The most recommended books about populism

Who picked these books? Meet our 31 experts.

31 authors created a book list connected to populism, and here are their favorite populism books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of populism book?

Loading...
Loading...

Book cover of Let Them Eat Tweets: How the Right Rules in an Age of Extreme Inequality

James Cronin Author Of Fragile Victory: The Making and Unmaking of Liberal Order

From my list on the crisis of liberal order and democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Well before I trained as a scholar, I was an activist motivated by opposition to the Vietnam War and support for civil rights and social justice. Those commitments continued throughout my academic career and have now morphed into a resolve to write about recent threats to liberal order, democracy, and justice. The election results of 2016 – the triumph of “leave” in the Brexit vote and of Donald Trump in the Presidential election, forced me to rethink the history of things I have come to cherish – liberal order, democracy, and social and racial justice – how support for them has ebbed, and why they now require vigorous and informed defense.

James' book list on the crisis of liberal order and democracy

James Cronin Why did James love this book?

Hacker and Pierson argue that “plutocratic populism,” their term for what currently ails the United States and other democracies, is the latest solution to a structural dilemma in modern democracy.

Conservatives are regularly determined to protect wealth and privilege but need to win over voters who typically lack wealth and privilege to elect them. That means a continual effort to craft appeals that, in effect, disguise their aims.

The recent turn to populism means relying on non-economic issues – race, nativism, and various culture war issues concerning sex and gender most potently – to attract voters to support parties whose first allegiance is to the economic interests of elites.

This strategy can also lead, at times, to attacks on democracy and voting as well. 

By Jacob S. Hacker, Paul Pierson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Let Them Eat Tweets as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Republican Party appears to be divided between a tax-cutting old guard and a white-nationalist vanguard-and with Donald Trump's ascendance, the upstarts seem to be winning. Yet how are we to explain that, under Trump, the plutocrats have gotten almost everything they want, including a huge tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, regulation-killing executive actions, and a legion of business-friendly federal judges? Does the GOP represent "forgotten" Americans? Or does it represent the superrich?

In Let Them Eat Tweets, best-selling political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson offer a definitive answer: the Republican Party serves its plutocratic masters…


Book cover of Hitler. Eine Biographie.

Neil Gregor Author Of How to Read Hitler

From my list on biographical studies of Hitler.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am Professor of Modern European History at the University of Southampton, UK, and publish widely on diverse aspects of Nazi Germany. The first history book that I ever read was Alan Bullock’s Hitler. A Study in Tyranny - the first scholarly biography of Hitler to appear. I still recall the fascination of reading this as a teenager: it sparked a curiosity that formed the basis of a scholarly career that has spanned nearly three decades. The desire to make sense of the phenomenon of Nazism was never purely academic, however – my own family origins in Germany, and the stories elderly relatives told of their wartime experiences, gave the history texture, immediacy, and urgency.

Neil's book list on biographical studies of Hitler

Neil Gregor Why did Neil love this book?

This was not the first biography of Hitler, but it was the first to try to explain Hitler’s power in terms of his relationship with the German people. For Fest, Hitler’s power rested on his ability to channel ordinary Germans’ hopes, fears, aspirations, and resentments. Fest came from a solidly anti-Nazi bourgeois background and in his insistence on reading Hitler as an expression of populist resentments ‘from below’ we may detect an inability to countenance the idea that Nazism came just as much from the centre of educated German middle-class society. In that sense, the book is a fascinating insight into what was at stake in the postwar period when Germans argued over who or what had been to blame for the catastrophe of Nazism. It remains, however, a classic among earlier accounts of Hitler’s career.

By Joachim C. Fest,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Biography of Hitler by respected German historian.


Book cover of Right-Wing Populism and Gender: European Perspectives and Beyond

Stefan Berger Author Of History and Identity: How Historical Theory Shapes Historical Practice

From my list on why identity issues are so hot in history.

Why am I passionate about this?

I've been working on questions of identity and history for more than thirty years. It's a very personal topic for me, as I come from a working-class background – something that I was acutely aware of throughout my school and university education, where people of my background were comparatively rare. History in my view has the power to construct essentialist identities that exclude and are potentially deadly. But history also has the power to critically question this essentialism and contribute to a more tolerant, open-minded, and self-reflective society. Hence, as a historian, I've been trying to support and strengthen an engaged and enlightened historiography that bolsters a range of progressive identifications without leading to essentialist constructions of collective identities.

Stefan's book list on why identity issues are so hot in history

Stefan Berger Why did Stefan love this book?

