These are heavy times.
And heavy times require heavy lifting.
Why waste your days with “fluff” reads when you can feed your intellect and soul with books that have proven to endure?
Below is a list of ten books I feel every American should read at some point in his or her life.
Yes, the Constitution.
Americans love to cite things as “constitutional” or “unconstitutional,” but how many really know what those terms mean?
On order to appreciate how our government operates, we must delve into the exquisite language of this sacred document.
It really is beautiful. No kidding.
2. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
The United States incarcerates 25% of the world’s population. Most of our inmates are Black and Latino.
Dr. Alexander succinctly explains how Jim Crow did not end with President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but is, in fact, still alive and kicking in the American criminal justice system.
This book will piss you off, which is the whole point.
3. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Maybe there is a social studies teacher somewhere out there teaching this. If it’s you, kudos!
This is the “other side” of history we were not taught in school, like about an inept European imperialistic murderer who “discovered America,” and about union members who had their heads bashed in for daring to collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions.
Howard Zinn takes the gild off the Robber Barons, blows the lid off the Vietnam War, delves into the oil-saturated 1970s, explains the “new democratic” party of Bill Clinton, and the 2000 election of George W. Bush.
A warning, though: it’s no beach read. It’s a time of well over 800 pages, so expect to take some time with it.
4. Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
This is really an indispensable counterpart to Howard Zinn’s book.
In it, Professor Loewen analyzes twelve high school history textbooks, and uncovers the lies, half-truths, and flat-out omissions we have just accepted as “boring” American history.
5. It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
The parallels between the character Buzz Windrip and Donald Trump are striking in this prescient 1935 satire in which a bombastic fear-mongering demagogue defeats President Franklin Roosevelt and becomes president through extreme nationalism, promising a return to “traditional values.”
Hopefully what is fiction stays fiction.
6. They Thought They Were Free by Milton Mayer
Ever wonder what ordinary Germans were doing as Adolf Hitler ascended the German political ladder and proceeded to enact the most sadistic agenda the modern world has ever seen?
Well, so did Associated Press, Chicago Evening Post, and Chicago American journalist Milton Mayer.
He was so curious to find out what the hell happened, he traveled to Germany to interview ten former members of the Nazi party. From it, he produced this inimical study that shows how subtly fascism can creep in.
7. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
This may not be the best-written work of American literature, but it sure is one of the most important for its role in kick-starting the abolitionist movement. It helped introduce a nation to its complicity in a slave trade most today assume was a “Southern thing.”
8. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This coming-of-age staple of middle/high school literature remains timeless and poignant, especially after what we recently witnessed in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Don’t just watch the movie, although that’s a classic in its own right.
Read first, then watch.
9. Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
This great book will really make you think.
It proposes a brilliant perspective on why societies have conquered each other since the shift from hunting and gathering tribes to farming communities.
10. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
This classic masterpiece of American theater always takes on new meaning for me the more I learn about African American history. There are so many issues it tackles, from housing discrimination, race-based income inequality, religion, heritage, assimilation, and the role one person can play in creating substantial change in the world.
Again, don’t just watch the movie.
11. Unequal Protection by Thom Hartmann
Ever wonder why the Supreme Court considers corporations “people?”
This elegant study of the Fourteenth Amendment traces the history of the one of the most controversial and, arguably, misapplied of our constitutional rights.
When I first learned about it, I honestly did not think a book about how corporations are hijacking our democracy would be something that would interest me.
But it’s by progressive radio/TV host Thom Hartmann. He makes everything interesting.
12. 1984 by George Orwell
This is not last because it’s the worst. It’s last because it’s THE BEST!
Sales of this 1948 novel spiked after Trump election. In an age of “alternative facts” and endless doublespeak, this is a chilling, insightful read.
Take your time.
And enjoy the reads!
Image via: Pixabay