Non-Fiction Recommendations

Reading Political Memoirs

As a self-identified political junkie, I’m always interested in reading up on famous politicians – especially around the election cycle.

Here are some I’ve recently read and enjoyed:

  1. A Promised Land by Barack Obama Perhaps the most anticipated release of 2020, A Promised Land is a great insight to President Obama’s early days as a politician in the Illinois state senator, a US senator, and the beginning of his presidency. Looking back, it’s quite amazing that a first-term senator won the presidency, but if anyone has that “it factor”, it’s Barack Obama. The book is very long, but it doesn’t go overboard on certain topics and focuses on important topics equally. An enjoying and insightful read. I should also note that the audiobook version is great to listen to and is narrated by President Obama himself (after all, it is a long book, and it’s nice to go back and forth between reading and listening).
  2. Fascism: A Warning by Madeleine Albright

This was a great, short book written by the first female secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, who served during President Bill Clinton’s second term. Each chapter focuses on specific examples of fascists (or fascist-leaning leaders), starting with the one who started it all – Il Duce. There is a common formula used by the fifteen or so leaders in the book. Take advantage of the people’s anger at the government (a military defeat, or an economic crisis), make false promises, embrace nationalism, find a scapegoat (immigrants, religious groups, etc) and voila. I wouldn’t call it a memoir exactly, but a large part of the book draws on from Secretary Albright’s past on-the-job experiences (especially the latter chapters).

Favorite Quotes:

  • Fascism draws energy from men and women who are upset because of a lost war, a lost job, a memory of humiliation, or a sense that their country is in steep decline. The more painful the grounds for resentment, the easier it is for a Fascist leader to gain followers by dangling the prospect of renewal or by vowing to take back what has been stolen. Like the mobilizers of more benign movements, these secular evangelists exploit the near-universal human desire to be part of a meaningful quest.
  • WITHIN EACH OF US, THERE IS AN INEXHAUSTIBLE yearning for liberty, or so we democrats like to believe. However, that desire often seems in competition with the longing to be told what to do.
  • In our first meeting, back in 2000, Putin told me, “Sure, I like Chinese food, it’s fun to use chopsticks, and I’ve been doing judo for a long time, but this is just trivial stuff. It’s not our mentality, which is European. Russia has to be firmly part of the West.”

3. Disloyal by Michael Cohen

As Mr. Cohen so artfully sums up, the Trump political machine is a train wreck and you just can’t tear your eyes from it.

I suspect many wishing to read this are looking for details on the 2015-16 presidential campaign, so before you pick up this book, I should probably let you know that it goes into more detail about the Trump organization rather than the presidential campaign or the white house. Understandable, because Michael Cohen was Trump’s personal attorney and wasn’t heavily involved in the presidential campaign. However, Mr. Cohen’s analysis on how Trump won the presidency is pretty spot-on.

I liked reading about Trump from another perspective. Mr. Cohen fully admits his previous obsession with pleasing Trump, and it was pretty funny at times it seemed like he was a lovesick high schooler trying to please his crush. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and honestly could not put it down.

Favorite Quotes:

  • “The biggest influence by far—by a country mile—was the media. Donald Trump’s presidency is a product of the free press. Not free as in freedom of expression, I mean free as unpaid for. Rallies broadcast live, tweets, press conferences, idiotic interviews, 24-7 wall-to-wall coverage, all without spending a penny. The free press gave America Trump. Right, left, moderate, tabloid, broadsheet, television, radio, Internet, Facebook—that is who elected Trump and might well elect him again.”
  • “As the election wore on, I began to believe that Trump secretly wanted Putin’s kind of power for himself, which is part of why I’m convinced he won’t leave office voluntarily—but I will get to that subject in due course. To Trump, Putin was like the Saudi royal family, or Kim Jong-un in North Korea: the incarnation of dynastic wealth and the real ruling class of the planet. Everyone other than the ruling class on the earth was like an ant, to his way of thinking, their lives meaningless and always subject to the whims of the true rulers of the world.”

Overall, it’s an easy read (no fancy language or vocabulary) with pretty good insight and analyses.

4. Power of the Powerless by Vaclav Havel

Written by the Czech playright before he became president, this book is decidedly more “literary” than the rest of the list. It’s short and beautifully written, using metaphors to draw out his arguments regarding “the system” (which he describes as post-totalitarianism) vs individuals living under or controlling opressive regimes. In it he describes how individuals are driven to dissidence under communism.

I’m also very interested in the following but have not had the time to read them:

  1. Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg: Would be great to get an insight to one of the most intelligent and interesting politicians right now.
  2. Any of Henry Kissinger’s books.
  3. Any good biography on Lyndon B. Johnson. Anyone?

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