30 Books Every Young Democrat Should Own

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With the politicization of modern society, Democrats must have a firm grasp of :

  • culture
  • history
  • ideology
  • public policy
  • political economy

As the attack on information and truth intensifies, it’s more important than ever that the worldview of Democrats be shaped and inculcated by trusted authors from diverse backgrounds. These are authors who can share the unabashed truth regarding salient issues – to Democrats and people of all political persuasions. The following curated list is required reading for Democrats young in age. It’s also for anyone who is new to the party and wants to develop their political mind on a strong foundation.

And it never hurts to have an arsenal of truth and factual accuracy in a political debate with the neighbor down the street.

An image of boooks for our article listing 30 Books Every Young Democrat Should Own

Our list was carefully crafted to capture a wide range of Democratic perspectives regarding issues of:

  • race
  • gender
  • history
  • class
  • political economy

You will find classic texts that have been canonized into the democratic tradition. You’ll also find  contemporary texts that speak to current issues across today’s political landscape. Despite a wide range of differences, these are the 30 books every young Democrat should own. They’re listed in alphabetical order by title.

1. America: Who Really Pays the Taxes?

Donald Barlett and James Steele

This book was published in 1994. It deconstructs the tax code and its associated systems that clearly show what many working and middle-class Americans have suspected all along. They are picking up more of the nation’s tax bill while the rich are using taxes to find loopholes. These loopholes not only preclude them from paying their fair share, but help them profit from the complex system to line their bulging pockets with more.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning duo of Barlett and Steele use concrete facts to show how the wealthiest individuals and corporations benefit from the intentionally esoteric tax code to wiggle their way through loopholes. The loopholes exist to benefit corporations and the rich – not the average citizen. In a non-partisan manner, the duo takes down politicians from all political backgrounds including Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and Independents.

2. The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence, and the Future of America

Steven Fraser (Editor)

This 224-page compendium of essays forms a larger text meant to debunk Herrnstein and Murray’s controversial bestseller The Bell Curve, which purported that IQ differences were a result of biology. The book was celebrated and propped up by essentialist thinkers and right-wing reactionaries across the globe. It has served as “proof” that race-based science is not only a legitimate endeavor but a superior one.

The essays take aim at debunking the assertions of The Bell Curve through empirical evidence that shows how the supposed scientific claims are a result of racist public policy choices. These choices are driven by capitalism and colonialism. They perpetuate inequality and hidden class structures that destroy the life chances of minorities.

3. Between the World and Me

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me is written as a letter to to the author’s young son. Coates describes his awakening to the truth of what it is like to live as a black man in a society built on the false notion of race. It has been weaponized and used to create a hierarchy with white people on top and black people languishing on the bottom. Coates painfully describes what simply inhabiting a black body means in society. He uses historical references to describe the genesis of white supremacist structures and how they impact the individual.

He shares intensely personal experiences from his childhood and adult life. The experiences shaped his worldview and revealed to him the truth about the so-called meritocratic society he was trying to navigate. He also shows how it was set up to make him fail.

4. The Democrats: A Critical History

Lance Selfa

Selfa shows the reader how the supposed “people’s party” has a pattern of turning its back on everyday folks in favor of policies and decisions that prop up Wall Street and the plutocrats in charge of America. Selfa displays the foibles of the party in its full glory. He gives the reader a history lesson in the genesis of the Democratic Party and its current formation that’s beholden to an agenda that takes more right turns than left.

5. Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives

George Lakoff

Lakoff’s book is required reading for Democrats who wish to understand the mind of the conservative. Lakoff discusses how conservatives think and the rhetorical strategies they use to debate liberals and frame issues. He also provides liberals with their rhetorical strategies. He details how Democrats can better communicate the traditional values they believe in yet cannot articulately express. The book will be of interest to any liberal who wants to adeptly debate conservatives and win.

With Republicans winning the political discourse war, this book is just as important now as it was when it was first published.

