By Greg Drobny
Most “must read” reading lists are, to put it bluntly, as boring as a Lifetime movie. Yeah, we all get it—Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby are “classics” so we’re all supposed to read them.
This is a little different. The goal is to list a few books that I, as Editor-in-Chief of Unapologetically American, feel are not necessarily the best books ever, but rather the best books for explaining America and how to be Unapologetically part of it.
In other words, they aren’t fancy-schmancy “classics” included for the sole purpose of you being able to sound sophisticated. These are books that you may never have heard of but shape a great deal of thought in our national discourse and go a long way towards explaining who we are as a country—and how we got here.
10) Rules For Radicals by Saul Alinsky. Everyone who subscribes to and uses the strategies laid out in this book is a horrible person. There’s no way around it. But it’s also hugely important to understanding how it is that the current political climate is what it is. You’ll probably cry the entire way through as you realize what it’s done to our country.
9) Give War a Chance by P.J. O’Rourke. Rarely are the qualities of humor, intellect, and biting social commentary combined into one package. O’Rourke has managed to do that consistently for decades. Though all of his work is laugh-out-loud funny, this effort sees him traveling with the US military, so it has a special feel of jokes, guns, bombs, and fighting against dictators, all in one—it’s as American as it gets, in other words.
8) Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. We’re all idiots. It’s true—we all make horrible mistakes in our thinking due to cognitive biases. Kahneman, along with his colleague, Amos Tversky, won the Nobel Prize for showing how people’s choices and decisions are often based on very flawed analysis (or none at all). This book is an easy and often humorous look at his findings in the field of behavioral psychology and goes a long way towards helping the reader be more critical in their thinking (as well showing why most people aren’t in theirs).
7) The War that Made America by Fred Anderson is actually a shorter, more accessible version of his book The Crucible of War. Most people who want to get into historical accountings of how America came to be jump right into the Revolutionary War. But without understanding the Seven Years War that preceded it, a lot of context is lost. Besides, how else are you going to find out the actual events surrounding Last of the Mohicans?
6) Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. Stop! Don’t fall asleep or skip this because it has “economics” in the title. Hazlitt’s book is fairly short, simple to understand, and will blow you away in its explanatory power. Though originally written in 1946 and updated over the following couple decades, you’ll feel like you are reading something from this year because of how relevant it is to today’s problems.
5) What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe. There are about a zillion books written on the Civil War, but the period in between the War of 1812 and Lincoln’s inauguration is greatly lacking in material that won’t put you immediately to sleep. Howe’s book is a tome, to be sure, but incredibly well-written and absolutely essential to understanding a great many aspects of our country’s history, including the explosion of religious denominations and how the effort to outlaw booze actually started with “hey, maybe you should just drink one bottle a week instead of…15…?”
4) Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Just kidding. It’s crap and based entirely on pseudo-science (or no science at all). I just wanted to see if you were paying attention. The only reason you need to be aware of this book is because it launched the modern environmental movement—but did so on almost entirely fraudulent grounds. Like Rules for Radicals, it was highly influential but for all the wrong reasons.
3) Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose. America is built on badassery, plain and simple. Lewis and Clarke were two of our original bad asses (all due respect to Robert Rogers), and their exploration of America—along with the Louisiana Purchase that preceded it—is one of those events in American history worthy of more books and movies than it actually has. Sure they all had syphilis by the time they were done and drank mercury (because medicine!), but the status of legends is one befitting of all of them.
2) New Deal or Raw Deal? By Burton Fulsom. Our country suffered “The Great Depression,” but everything was cured by FDR and the New Deal, right? Not even close, and Fulsom’s first-rate historical work demonstrates just how incredibly far off that commonly-held belief truly is. It’s a short but extremely well-documented punch in the face to anyone who suggests the New Deal did anything other than prolong that economic disaster. But it’s important to read today because we still suffer under the planning of powerful people who believe exactly that.
1) The Federalist (Papers) by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison. America was kinda-sorta founded on the concept of arguing. These are the arguments from some of the most influential Americans in our history on why that Constitution thing is a pretty awesome idea. And I’m told that was a fairly important document, so I’d say jump on that.
Honorable mentions: The entire Oxford History of the United States series is a pretty solid addition to anyone’s library, and several in the Politically Incorrect series that relate to America—PIG to American History, PIG to the Constitution, PIG to the Founding Fathers, and PIG to Capitalism—all go quite a ways in debunking some commonly-held myths that are still taught in some schools. Also, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn is considered a must read by many history buffs for understanding the “why” of the founding fathers’ intentions.
I’m sure some of my fellow writers at UA will offer their own reading lists in the future, but this is mine for now. I reserve the right to completely and totally change my mind about this list because I have a short attention span and whatever I’m reading right now is clearly better than what I read 2 years ago. Duh.