how the trial was essentially a sham, and how the prosecution did not dare to follow where the evidence led.
A Lie Too Big to Fail asserts the idea that a government can…

Who am I?

I am a  true-crime author. Most recently, I have released a pair of related books: The Making of a Serial Killer: 2d Ed, by Danny Rolling as told to myself; and Danny Rolling Serial Killer: Interviews. Before that, I published Good Little Soldiers: A Memoir of True Horror. Coauthored with Dianne Fitzpatrick, it relates her tale of murder & mind control under the US Army MK Ultra program. Earlier, I wrote True Vampires, an encyclopedic compendium of bloody crimes, and Knockin' on Joe: Voices from Death Row. I also collaborated with serial killer GJ Schaefer on Killer Fiction, a volume of psychopathic musings he wrote for me.


I wrote...

The Making of a Serial Killer

By Sondra London, Danny Harold Rolling,

Book cover of The Making of a Serial Killer

What is my book about?

The man convicted of the vicious murders of five college students in Gainesville, Florida, discusses his motivations and actions in committing the crimes, reflects on what made him into a killer, and his struggle to come to terms with what he did.

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