Election fraud allegations. Hyper-partisanship. Anxious awaiting results. Much of what has characterized recent midterm reviews has felt decidedly modern. But viewing the election solely from this week’s perspective may actually obscure the historical roots of our unease. Reading the past broadens the lens, in a way that both explains the present and hints at what the future might hold.
The most useful books offer insights into issues that have animated debate for years. For example, Adam Hochschild american midnighta broad account of the consequences of the United States joining World War I, highlights the nativist sentiment that radicalized some Americans against immigrants then, just as it does today. A powerful and irresistible tideby Jia Lynn Yang, on the other hand, shows what it takes to combat such feelings – offering a roadmap for contemporary life by chronicling the long struggle to remove ethnic quotas from our country’s immigration policy.
Looking back is instructive; it proves that we need to go deeper than this week’s voting patterns to understand our political landscape. by Nicole Hemer supportersby Dana Milbank The Destroyersand Matthew Continetti The right all argue that although the extremism of the modern Republican Party seemed to surprise many, it has in fact been bubbling beneath the party’s genteel surface for years. And that of Stacey Abrams Our time has comewhich offers a history of voter suppression, serves as a reminder of how crucial the protection of universal suffrage is.
As the poet Stephen Vincent Benét wrote in “Litany for Dictatorships” in 1935, “We and our fathers have sown dragon’s teeth. / Our children know and experience armed men. These works illustrate how the roots of so much political rot can be found in the past. But they can also offer advice on what to do when dealing with ‘Dragon’s Teeth’ and ‘Gunmen’. Just look at the policy makers that Yang talked about in A powerful and irresistible tidewho made the politically risky effort to reform an unequal system – and ultimately succeeded.
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What we read
NYPL; Getty; Joanne Império / The Atlantic
America has had worse
“One of the values of reading history at a time like this is remembering the many ways the past was actually worse – that progress is possible.”
What is the only book that explains American politics today?
“Atlantic staff and contributors offer reading suggestions for what seems like unprecedented times. Some of their picks are works of history; others are more in the realm of theory; some deal with the systems of other countries.
Artwork by Paul Spella
The long dismantling of the Republican Party
“The three books depict a conservatism that was fraught with tension long before [Donald] The emergence of Trump. Their goal is to explain why the current incarnation of the GOP should come as no surprise.
Dey Street Books / Viking / Hachette Books / Harper / Henry Holt & Company / The Atlantic
The 10 best political books of 2020 by black women
“This struggle to be heard remains one of the unnerving animators of black women’s political literature.”
“Litanies for dictatorships”
“We thought we were done with these things, but we were wrong.”
📚 “Litanies for dictatorships”, by Stephen Vincent Benét
About Us: This week’s newsletter is written by Kate Cray. The book she reads next is The idiotby Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
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