Women’s emancipation has made substantial strides in many parts of the global west since the 1970s. Yet, despite the fact that women still remain disadvantaged and discriminated against in many spheres of life, there has been, more recently, a powerful backlash against feminist ideas and practices. Nowhere is this more visible than in the populist right-wing movements that have merged anti-feminist, racist, and national discourses to provide a powerful ideological mix of masculinist identity politics that attacks gender and sexual diversity and seeks to influence sex education in schools. This book analyzes these discourses but it also provides intriguing insights into why somethings women are attracted to anti-feminist new right populisms.

By Gabriele Dietze (editor), Julia Roth (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Right-Wing Populism and Gender as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

While research in right-wing populism has recently been blossoming, a systematic study of the intersection of right-wing populism and gender is still missing, even though gender issues are ubiquitous in discourses of the radical right ranging from "ethnosexism" against immigrants, to "anti-genderism." This volume shows that the intersectionality of gender, race and class is constitutional for radical right discourse. From different European perspectives, the contributions investigate the ways in which gender is used as a meta-language, strategic tool and "affective bridge" for ordering and hierarchizing political objectives in the discourse of the diverse actors of the "right-wing complex."


Book cover of Foundations of Despotism: Peasants, the Trujillo Regime, and Modernity in Dominican History

Gillian McGillivray Author Of Blazing Cane: Sugar Communities, Class, and State Formation in Cuba, 1868-1959

From my list on workers, populism, and revolution in Latin America.

Why am I passionate about this?

I became curious about US imperialism and Latin American history after reading Gabriel García Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. While pursuing a BA in History and Spanish at Dalhousie and an MA and PhD in Latin American Studies and History at Georgetown, I learned that Marquez's fictional banana worker massacre really happened in 1928 Colombia. What made me focus on sugar, rather than bananas, is the fact that sugar’s not really food... it often takes over land where food was planted, and the lack of food leads to a potentially revolutionary situation. I've used the following books in my classes about Revolution, Populism, and Commodities in Latin America at York University's Glendon College.

Gillian's book list on workers, populism, and revolution in Latin America

Gillian McGillivray Why did Gillian love this book?

This was a really amazing book to read with students in my graduate course on the social history of commodities.

It contributes some really original theory about power and race, the peasantry, politics, and other major topics that those more inclined towards sociology or political science would appreciate. It is a little like the Dominican Republic version of Jeff Gould’s To Lead as Equals on Nicaragua or Gladys McCormick’s The Logic of Compromise: Authoritarianism, Betrayal, and Revolution in Rural Mexico, 1935-1965.

I am constantly telling students and colleagues about the fascinating arguments presented in Foundations of Despotism, which echoes Gould’s evidence that dictators cannot remain in power through violence, alone.

Turits’ interviews with peasants and letters that he found in the Dominican national archives from humble rural peoples show that after first coming to power in the early 1930s—ostensibly purely because of US support—the Trujillo regime built a rural base…

By Richard Lee Turits,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book explores the history of the Dominican Republic as it evolved from the first European colony in the Americas into a modern nation under the rule of Rafael Trujillo. It investigates the social foundations of Trujillo's exceptionally enduring and brutal dictatorship (1930-1961) and, more broadly, the way power is sustained in such non-democratic regimes.

The author reveals how the seemingly unilateral imposition of power by Trujillo in fact depended on the regime's mediation of profound social and economic transformations, especially through agrarian policies that assisted the nation's large independent peasantry. By promoting an alternative modernity that sustained peasants' free…


Book cover of The Social Leap: The New Evolutionary Science of Who We Are, Where We Come From, and What Makes Us Happy

Joseph P. Forgas Author Of The Psychology of Populism: The Tribal Challenge to Liberal Democracy

From my list on why populism threatens liberal democratic societies.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an experimental social psychologist and Scientia Professor at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. I grew up in Hungary, and after an adventurous escape I ended up in Sydney. I received my DPhil and DSc degrees from the University of Oxford, and I spent various periods working at Oxford, Stanford, Heidelberg, and Giessen. For my work I received the Order of Australia, as well as the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, the Alexander von Humboldt Prize, and a Rockefeller Fellowship. As somebody who experienced totalitarian communism firsthand, I am very interested in the reasons for the recent spread of totalitarian, tribal ideologies, potentially undermining Western liberalism, undoubtedly the most successful civilization in human history.

Joseph's book list on why populism threatens liberal democratic societies

Joseph P. Forgas Why did Joseph love this book?

Bill is an accomplished evolutionary psychologist and a good friend of mine.

In this book he offers an evolutionary account of how human beings came to survive and become the dominant species on the planet largely because of our unparalleled ability to cooperate and form successful groups.

