There are books that change our lives and our world views, and then there are books that are equally great, but in a different way. There are books that are almost like text books, but text books you actually want to read. Their information is not only valuable to a functioning society, but to the continuation and furthering of knowledge for every person. Our mainstream media is failing us today as the Fourth Estate, intended to inform the public and help make for an educated electorate. A healthy democracy is not possible otherwise.
These five books make up where the media fails in this area:
Republic, Lost, by Lawrence Lessig – Before he became a 2016 U.S. Presidential candidate (yes, there are actually others out there besides Bernie and Hillary), Lawrence Lessig has been an advocate for a complete overhaul of the political financing system here in the United States. After reading this book, I am more educated to the realities of political campaign financing and lobbying than ever before. I realized there were many problems facing our political system these days, but since reading this I now understand and accept that the root of every problem facing our government (federal, state, and local) stems from the way politicians are required to raise funds to win elections. There is a deep seated corruption, and it does not discriminate between one political party or another. It is inherent to the current rules that govern political campaigns and lobbying rules. Read this book before the 2016 election, and then look deeper into each political candidate’s promises to see what I mean.
The Signal and the Noise, by Nate Silver – Before he became famous in 2008 for predicting every state that President Obama would win on his blog fivethirtyeight, Nate Silver was a statistics geek who analyzed professional poker and baseball stats. This very interesting book discusses why so many people go about applying statistics to real life situations all wrong. Analyzing different phenomenon from a statistics perspective in each chapter, Silver shows how common mis-perceptions confuse people about what is actually happening or what most likely will happen (signal) versus what is just a random, unrelated event (noise). I never thought I would enjoy a book about statistics, but this very interesting and at times humorous read will make you extra wary when hearing politicians and/or television personalities throwing around statistics. An important skill to have in this presidential election year!
The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman – Ever listen to the news and wonder what the Chinese stock market has to do with American steel worker’s, or why sweatshops in Bangladesh benefit the American consumer? This book is one of the best out there at explaining how globalization in the late 20th and 21st centuries has essentially flattened the Earth – in the sense that one “flattens the playing field”. Countries that the U.S. used to dominate economically are now on the same level or exceeding the former economic juggernaut that was the United States at its heyday in the mid-2oth century. In his book, Friedman asks the key question, “…has the world gotten too small and too fast for human beings and their political systems to adjust in a stable manner?” Full of analysis and thoughtful solutions, this book is good for anyone wanting to understand their country’s place in the world economy, and how it affects their daily lives.
A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn – Ever wonder what your high school history books were leaving out? This book by Howard Zinn tells the history of the United States “from the bottom up”, with perspectives of those most affected by the policies and decisions of the United States government. It gives voice to the stories and people who make up the character and culture of this country, and make it the diverse landscape that it is. Even if you find yourself in a privileged state of existence, this book is a good history lesson in teaching an appreciation for the societal gains that benefit everyone at some point in their lives – namely, Social Security, Medicare, the minimum wage, and labor laws.
Capital in the 21st Century, by Thomas Piketty – Touted as THE book on modern economic inequality, this unlikely best-seller has drawn more attention of late than most books on economics. Supported by decades of research on the subject matter, “Capital” takes a long view on the possible causes/solutions for economic inequality, and backs it all up with loads of data. This definitely isn’t your light, summer reading, and should likely be taken in small doses to let it all soak in, but it is certainly one of the most lauded and comprehensive books on the subject matter. If you’re the inquisitive type, and want to learn more about the real world consequences of economic and tax policies, and how they tend to favor those who already have money, then this mammoth of a book is for you.