6. The Feminine Mystique

Betty Friedan

Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique is a classic work. It initiated Second Wave Feminism and helped empower women to stand up against the hegemony and inequality of a patriarchal society. While the book has some outdated concepts, it still offers words that will resonate with Democrats. The author deconstructs social relations and power dynamics at the interpersonal and societal levels. It clearly shows how sexism and misogyny are baked into society at every level. With over one million copies sold, it continues to be a liberating force to women and men everywhere.

7. Freedom’s Power: The True Force of Liberalism

Paul Starr

This is a dense and substantive work by renowned Princeton Professor of Sociology Paul Starr. The focus is on how the liberal project has been derailed by conservatives. It shows how they turned the word “liberal” into a pejorative rather than the word borrowed by Thomas Jefferson from John Locke when writing the Declaration of Independence. Starr breaks down how true liberalism is an ideology supported by the Founding Fathers. It’s based on concepts of equality and egalitarianism. The text gives examples of how an activist government can check its power while responding to economic crises and injustices that threaten a country’s most vulnerable populations.

8. Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger

Rebecca Traister

Best-selling author Rebecca Traister shows how the transformational power of women’s anger turned into a worldwide movement where female rights were thrust into the public discourse. Traister takes the reader on a trip through time, showing the history and significance of female fury. She shows, too, the backlash that it receives from both men and women. Both timely and crucial, this is a must-read for anyone interested in gender equality.

9. How to Be an Antiracist

Ibram X. Kendi

Kendi’s award-winning and best-selling novel, How to Be an Antiracist, took the publishing world by storm. It shows the reader a vision of what a post-racist society might look like. It also gives the reader a new framework in which to think about racism. Through anecdotes about his racial awakening, he breaks down with clarity how individuals can make a change.

10. This Land is Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto

Suketu Mehta

Few issues instigate such strong feelings and opinions as immigration. In Suketu Mehta’s riveting work, he tackles the issues on immigration. He debunks several racist and xenophobic myths that say the collapse of Western society is due to the flood of immigrants coming to the United States.

Mehta shows the reader that Western society is collapsing not because of immigration, but the populist narratives that create fear of immigration and immigrants. Mehta adeptly deconstructs the false anti-immigrant narratives through counter-narratives. He shows immigrants to be modern-day heroes that prop up society, not destroy it.

He also delves into how historical and modern-day colonialism and imperialism are destructive forces. These forces have plundered communities all over the world to the point where inequality is at an all-time high. Written in an impassioned manner, this wonderful polemic is a must-read.

11. A Lawyer’s Journey: The Morris Dees Story

Morris Dees

This engaging work chronicles the ups and downs of one of the most important but unheralded civil rights figures in history. A Lawyer’s Journey: The Morris Dees Story unpacks the life and work of a man who spent his life dedicated to helping and championing society’s forgotten and discarded people. He founded the Southern Poverty Law Center and constantly battled with hate groups. Dees’ story will inspire readers with resounding stories of success. The stories should motivate readers to take action by realizing how much more work needs to be done.

12. The Liberal Tradition in America

Louis Hartz

Published in 1955, Hartz’s classic details the development of the liberal tradition in America.  He argues that because America never dealt with true class and economic revolt, the Founding Fathers were entrenched in Republican and Federalist thinking. The text shows that even Democrats are fiercely independent and are thus ruled by an overarching “liberal” mindset.

Hartz explains that because Americans never had to overcome a restraining social order, the proletariat revolution in America as predicted by Marx, will not, and has not, occurred.

13. Listen, Liberal — or — What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?

Thomas Frank

Frank offers a scathing polemic on the state of the modern-day Democratic party. Many liberals believe that if conservatives can be defeated in elections, with Democrats taking control, then the ills of society such as income inequality, unabated monopoly capitalism, and white supremacy will be things of the past.

Backed by years of research, Frank gives ample evidence that Democrats have abandoned working-class people. They are, he argues, plutocratic corporate elitists who offer up Wall Street bailouts while slashing social programs at a rate similar to their conservative peers. Writing with his famously sarcastic wit, Frank exposes the Democratic party, warts and all.