The evolution of consciousness, a unique mental ability to imagine, represent, predict, and model the behavior of others played a crucial role in our evolutionary success, and the book offers a lucid, readable, and highly entertaining overview of our evolutionary history, focusing on the development and functions of our psychological habits and abilities in particular.

By William Von Hippel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the compelling popular science tradition of Sapiens and Guns, Germs, and Steel, a groundbreaking and eye-opening exploration that applies evolutionary science to provide a new perspective on human psychology, revealing how major challenges from our past have shaped some of the most fundamental aspects of our being.

The most fundamental aspects of our lives-from leadership and innovation to aggression and happiness-were permanently altered by the "social leap" our ancestors made from the rainforest to the savannah. Their struggle to survive on the open grasslands required a shift from individualism to a new form of collectivism, which forever altered the…


Book cover of Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism

James Cronin Author Of Fragile Victory: The Making and Unmaking of Liberal Order

From my list on the crisis of liberal order and democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Well before I trained as a scholar, I was an activist motivated by opposition to the Vietnam War and support for civil rights and social justice. Those commitments continued throughout my academic career and have now morphed into a resolve to write about recent threats to liberal order, democracy, and justice. The election results of 2016 – the triumph of “leave” in the Brexit vote and of Donald Trump in the Presidential election, forced me to rethink the history of things I have come to cherish – liberal order, democracy, and social and racial justice – how support for them has ebbed, and why they now require vigorous and informed defense.

James' book list on the crisis of liberal order and democracy

James Cronin Why did James love this book?

Cultural Backlash is aimed at sorting out the roots of the recent rise of what the authors call authoritarian populism, which is much the same thing as plutocratic populism.

They locate its origins in a backlash against the social consequences and policies that grew from socio-economic shifts that began in the 1960s and 1970s.

These include, obviously enough, the sexual revolution and changing gender norms, the civil rights movement and the increasingly multi-racial and multi-cultural character of modern societies, and the turn toward values that Inglehart, decades ago, termed post-materialist.

The book is distinguished by the vast amount of quantitative data it presents and deploys to illustrate its central argument.  

By Pippa Norris, Ronald Inglehart,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Cultural Backlash as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Authoritarian populist parties have advanced in many countries, and entered government in states as diverse as Austria, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Switzerland. Even small parties can still shift the policy agenda, as demonstrated by UKIP's role in catalyzing Brexit. Drawing on new evidence, this book advances a general theory why the silent revolution in values triggered a backlash fuelling support for authoritarian-populist parties and leaders in the US and Europe. The conclusion highlights the dangers of this development and what could be done to mitigate the risks to liberal democracy.


Book cover of Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

Joseph P. Forgas Author Of The Psychology of Populism: The Tribal Challenge to Liberal Democracy

From my list on why populism threatens liberal democratic societies.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an experimental social psychologist and Scientia Professor at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. I grew up in Hungary, and after an adventurous escape I ended up in Sydney. I received my DPhil and DSc degrees from the University of Oxford, and I spent various periods working at Oxford, Stanford, Heidelberg, and Giessen. For my work I received the Order of Australia, as well as the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, the Alexander von Humboldt Prize, and a Rockefeller Fellowship. As somebody who experienced totalitarian communism firsthand, I am very interested in the reasons for the recent spread of totalitarian, tribal ideologies, potentially undermining Western liberalism, undoubtedly the most successful civilization in human history.

Joseph's book list on why populism threatens liberal democratic societies

Joseph P. Forgas Why did Joseph love this book?

This is an incredibly interesting, well-written, and informative book that lays out the case for the amazing success of liberal democracies based on the Enlightenment values of liberty, universal humanism, and individualism.

I consider this book an essential reading for everyone who has been brainwashed by the current pessimistic and catastrophizing ideologies attacking this most successful of all human civilization.

Pinker is an outstanding writer, and the empirical evidence he marshals for the success and values of the Enlightenment in promoting human flourishing is utterly persuasive.

By Steven Pinker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018
ONE OF THE ECONOMIST'S BOOKS OF THE YEAR

"My new favorite book of all time." --Bill Gates

If you think the world is coming to an end, think again: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science. By the author of the new book, Rationality.

Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third…


Book cover of Liberalism Against Populism: A Confrontation Between the Theory of Democracy and the Theory of Social Choice

John G. Matsusaka Author Of Let the People Rule: How Direct Democracy Can Meet the Populist Challenge

From my list on understanding why American democracy is struggling.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

John's book list on understanding why American democracy is struggling

John G. Matsusaka Why did John love this book?

