History, Politics and Current Events, Reading list

A Reading List to Stay Sane During the 2024 Election Year

Few—if any—of us are looking forward to the upcoming 2024 Election season. During such a historically tumultuous year, most Americans are chiefly concerned with safeguarding their emotional and mental wellbeing while being engaged political citizens. Nothing about this election will be simple or inconsequential—and that is precisely why it matters now more than ever to engage with the massive questions lying before our nation. 
As we enter the heat of the election season, we’d like to draw your attention to a handful of thought-provoking, salient books that beg us to consider our political landscape from a multitude of perspectives. Through these works, readers will deepen their understanding of our current political moment—from what brought us here to where we’re headed, and what we can do right now. 

1. The Constitutional Bind: How Americans Came to Idolize a Document That Fails Them

By Aziz Rana 
An eye-opening account of how Americans came to revere the Constitution and what this reverence has meant domestically and around the world. 

Some Americans today worry that the Federal Constitution is ill-equipped to respond to mounting democratic threats and may even exacerbate the worst features of American politics. Yet for as long as anyone can remember, the Constitution has occupied a quasi-mythical status in American political culture. The Constitutional Bind explores how a flawed document came to be so glorified and how this has impacted American life. Revealing how the current constitutional order was forged over the twentieth century, The Constitutional Bind also sheds light on an array of movement activists—in Black, Indigenous, feminist, labor, and immigrant politics—who struggled to imagine different constitutional horizons. As time passed, these voices of opposition were excised from memory. Today, they offer essential insights. 

2. The Strength of Our Commitments: National Human Rights Institutions in Europe and Beyond

By Corina Lacatus 

A deep dive into the mechanics of national human rights institutions and the forces that make or break their success. 

In the years since World War II, the endeavor to promote human rights has gained momentum and become increasingly important within international relations. Yet these efforts often run into serious problems of enforcement. Many countries formed national human rights institutions (NHRIs) with independent mandates to support and monitor government compliance with international human rights law. Be they commissions, ombudsmen, or tribunals, these institutions vary in their power and impact. For this book, Corina Lacatus surveyed NHRIs in Europe and around the world to determine their effectiveness and explain why some succeed while others fail. The Strength of Our Commitments explores the relationship between the domestic and international support an institution receives and its ability to secure resources, credibility, and tangibly improve human rights conditions. 

3. A Supreme Court Unlike Any Other: The Deepening Divide Between the Justices and the People

By Kevin J. McMahon 

A data-rich examination of the US Supreme Court’s unprecedented detachment from the democratic processes that buttress its legitimacy. 

Today’s Supreme Court is unlike any other in American history. This is not just because of its jurisprudence but also because the current Court has a tenuous relationship with the democratic processes that help establish its authority. Simply put, past Supreme Courts were constructed in a fashion far more in line with the promise of democracy—that the people decide and the majority rules. Drawing on historical and contemporary data alongside a deep knowledge of court battles during presidencies ranging from FDR to Donald Trump, Kevin J. McMahon charts the developments that brought us here. A Supreme Court Unlike Any Other is an eye-opening account of today’s Court within the context of US history and the broader structure of contemporary politics. 

4. Respect and Loathing in American Democracy: Polarization, Moralization, and the Undermining of Equality

By Jeff Spinner-Halev and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse 

A deep examination of why respect is in short supply in politics today and why it matters. 

Respect is in trouble in the United States. Many Americans believe respecting others is a necessary virtue, yet many struggle to respect opposing partisans. Surprisingly, it is liberal citizens, who hold respect as central to their view of democratic equality, who often have difficulty granting respect to others. Drawing on evidence from national surveys, focus groups, survey experiments, and the views of political theorists, Jeff Spinner-Halev and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse explain why this is and why respect is vital to—and yet so lacking in—contemporary US politics. Respect is both far-reaching and vital, yet it is much harder to grant than many recognize, partly because of the unseen tension between respect, social justice, and national solidarity. Respect and Loathing in American Democracy proposes a path forward that, while challenging, is far from impossible for citizens to traverse. 
5. Partisan Hostility and American Democracy: Explaining Political Divisions and When They Matter

By James N. Druckman et al. 

An unflinching examination of the effects and boundaries of partisan animosity. 

Today, many fear that strong partisan views, particularly hostility to the opposing party, are damaging democracy. Partisan Hostility and American Democracy offers a nuanced evaluation of when and how partisan animosity matters in today’s highly charged, dynamic political environment, drawing on panel data from some of the most tumultuous years in recent American history, 2019 through 2021. The authors show that partisanship powerfully shapes political behaviors, but its effects are conditional, not constant. Instead, it is most powerful when politicians send clear signals and when an issue is unlikely to bring direct personal consequences. In the absence of these conditions, other factors often dominate decision-making. The authors argue that while partisan hostility has degraded US politics it is not in itself an existential threat. As their research shows, the future of American democracy depends on how politicians, more than ordinary voters, behave. 

6. America’s New Racial Battle Lines: Protect versus Repair

By Rogers M. Smith and Desmond King 

A sobering portrait of the United States’s divided racial politics. 

For nearly two decades, Rogers M. Smith and Desmond King have charted the shifting racial policy alliances that have shaped American politics across different eras. In America’s New Racial Battle Lines, they show that US racial policy debates are undergoing fundamental change. Disputes over colorblind versus race-conscious policies have given way to new lines of conflict. Today’s conservatives promise to protect traditionalist, predominantly white, Christian Americans against what they call the “radical” Left. Meanwhile, today’s progressives seek not just to integrate American institutions but to more fully transform and “repair” pervasive systemic racism. Placing today’s conflicts in theoretical and historical perspectives, Smith and King analyze where these intensifying clashes may take the nation in the years ahead. They highlight the great potential for mounting violence, as well as the remaining possibilities for finding common ground. 

7. The Political Development of American Debt Relief

By Emily Zackin and Chloe N. Thurston 

A political history of the rise and fall of American debt relief. 

Americans have a long history with debt. They also have a long history of mobilizing for debt relief. Throughout the nineteenth century, indebted citizens demanded government protection from their financial burdens, challenging readings of the Constitution that exalted property rights at the expense of the vulnerable. Their appeals shaped the country’s periodic experiments with state debt relief and federal bankruptcy law, constituting a pre-industrial safety net. Yet, the twentieth century saw the erosion of debtor politics and the eventual retrenchment of bankruptcy protections. The Political Development of American Debt Relief traces how geographic, sectoral, and racial politics shaped debtor activism over time, enhancing our understanding of state-building, constitutionalism, and social policy.