Great Political Books for You and Your Impulsive Spending Habits

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 26 2010 3:18 PM

Great Political Books for You and Your Impulsive Spending Habits

Still in slow news mode, are we? Well, here's a gift list.

Radical-in-Chief by Stanley Kurtz . Ignore Dinesh D'Souza's fever dream -- better yet, read Andrew Ferguson's review of it -- and read Kurtz's fascinating and meticulous history of modern, embattled American socialism. It's there amid a study of Obama's politics and past that's always interesting, even if was reported with a conclusion in mind. (What isn't, really?) "[T]he fears of Obama's harshest critics are justified," writes Kurtz, in full oogedy-boogedy mode. "The president of the United States is a socialist."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris . This is the political biography of the year, and Random House knows it. They're offering a for-sale box of hardcover editions of Morris's majestic TR trilogy, now complete after three decades of writing and research. TR really calls out for a muckraking (he'd wince at the word) takedown, an antidote to the hagiographies that a man like this deserves. And perhaps one of Glenn Beck's ghosts will write one. But Morris, for all of the obvious admiration of his subject, is faithful to his story and the period he covers. We aren't just treated to another heroic story of TR's 1912 bid against Taft and Wilson; we learn from contemporary accounts just what an act of backstabbing it was. We see TR at his warmongering worst, something we got a taste for in Morris's first book and the story of TR as assistant secretary of the navy. All political history does this, but Morris is especially good at dispelling the Harold Fordian fiction that there was ever some sort of comity and bipartisanship in American politics.

The Backlash by Will Bunch . The Philadelphia Daily News reporter's journey through the counterrevolution against Barack Obama -- Bunch is never lazy enough to call it a "Tea Party" and move on -- is angry, opinionated, fair, and very, very funny. He does not collect the same bland quotes as other reporters, finding activists who "just decided to stop yelling at their TVs and do something." He goes to the Knob Creek machine gun shoot in Kentucky. He sits in a living room to watch Glenn Beck with conservatives. He goes to diners in Delaware with the activists the media only noticed when Mike Castle lost his primary.

Overhaul by Steven Rattner. Unquestionably the best book so far about the Obama presidency, from the "car czar," who conducted extensive interviews after leaving the administration to complete the story. If you read Kurtz and come away wondering whether the president really is a doctrinaire socialist bent on destroying capitalism, you must read this too.

Common Nonsense by Alexander Zaitchik . A freelance reporter investigates the life of Glenn Beck. Amazingly, no one had really done this until Zaitchik started doing it for Salon. What he finds it unsurprising. Beck has always been more interested in popularity and "shocks" than politics, and his current ideology is half-real, half-profitable. But he tells it well and no one has told it more soberly. The second half of the book drags a bit, as Zaitchik breaks down Beck's bad on-air obsessions and habits, but it's got moments, like Zaitchik's explanation of why Mormon religious tradition explains Beck's constant waterworks.

Conventional Idiocy by Rick Sanchez . Just kidding! It is available for $0.22 used, though.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.