written by Lauren
The United States: A Union in Turmoil
With the US Supreme Court handing down recent decisions overturning a woman’s right to abortion (Roe v. Wade) and making it harder to regulate climate change while easier to carry guns, America’s hot-button issues are once again at the fore, deeply dividing an already polarized nation. For those looking to dive a little deeper behind the headlines, we’ve put together this list of books—from history and political science to fiction—to help unravel the mess that seems to define US politics and society at the moment.
A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn
This classic alternative history of the US from much beloved historian, playwright and professor Howard Zinn is a must-read for anyone interested in leaving the presidents, prime ministers and kings in the dustbin of history in favor of the American narrative as seen through the eyes of the country’s women, factory workers, African Americans, Native Americans, working poor and immigrants. A social history from the bottom-up, this compelling and easy read, with its focus on the battles for fair labor, women’s rights, racial equality and safety standards, is as relevant today as it was when first published in 1980. Its first chapter on Columbus’ arrival in the US, which I read in college, changed my worldview. Forever.
These Truths: A History of the United States, by Jill Lepore
This one-volume history from award-winning historian and New Yorker writer Lepore has been hailed as “a masterpiece of American history” by NPR. Lepore’s account of the origins and rise of a divided nation is also a Staff Choice of our very own history books buyer Jeroen.
The Federalist Papers, by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay
Why not go back to the source? This political philosophy classic is an analysis of the Constitution by at least a couple of the men who wrote it (think James Madison) as they make the case for a constitutional system of government based on the inherent rights of man (unfortunately, not a typo). Bonus: this edition includes copies of the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Articles of Confederation.
The Anti-Federalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates, by Ralph Ketcham
This companion book to The Federalist Papers features the dissenting opinions of those, inducing Patrick Henry and John DeWitt, who saw the Constitution as a threat to the burgeoning nation. They worried that a federal government with too much power could evolve into a monarchy like the one they just broke free of. Tackling everything from direct versus representational voting, immigrant policy (as in: should they be allowed in?), how judges are appointed and what rights should be safe from government infringement, this book, along with its sister The Federalist Papers, documents the political context in which the Constitution was born. Doesn’t seem like the debate has changed all that much, does it?
The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, by Jeffrey Toobin
Resurrected New Yorker writer and CNN legal analyst Toobin (who exposed himself during a Zoom call with colleagues in 2020) takes us into the closed chambers of SCOTUS, revealing the complex dynamic among the nine people who decide the law of the land. Based on interviews with the court’s justices, this book provides an insight into the inner workings of the body that has decided what I can do with my body. Whoops—I meant the judiciary that is shaping the very fabric of American society. Although published in 2008, it’s as relevant as ever.
The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court, by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong
Another inside look at SCOTUS by superstar investigative reporter Bob Woodward. An unprecedented view of the justices maneuvering, arguing, politicking, compromising and making decisions that affect every major area of American life.
The Family Roe: An American Story, by Joshua Prager
This 2022 Pulitzer Prize finalist is a masterpiece of reporting on one of the Supreme Court’s most divisive cases, Roe v. Wade, and the unknown lives of the real people behind it. The Family Roe features Norma McCorvey, who became “Jane Roe,” and even finds the three daughters she gave up for adoption. Drawing on a decade of research and his hundreds of hours spent with McCorvey, Prager has written an epic work spanning 50 years of American history that encapsulates the seemingly unbridgeable divide that is abortion.
Tiny You: A Western History of the Anti-Abortion Movement, by Jennifer L. Holland
Yeah, I was also put off by the book’s cover photo. Turns out, they’re images of the fetal dolls given to school students in the four western states (Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah)
Holland examines in her exploration of how the anti-abortion movement made the political personal. The anti-choice movement continues to recruit a younger generation to its cause and has become the bread-and-butter issue for social conservatives. Holland ultimately demonstrates that the success of the anti-choice movement lies in the borrowed logic and emotional power of leftist activism. Ironic indeed.
A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America, by Saul Cornell
In this comprehensive history of the bitter controversy surrounding the US Constitution’s Second Amendment, Ohio State history professor Cornell provides a clear historical road map that charts how Americans have become deeply divided over gun control, and how they arrived at the current impasse over guns in the first place.
Enough: Our Fight to Keep America Safe from Gun Violence, by Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly
Written by power couple Gabrielle Giffords, a former Congresswoman, and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, this book makes the case for responsible gun ownership. After the 2011 Tucson shooting that nearly killed her, the couple ask how we can address the nation’s epidemic of gun violence. Enough goes behind the scenes of Gabby and Mark’s creation of Americans for Responsible Solutions, an organization dedicated to promoting responsible gun ownership and encouraging lawmakers to find solutions to gun violence. The book follows Gabby and Mark from Congress to communities across the country, providing a window into the recovery of one of the US’ most inspiring public figures and reveals how she and her husband have taken on the role of co-advocates for one of the defining issues of our time.
American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins
A comfortable bookstore owner in Acapulco, Mexico is forced to make the pilgrimage north with her young son after drug cartel violence upends her life. From middle class to migrant, this novel is a tour de force of the immigrant experience.
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This all-around ABC favorite from the award-winning author of We Should All Be Feminists and Half of a Yellow Sun tells the story of two Nigerians making their way in the US and the UK, raising universal questions of race, belonging, the overseas experience for the African diaspora and the search for identity and a home. When they both make their way back to Lagos and reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, they reignite their passion for each other and their homeland. Adichie won the 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award for this 2013 novel.
I Alone Can Fix It, by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker
No list of American turmoil reads would be complete without a look into the Trump administration. This behind-the-scenes story of Trump’s final year in office by Pulitzer-Prize winning reporters and authors of the #1 New York Times bestseller, A Very Stable Genius, does the job.