Ready or not, here it comes. Whether you love politics or wish to never discuss it, with new presidential race just around the corner, the circus is about to start up again. The first polls are out (64 percent of people say they think Skittles are better than M&M’s. This pollster says that 64 percent of people are wrong.), the pundits are squabbling (“Warren: the right woman to run or run away from that woman? Tonight at 9 p.m.!”), and people are already debating the merits of something most of us have never heard of on a platform that may or may not be run by Russian bots.
To help you brace for impact or jump in, here are eight books to get you ready for the coming months of heated intellectual discourse, angry Facebook posts, and 2016 flashbacks.
For the Economy
You might have read HILLBILLY ELEGY and EDUCATED, but I swear you will learn something new about the concept of “two Americas” when you read HEARTLAND. In it, Sarah Smarsh recollects her upbringing on a large swath of land with a larger-than-life work ethic, but without a bank account to match. She doesn’t offer concrete solutions for “the problem of poor people” as much as she asks that we reevaluate how we talk about those living under the poverty line: noteably not as a group of people who are failures, or worse, lazy.
Read this if you want a more humanistic approach to understanding poverty outside the big cities.
For . . . Russia
Like it or not, Russia is going to mean a lot during the next two years. With the Mueller investigation wrapping up, and the looming threat of Russia in both the physical and digital worlds, it’s going to get complicated quickly. The Magnitsky Act is how this latest chapter of Russian aggression began, and this book is an almost cinematic account of Bill Browder’s experiences.
Read this if you want to understand why everyone is making such a big deal over orphans.
New York Times bestseller
THE BOOK THAT EXPLAINS WHY RUSSIANS WANTED TO MEET WITH THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN
“Part John Grisham-like thriller, part business and political memoir.” —The New York Times
“[Red Notice] does for investing in Russia and the former Soviet Union what Liar’s Poker did for our understanding of Salomon Brothers, Wall Street, and the mortgage-backed securities business in the 1980s. Browder’s business saga meshes well with the story of corruption and murder in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, making Red Notice an early candidate for any list of the year’s best books” (Fortune).
This is a story about an accidental activist. Bill Browder started out his adult life as the Wall Street maverick whose instincts led him to Russia just after the breakup of the Soviet Union, where he made his fortune.
Along the way he exposed corruption, and when he did, he barely escaped with his life. His Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky wasn’t so lucky: he ended up in jail, where he was tortured to death. That changed Browder forever. He saw the murderous heart of the Putin regime and has spent the last half decade on a campaign to expose it. Because of that, he became Putin’s number one enemy, especially after Browder succeeded in having a law passed in the United States—The Magnitsky Act—that punishes a list of Russians implicated in the lawyer’s murder. Putin famously retaliated with a law that bans Americans from adopting Russian orphans.
A financial caper, a crime thriller, and a political crusade, Red Notice is the story of one man taking on overpowering odds to change the world, and also the story of how, without intending to, he found meaning in his life.
For the Environment
With the ominous headlines of wildfires, hurricanes, and heat waves, it feels as if the environment is an awful mess that has traditionally been dealt with in small doses. But, unfortunately, according to Naomi Klein, we’re gonna need a complete overhaul of the way we live if we want to make any sort of real impact. She has written a commanding book that says sticking our heads in the sand is no longer an option, and that we should find the optimism in this situation, like building new structures and systems based on more-sustainable materials.
Read this if you keep hearing about the Green New Deal and have no idea why it’s newsworthy.
Read this if you’ve set up a monthly donation to the NRDC.
This is an essential text on the future of our planet and the future of the global economy. Naomi Klein argues that climate change can be an opportunity to radically transform our broken economic and cultural priorities.
For Civil Rights/Social Justice
There are so many phenomenal books that discuss the ramifications of hundreds of years of legal oppression, but this book by Michelle Alexander is one of the most well executed and comprehensive on the subject. It’s essential reading if you want to understand past, present, and future of the fight for social equality and justice.
