Nonfiction November: books about U.S. politics and current events

This week’s Nonfiction November topic (hosted by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness) is to share 3 or more books on a single topic that we recommend, or books we want to know more about.

This year, the topic I’ve read the most about relates to the current state of our country politically.  I can recommend quite a few books on this topic, from different viewpoints.  In fact nearly everything I’ve read this year seems to relate to this topic.

frankenGiant in the Senate is Al Franken’s story of his journey from comedy to the U.S. Senate.  Franken is a terrific writer, and he really gives us the inside view into what it’s like, not only to be on Saturday Night Live (which I was fascinated by) but also to be a U.S. Senator.  He tells of the day to day work, the challenges of campaigning, and how things actually get done in the Capitol.  But more importantly, his book is a window into the dysfunction of our government.  It’s also very current – published in May 2017, Franken writes about having a seat at Trump’s inauguration and what that’s meant for the country (and could mean going forward).  Franken has a great sense of humor about his job and this was a pleasure to read while also very insightful.

A related book on this topic was The Daily Show: An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff, and Guests.  I expected this book to be about Jon Stewart and the workings of a daily television show, and it was.  But more than that, it was andaily show incredible look at the last 20 years in politics and current events, from the 2000 election to 9/11 to the Iraq War, all the way through Stewart’s retirement in 2015.   This book was a chance to relive all the things that made The Daily Show so groundbreaking – but it also highlighted some of its problems like the lack of diversity in cast and crew. I didn’t think the format would work for me – it’s basically a lot of segments from interviews with various cast members, writers, and production staff.  You would think that would feel disjointed, but it doesn’t.  This book will remind you how critically important the Daily Show was throughout the George W. Bush years.  And if it’s less relevant today (though still good!), that’s because it paved the way for Steven Colbert, Samantha Bee, John Oliver, and many others.

hillbillyHillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, is a memoir about growing up in the Appalachian region in Kentucky and Ohio, and his struggle with poverty, the addiction of his mother, and family instability.  He writes of the pervasive effects of trauma in these communities, and how these families are caught in a cycle of trauma, addiction and poverty that affects multiple generations (while noting that many of these problems are of their own making as well).  Vance covers a wide range of topics in this memoir, but ultimately it’s the story of his own family and his own experience.  His book is important simply because it’s a window into communities most of us don’t know how to deal with.

strangersLess recommended, but still interesting, in Strangers in their Own Land, researcher Arlie Russell Hochschild decided to study Americans living in a rural, low-income, and predominantly Republican area (rural Louisiana).  She was trying to understand why so many people in the country are voting directly against their own interests.  These are the people who are most in need of social services, yet they are the very people who vote for those who would strip public benefits and remove the very government supports that could help them, while implementing economic policies that only benefit the wealthy.

beloved worldThere are three other books I highly recommend that touch indirectly on the U.S. and its political situation.  Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir My Beloved World, although it ends around the time of her appointment to the Supreme Court, is certainly a commentary on the issues facing the country in recent years.

countrySimilarly, Diane Guerrero’s memoir about her parents’ deportation, In the Country We Love is a powerful look at what it’s like to be an immigrant, or the child of immigrants, in this country.  I think that is so important for us to understand now, when immigrants are being demonized (and deported) by our President.

wonder womanFinally, The Secret History of Wonder Woman was a real treat, in that the book provides a century of U.S. history relating to women’s rights.  I wasn’t expecting that from a book about a comic book character.  If you’re interested in the history of feminism, I highly recommend this book — which occasionally gets bogged down in details but was absolutely fascinating.  Growing up with the Lynda Carter TV show, I had no idea how much thought went into the character, and how controversial she was.

Those are some recommendations if you want to get a handle on how our country got to where it is today.  What would you recommend?

  21 comments for “Nonfiction November: books about U.S. politics and current events

  1. November 14, 2017 at 7:24 am

    I want to read Giant of the Senate. I’ve been reading books about the current situation but there’s precious little humor so far and Lord, I need a dose of that.

    • November 14, 2017 at 10:58 pm

      Yes, I agree! Everything is so dark right now, it helps to read something with some humor but that also takes our situation very seriously. I was quite inspired by Franken and now I find myself paying more attention to the things he’s doing.

  2. November 14, 2017 at 7:52 am

    Great recommendations! I loved Giant of the Senate and Hillbilly Elegy, and thought Strangers in Their Own Land was really good too. Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir seems like it would be an interesting read.

    • November 14, 2017 at 11:00 pm

      Her memoir was a fascinating read, and she seems like such a good person while also being so dedicated to her work. I wish I’d read her book when I was in law school (of course I didn’t have much time to read then).

      • November 15, 2017 at 7:32 am

        I know what you mean, I hardly found the time for reading in school even when it was something that would’ve helped. But better late than never! I’m adding it to my list, thanks for such a great recommendation 🙂

  3. November 14, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    I read Hillbilly Elegy and Giant of the Senate and both were excellent. Love Al Franken and hope he runs one day… And I’ve been meaning to get to the Secret History of Wonder Woman! Great picks.

    • November 14, 2017 at 11:01 pm

      I hope he runs too! I was pleasantly surprised to learn that being a Senator is actually a really hard job. I work down the street from them but they never seem to be working. Wonder Woman was fascinating. The movie about Professor Marston is good too.

  4. November 14, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    These are great recommendations. I haven’t read any of these but some have been on my radar. I heard Al Franken on TDS earlier this year when he was out promoting his book and thought I need to get that! Glad to hear you enjoyed it.

    • November 14, 2017 at 11:04 pm

      Thanks for visiting, and hope you find something you like! I definitely recommend Franken’s book. It’s a quick read – well written and humorous but also very serious at times too.

  5. November 14, 2017 at 4:39 pm

    I’ve seen a few of these on lists and have Hillbilly Elegy on my reading list. Strangers In Their Own Land looks really good, too!

    • November 14, 2017 at 11:06 pm

      Both are interesting books with a different approach — one a qualitative study and one is a memoir. I had some issues with Strangers but still found myself talking about it a lot, because it’s such an important topic.

  6. November 14, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    These all sound so good, especially the Al Franken one. As Lory mentioned, humor feels ESPECIALLY needed when trying to delve into politics right now. The whole laugh-to-keep-from-crying thing.

    • November 14, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      I totally agree. That’s what made Franken’s book such a pleasure to read. He’s also a pretty inspiring guy.

  7. November 15, 2017 at 9:36 am

    I’m not normally one for politics, but it’s hard not to get involved in conversations these days! I’ll definitely have to look into some of these so I can get more informed!

  8. November 15, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    I enjoyed Hillbilly Elegy and My Beloved World last year, and would like to read (or maybe listen to) Franken’s book soon. Great recommendations.

  9. November 17, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    These are excellent suggestions! I have Strangers in the Own Land on my shelves just waiting to get picked up.

  10. December 4, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    A nice set of books here. I’ve seen Hillbilly Elegy around but wasn’t too interested until I saw your quick summary here.

  11. awesomeness1313
    December 27, 2017 at 6:14 am

    Jon Stewart’s book seems like a good read.

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