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Steve's Ultimate Reading List for Liberals

By Steve Kangas

Out of the hundreds of political science books filling my home library, the following ones are ones I consider classics. Virtually all of them are written in plain English by authors who are the among the top experts in their fields. Read these, and I guarantee you a superb command of the latest and best liberal arguments against conservatives.


Peddling Prosperity
by Paul Krugman (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1994). What Stephen Hawking did for physics with A Brief History of Time, Krugman does for economics with this readable primer for the rest of us. Although Krugman's liberalism is not as progressive as my own, the value of this book lies in its excellent explanation of economic concepts. In clear terms, he explains why conservative economic theories have failed in the last 60 years, while liberal ones have thrived. A superb introduction to economics without the math.

Politics of Rich and Poor by Kevin Phillips (New York: Random House, 1990). This is the famous book that kicked off the "rich are getting richer, and the poor poorer" debate of the 80s. Once ridiculed by conservatives as "class warfare," this book's thesis of polarizing wealth in America is now accepted by all serious economists of all political stripes.

Boiling Point by Kevin Phillips (New York: HarperCollins, 1993). Here, Phillips continues to explore the effects of income inequality on the middle class, and the voter anger and revolt that is growing in the 90s. Phillips is a scholar of the first order, a Republican respected on both sides of the debate.

America: What Went Wrong? by Donald Barlett and James Steele (Kansas City: Andrews and McMeel, 1992). These two Pulitzer-prize winning journalists describe how the game of wealth in America is rigged for the rich. They show how corporations use tax cuts, deregulation and government for their own ends, leaving the middle class holding the bill.

America: Who Really Pays the Taxes? by Donald Barlett and James Steele (New York: Touchstone, 1994). This is a terrific resource for explaining exactly how the rich manipulate the tax code and Congress to shift the tax burden onto the middle class. Although filled with a lot of numbers that do not make for quick and easy reading, it is useful for debunking any conservative numbers argument that you may run into.


The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison
by Jeffrey Reiman (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1990). A masterpiece. Reiman shows how the U.S. justice system selectively punishes the crimes of the poor while ignoring the crimes of the rich. For example, in 1987, theft and robbery cost Americans $12 billion, but white collar fraud and embezzlement cost $107 billion. Some 19,000 Americans were officially murdered that year, but countless hundreds of thousands were killed by pollution, tobacco, unnecessary surgery, food additives, overprescription of legal drugs, unsafe consumer products, job hazards and other things which are foisted on us by overly profit-driven corporations. Even when the rich get caught for more "traditional" crimes, they get off much more lightly than the poor.


Earth in the Balance
by Vice President Al Gore, Jr. (New York: Penguin Books, 1993). An excellent introduction to environmentalism that covers all the hot topics: overpopulation, global warming, ozone destruction, toxic waste, endangered species and more. If Gore is the true author of this book (that is, no ghostwriters), then his scientific education is truly extraordinary. Alas, in the credits, he acknowledges receiving much help from the scientific community.

Vital Signs 1995 by the World Watch Institute (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995). This is a yearly update on global conditions and environmental trends. Hard statistics on every environmental problem you can think of.


The Way We Never Were
by Stephanie Coontz (New York: HarperCollins, 1992). This fact-crammed book explodes just about every myth of the American family out there. She shows that the average 50s family did not resemble June and Ward Cleaver; that the American family has never been as self-reliant as it likes to think; and that poverty is the basic cause for the disintegration of lower-class families. This book is the definitive liberal rejoinder to critics of welfare and single motherhood.


(Note: there is no single "feminist" viewpoint, and the following books sometimes vehemently disagree with each other. Nonetheless, these are the most famous works of the last decade, and should serve as the starting point for any debate.)

Backlash by Susan Faludi (New York: Doubleday, 1991). Probably the most important feminist books of the last 20 years, Faludi documents how women's growing equality has resulted in a backlash, ranging from politics to business to the media. She debunks so-called "statistics" that show that a single middle-aged woman has greater chances of getting killed by a terrorist than getting married.

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (New York: Doubleday, 1991). This bestseller demonstrates how standards of beauty keep women subjugated, alienating themselves from their bodies and their sexuality, and causing themselves considerable physical harm in trying to attain unreasonable levels of perfection.

Fire With Fire by Naomi Wolf (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1994). Wolf makes the transition from radical to moderate feminist in this book, arguing that feminism is failing because of its victim mentality. Noting the considerable victories that women have already won, she advocates that women embrace their newfound power, rather than perpetuate the stereotype of woman-as-victim. This book started a national debate within the feminist movement.

Who Stole Feminism? By Christina Hoff Sommers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994). Although Hoff Sommers is a liberal feminist who believes in the equal rights of women, she has come under attack for this book, which argues that the feminist movement has gone too far. Feminists leaders who claim that "all sex is rape" or describe modern physics as "Newton's rape manual" have only hurt the cause of women by turning off mainstream Americans. She advocates returning feminism to a more moderate philosophy of sexual equality.


Guns and the Constitution
by Dennis Hennigan, E. Bruce Nicholson and David Hemenway (Northampton, Mass.: Aletheia Press, 1995). It's astonishing that such a short book (76 pages) can destroy an entire school of thought. This book shows how the gun lobby completely misinterprets the Second Amendment, which, according to the Supreme Court, does not protect an individual's right to own a gun. It also contains a brilliant chapter that makes the liberal case for gun control, using all the latest statistics and studies. Especially valuable is its deconstruction of the crank scholarship of pro-gun criminologist Gary Kleck.