Read this if you want to understand more about the reasons #BlackLivesMatter needs to exist.
All of the books on this list will help you get through the next major political event, but THE FOURTH AGE by Byron Reese will do something else—something a little more special: it will give you a greater understanding of the parts of the coming conversations that will go unsaid. Instead of being able to reiterate and understand the same old talking points, this book will give you a set of your own. And when it comes to automation and the role of technology in our lives, it seems as if nothing is more important.
Read this if you aren’t sure what China has to do with our economy, but you know that everything you do now involves computers.
“The Fourth Age not only discusses what the rise of A.I. will mean for us, it also forces readers to challenge their preconceptions. And it manages to do all this in a way that is both entertaining and engaging.” —The New York Times
As we approach a great turning point in history when technology is poised to redefine what it means to be human, The Fourth Age offers fascinating insight into AI, robotics, and their extraordinary implications for our species.
In The Fourth Age, Byron Reese makes the case that technology has reshaped humanity just three times in history:
- 100,000 years ago, we harnessed fire, which led to language.
- 10,000 years ago, we developed agriculture, which led to cities and warfare.
- 5,000 years ago, we invented the wheel and writing, which lead to the nation state.
We are now on the doorstep of a fourth change brought about by two technologies: AI and robotics. The Fourth Age provides extraordinary background information on how we got to this point, and how—rather than what—we should think about the topics we’ll soon all be facing: machine consciousness, automation, employment, creative computers, radical life extension, artificial life, AI ethics, the future of warfare, superintelligence, and the implications of extreme prosperity.
By asking questions like “Are you a machine?” and “Could a computer feel anything?”, Reese leads you through a discussion along the cutting edge in robotics and AI, and, provides a framework by which we can all understand, discuss, and act on the issues of the Fourth Age, and how they’ll transform humanity.
For National Security
National security, for better or for worse, is one of the most covered topics during an election year. Whenever something happens, CNN, MSNBC, and whatever else you might watch will be turned on 24/7 as people bring up a million different terms, countries, and buzzwords that all make it seem more intense and less understandable. James Clapper has been around for many of these events, and is able to separate the fear tactics from the facts in this book.
Read this if you want someone with an immense amount of knowledge to help you understand something that’s both vague and terrifying.
For Foreign Affairs
This isn’t exactly what you would call “current events,” but if you’re looking for insight on how this administration thinks about foreign affairs, look no further than Walter Isaacson’s biography of Henry Kissinger. Inside you’ll get all the classic Isaacson attention to nuance and detail, informing you on one of the most influential humans in twentieth-century international affairs.
Read this if you don’t want to read about what you’re watching on the news, but you still want to be in the loop.
By the time Henry Kissinger was made secretary of state in 1973, he had become, according to the Gallup Poll, the most admired person in America and one of the most unlikely celebrities ever to capture the world's imagination. Yet Kissinger was also reviled by large segments of the American public, ranging from liberal intellectuals to conservative activists. Kissinger explores the relationship between this complex man's personality and the foreign policy he pursued. Drawing on extensive interviews with Kissinger as well as 150 other sources, including U.S. presidents and his business clients, this first full-length biography makes use of many of Kissinger's private papers and classified memos to tell his uniquely American story. The result is an intimate narrative, filled with surprising revelations, that takes this grandly colorful statesman from his childhood as a persecuted Jew in Nazi Germany, through his tortured relationship with Richard Nixon, to his later years as a globe-trotting business consultant.
For Those Who Are Not Ready For It To Be Election Season Again
This is literally about an octopus. That’s it. It’s perfect if you want nothing to do with the election and want someone to wake you up when it’s all over.
Read this if the most heated you want to get is when you and your friend can’t decide if it’s octopuses or octopi.
Explore the emotional and physical world of the octopus—a surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature. After forming a friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus, Sy Montgomery traveled from New England aquariums to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico to pursue these wildly entertaining and profound shapeshifters.