This political science classic explains why it is impossible to create a voting system that reliably reveals citizen preferences; all systems can be manipulated by those who frame the questions and timing of elections. What this implies, Riker argues, is that democracy’s strength is not allowing citizens to micromanage policy; its strength is allowing the people to remove elected officials that don’t serve their interests. This is a scholarly work—not for the casual reader—it offers illuminating examples contains illuminating examples that illustrate key principles, and is accessible to an educated reader with some effort.

By William H. Riker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The discoveries of social choice theory have undermined the simple and unrealistic nineteenth-century notions of democracy, especially the expectation that electoral institutions smoothly translate popular will directly into public policy. One response to these discoveries is to reject democracy out of hand. Another, which is the program of this book, is to save democracy by formulating more realistic expectations. Hence, this book first summarizes social choice theory in order to explain the full force of its critique. Then it explains, in terms of social choice theory, how politics and public issues change and develop. Finally, it reconciles democratic ideals with…


Book cover of The Old Is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born: From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump and Beyond

Leah Modigliani Author Of Counter Revanchist Art in the Global City: Walls, Blockades, and Barricades as Repertoires of Creative Action

From my list on moving through the city with newly critical eyes.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since the age of seven, I've been conscious of the need to bypass how one is supposed to do things. I realized then that my grandmother could not pursue a writing career because she was also a woman and a wife; a cautionary tale I took to heart since I was already beginning to identify as an artist. I'm driven to uncover how we recognize what we see, and how forces beyond our control engender or foreclose upon new ways of being in the world. A professional life lived in the arts has allowed the fullest flexibility for exploring these ideas as one is generally encouraged to think differently.

Leah's book list on moving through the city with newly critical eyes

Leah Modigliani Why did Leah love this book?

This pocket-sized book of a mere 63 pages can be read in a couple of hours and has a lasting impact.

Fraser, a feminist philosopher I was lucky to take a class with once in graduate school, explains the political and economic conditions that frame the near-constant anxiety one feels daily as witnesses to near-constant national and global crises.

We are all living through a “hegemonic gap;” that is, a profoundly unsettling transformation between the failure of agreed upon political authorities (she labels this progressive neoliberalism) and the lack of any clear future direction. In the mix is the global rise of proto-fascist populism, environmental disaster, increasing wealth gaps, and violence and war.

What can guide us out of this mess? That is the subject of the last few pages… 

By Nancy Fraser,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Old Is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Across the globe politics as usual are being rejected and faith in neoliberalism is fracturing beyond repair. Leading political theorist Nancy Fraser, in conversation with Jacobin publisher Bhaskar Sunkara, dissects neoliberalism's current crisis and argues that we might wrest new futures from its ruins.

The global political, ecological, economic, and social breakdown-symbolized, but not caused, by Trump's election-has destroyed faith that neoliberal capitalism is beneficial to the majority. Fraser explores how this faith was built through the late twentieth century by balancing two central tenets: recognition (who deserves rights) and distribution (who deserves income). When these began to fray, new…


Book cover of A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity

Pietra Rivoli Author Of The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade

From my list on economics and globalization.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor at Georgetown University, and I have long been interested in the promise and peril of global markets and the fundamental question of why some countries are rich and others poor. I've always loved looking at globalization at ground level: My travels to Chinese factories, Washington trade negotiations, and African cocoa farms have been great adventures of both mind and spirit, and I always leave with a new friend who has illuminated my understanding of this complex world. But in a late-life shift (that is not as random as it sounds) my current work revolves around criminal justice in the US. I currently direct the Pivot Program at Georgetown.

Pietra's book list on economics and globalization

Pietra Rivoli Why did Pietra love this book?

Zingales is a brilliant academic economist, but this book leads the reader with both head and heart. Zingales is concerned that the US is on a path to similarities with his native Italy, where markets and politics are both corrupted by cronyism and nepotism. The book’s appeal is that Zingales's compelling argument cannot be put in a left or right box. He lays out evidence to suggest that more open competition will address both the inequality concerns of liberals, as well as the free market priorities of conservatives. Today, Zingales seems to suggest, we have the worst of both worlds.

By Luigi Zingales,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Capitalism for the People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Born in Italy, University of Chicago economist Luigi Zingales witnessed firsthand the consequences of high inflation and unemployment--paired with rampant nepotism and cronyism--on a country's economy. This experience profoundly shaped his professional interests, and in 1988 he arrived in the United States, armed with a political passion and the belief that economists should not merely interpret the world, but should change it for the better. In A Capitalism for the People, Zingales makes a forceful, philosophical, and at times personal argument that the roots of American capitalism are dying, and that the result is a drift toward the more corrupt…