Your Money or Your Life
by Marc Roberts (New York: Doubleday, 1993). The problem with most books on health care reform is that they are written by highly partisan sources -- doctors who want to preserve their salaries, insurance companies who want to preserve their profits, patients who want to increase their services, etc. Roberts gives an exceptionally fair and even-handed analysis of the health care crisis -- a complicated subject he manages to explain clearly in 161 pages.


A People's History of the United States: 1492 - Present
by Howard Zinn (HarperCollins, 1995). Most American history is whitewashed, either presenting it as a glorious success story, or from a white male point of view. Zinn corrects this by telling the viewpoints of women, blacks, Native Americans, the poor, the working class, and other forgotten voices. An extremely powerful rebuttal to conservative historical revisionism.


Money Talks
by Dan Clawson, Alan Neustadtl and Denise Scott (New York: HarperCollins, 1992). An eye-opening analysis of how corporate political action committees really work. Liberals will be dismayed to learn just how easily Democrats as well as Republicans have sold out to rich corporations, killing democracy in the process. The researchers not only investigated 309 corporate PACs, but extensively interviewed 38 of them under conditions of anonymity. What was said during these interviews will have you calling for instant reform.


The Media Monopoly
by Ben Bagdikian (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992 [1983]). Easily the most famous book among media scholars in the last 23 years. Ridiculed as "alarmist" when it first came out, it is today praised as a masterpiece for the unerring accuracy of its predictions. Bagdikian, "the dean of American journalism," warned that deregulation of the media under Reagan's FCC was leading to corporate ownership and monopolization of the media. These parent corporations are conservative and highly active in lobbying Washington, despite the media's reputation for being "liberal." Since 1983, the number of corporations controlling media have shrunk from 50 to 20, with no sign of stopping. Once the media monopoly is complete, information in this country will be centralized and we will have effectively abandoned a free press.

Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (various publications). FAIR is dedicated to combating corporate monopolization of the media, and exposes the often heavy corporate and conservative bias in mainstream news reporting.


The Power Game
by Hedrick Smith (New York: Ballantine Books, 1988). "How Washington Works" is the subtitle of this book, and no one describes it better than veteran journalist Hedrick Smith. Reviewing Washington's evolution from Kennedy to Reagan, Smith not only provides a detailed history of how we got into this mess, but a brilliant analysis of what makes Washington tick. One of his shrewder observations: the perception of power is just as effective as power itself.

They Only Look Dead by E.J. Dionne, Jr. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996). Another of America's best journalists, Dionne describes why the 1994 Republican takeover of Congress stemmed from the self-destruction of Democrats, not the conversion of America to conservatism. He shows the political forces that killed the Gingrich Revolution, and why progressives will return to power. Written before the Republicans' 1995 budget disaster and Clinton's resurgence in the polls, this book turned out to be highly prophetic.

Up from Conservatism: Why the Right Is Wrong for America by Michael Lind (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996). The premier independent intellectual of his generation tells the story of his evolution away from right-wing orthodoxy, explains why the Right is wrong for America, and paints a vivid insider's portrait of the conservative movement he knows up close. Dealing with issues of trade, religion, culture, sex, and race, Lind warns readers that the fulfillment of the real Republican agenda will produce a class-divided country in which the government is subordinate to a few wealthy families and powerful corporations.

Pathologies of Rational Choice Theory by Donald Green and Ian Shapiro (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994). This is a more advanced book, but it is useful for rebutting a theory that many conservatives and libertarians heavily depend upon: rational choice theory (sometimes called public choice theory). This theory attempts to describe how voters make choices, based on many (conservative) economic principles. The authors show that rational choice theory explains nothing and is in need of a replacement.

Democracy and Its Critics by Robert Dahl (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989). This book brilliantly defends democracy from its many critics on the right. It's a more advanced book, but it won the 1990 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Book Award given by the American Political Science Association for the best book published during the previous year on government, politics or international affairs. A classic.


Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal
by Andrew Hacker (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992). A classic exploration of all aspects of race in the United States, from racism to affirmative action to segregation. Hacker's strength is that he uses statistics to demolish stereotypes and prove the racism lurking behind many supposedly "color-blind" policies.

The Bell Curve Wars by various authors (New York: HarperCollins, 1995). The Bell Curve argued that the average black IQ is 15 points lower than the average white IQ, and that this had policy implications for welfare and affirmative action. Shortly afterwards, the National Academy of Sciences branded the book's science as "fraudulent." This book explains why.

Inequality by Design by Claude Fischer and others (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996). The definitive refutation to The Bell Curve, this book re-examines all the data that Murray and Herrnstein used, corrects all the statistical errors, and comes to the opposite conclusion: inequality is more affected by social factors than genetic ones. An excellent introduction to the subject of why poverty is a major reason for our social problems.


The Way Things Aren't
by Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) (New York: The New Press, 1995). Forget the current best-seller Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot, written by a non-scholar whose insults are as infantile as his target's. This is the real rejoinder to the conservative's leading spokesman. FAIR absolutely destroys Rush Limbaugh by refuting "over 100 outrageously false and foolish statements from America's most powerful radio and TV commentator."


The American Almanac: Statistical Abstract of the United States.
Unfortunately, the Internet still can't beat this hefty volume as the best one-stop source for any statistical need. It's one of my most heavily used books. And The American Almanac uses primary sources that stand authoritative in any debate.

Who We Are by Sam Roberts (New York: Random House, 1994). Clear and easy to understand, this book reviews the results of the 1990 Census and paints a portrait of American life. It describes our standard of living, income inequality, racial composites, education levels, national trends and more.

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