14. The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic

George Lakoff

Lakoff offers a venerable liberal playbook on engaging in persuasive and convincing communication strategies more likely to be received by conservatives. It’s a foundational book that’s an easy read and specializes in practical and applied practice.  His main strategy is framing wedge issues such as health care, the economy, the environment, and social justice. He uses a moral discourse that appeals to the conservative mind, which likes to moralize nearly every issue. He posits that most voters, especially conservatives, vote according to their values.

In short, if liberals want to take back the rhetorical political war and make their causes the moral imperative, then the correct language must be used.

15. Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think

George Lakoff

In another Lakoff classic, the cognitive scientist and professor delves into the unconscious biases developed through language that shapes the highly moralized world views of both Democrats and Republicans. Lakoff looks at the real-world application of how those world views work themselves out in society. He finds that there are surprisingly similar moral world views between the two parties and even their most ardent sycophants.

Lakoff insists that at its core, politics is about the conception of the American family. Policies that conservatives and liberals espouse can all be traced back to their beliefs on how to best manage it.

16. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness

Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow systematically unveils the genesis and inner-working of a complex criminal justice system. It has resulted in the re-emergence of a new race-based caste system designed to plunder communities of color. It keeps them relegated to second-class standing. America is ostensibly built on freedom and civil rights. But Alexander shows how the modern criminal justice system relies on legal discrimination to unjustly lock up black men at alarming rates. When they leave prison, it keeps them imprisoned in society through their labels as convicted criminals.

Alexander looks at how the War on Drugs played a pivotal role as the societal lever that mechanized and activated the gears that got us to where we are now.

17. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America

Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich wanted to learn more about the working class in America. So she took   low-wage jobs across the country as she worked as a:

  • waitress
  • house cleaner
  • Wal-Mart team member
  • nursing home aide

She listened to the rhetoric around welfare reform and of achieving the American Dream through a little elbow grease.Ehrenreich learned that even the most “unskilled” jobs require unfathomably high levels of mental and emotional effort mixed in with a lot of physicality. She also learned that despite the rhetoric that proclaims America is the Land of Opportunity, working-class people must hold down not one, but two jobs. She found even that isn’t a guarantee of upward economic mobility out of poverty.

18. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Irin Carmon

Liberal icon and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) is highlighted in this must-read. It was published a few years before her death. Her life is examined, from her formation into a steely young attorney to the unquestioned pioneer who championed dissent and justice for women. Carmon goes behind the curtain for a revealing look that separates fact from fiction. The book gets the reader up close and personal with the feminist icon who would go on to inspire millions of women to fight for gender equality.

19. Peddling Prosperity

Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman’s books are so popular and influential that the Wall Street Journal editorial team consistently takes shots at his work. Conservative bloggers across the Internet exist solely to try and find fault in his writing. Krugman’s main thesis is deconstructing supply-side economics. He shows how it is not only ineffective, but exacerbates income inequality. He adeptly highlights the faults in the supply-side model while showing clear evidence that Keynesian policy is far more effective.

20. A People’s History of the United States

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States has become a modern-day classic and is a must-own for every young Democrat. In a time where historical facts are either omitted or altered to buttress American origin story myths and to justify harmful actions, Zinn’s book offers a view of history from those who have been largely forgotten. The book is packed with stories from immigrants, minorities, and other marginalized groups. The reader gets to see how history unfolded for the majority of people. Zinn’s work is so popular that it has appeared in some of pop culture’s media, including:

  • The Sopranos
  • The Simpsons
  • Good Will Hunting
  • The History Channel.

21. Politics of Rich and Poor: Wealth and the American Electorate in the Reagan Aftermath

Kevin Phillips

Written by a former aide to President Richard Nixon, Phillip’s book focuses on the major issue of income inequality and how it worsened during the Reagan presidency. It continued to increase due to policy decisions driven by the Republican majority. Phillips lucidly displays how the vast majority of Americans are concerned with the concentration of wealth among the top 1%. As a former conservative, Phillips became disenfranchised with conservatism and wrote several polemical works regarding Republican economic policy. While many of his works were published in the 1960s–1990s, they are as relevant as they have ever been. A must-read for any young Democrat.

22. Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life

Robert B. Reich

Published just before the 2007-2008 recession, Reich provides an analysis of how capitalism’s logical outcome is what he refers to as Supercapitalism, which results in:

  • widening income inequality
  • monopolistic industries
  • heightened job insecurity

While some say that the system is broken, Reich says this is merely how capitalism works and how it is exacerbated by politicians being beholden to corporations and lobbyists. Reich argues that business and politics need to be separated so that capitalism can serve democracy – not the other way around.

23. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything shows the inextricable link between climate change and capitalism. As best-selling author Naomi Klein shows the reader, capitalism is the main driver of climate change because it requires a parasitic relationship with nature. The world’s resources must be extracted and used up to create commodities. Klein shows how society can move to a different economic system that makes the world a safer place and how there are signs of a turnaround.

24. Unreasonable Men: Theodore Roosevelt and the Republican Rebels Who Created Progressive Politics

Michael Wolraich

To understand where we are now, you have to go back to where we were. That is the premise of Michael Wolraich’s inspiring novel about the roots of progressivism. He takes us back to the turn of the 20th century and highlights how an internal battle within the Republican Party resulted in a new political movement known as “progressivism.” President Teddy Roosevelt is the main protagonist in this wonderful book that shows how these unreasonable men changed politics.

25. The Way We Never Were

Stephanie Coontz

In The Way We Never Were, Coontz breaks down how the mythologizing of the American family of yesteryear is harming today’s families. She shares how the nostalgic appeal has resulted in many myths and half-truths. She claims that the hardships of today’s working and middle-class families are not a result of a lack of personal failure. The hardships are a result of much larger forces such as economic, political, and cultural factors beyond their control. This eye-opening book sheds new light on family within the context of:

  • parenting
  • gender roles
  • feminism
  • the black family.

26. What It Means to Be a Democrat

George S. McGovern

McGovern’s must-read book, What it Means to Be a Democrat, reminds the reader of the basic ideologies that make up the essence of what Democrats believe in. He reminds us of the party’s core principles and describes how today’s Democratic leaders have strayed off course as they continue to push right and move to the center. The former presidential candidate touches on topics ranging from education reform to military spending. He shows readers how the party can be restored and create policy that it can be proud of.

27. The Truths We Hold: An American Journey

Kamala Harris

Vice President Kamala Harris takes the reader on a journey where she reminds us of the characteristics and qualities that unite all people. She analyzes how those shared beliefs can be utilized to create meaningful change for everyday Americans. She shares her journey from her beginnings in Oakland, California to the heights of power and influence in Washington.

28. This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class

Elizabeth Warren

As one of the heroes of today’s progressive movement, Elizabeth Warren shares her personal experiences, ranging from her move towards liberal politics to her election in 2012 by the people of Massachusetts. In her high-energy and passionate manner, she gives the reader a behind-the-scenes look at her brutal battles in the Senate and her fight to push forward a progressive agenda. She argues with intensity the critical importance of how the middle-class must be saved from the current conservative efforts to destroy it.

29. Understanding Power

Noam Chomsky

Chomsky is one of the world’s foremost intellectuals and social critics. This compendium is a collection of Chomsky’s most impactful and engaging lectures on the intersection of politics and power. Chomsky covers significant ground in topics ranging from Vietnam to the decline of welfare under President Bill Clinton. Chomsky shows the connection between American imperialism, foreign policy, and the gradual chipping away of social programs within the context of events that have shaped the last 30 years. The book captures Chomsky’s digestible communication style and his ability to articulate difficult concepts. This is the ideal book for new and current fans of Chomsky’s ideas.

30. White Fragility

Robin DiAngelo

University of Washington Professor of Sociology Robin DiAngelo is an expert on race. In her groundbreaking book, she conveys why many white people are scared and even angered to discuss race and racism. Characterized by myriad problematic emotions ranging from guilt to defensiveness, DiAngelo discusses how the result is a maintenance of the current system that props up white people and marginalizes people of color.

BDP Staff
October 2021

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This concluded our article on the 30 books every young Democrat should own.

Brenda Rufener
Author

Julie McCaulley
Expert

Carrie Sealey-Morris
Editor-in-Chief