Sunday, May 14, 2017

Books to Understand America: A Bibliographic Odyssey

L.K. Advani’s juggernaut across India in a motorized chariot in 1990 reshaped India’s politics for decades to come. Donald Trump’s stunning victory in US Presidential election in 2016 was epochal. Advani’s chariot ride evoked a wide spectrum of discussions and conversations but, unlike America in the wake of Trump’s victory, no academic output to interpret or contextualize the event. That is the key difference between the two rambunctious democracies.

A vast majority of Indians have no knowledge of their own country’s history, ancient or modern, beyond the pathetically elementary episodes they learn in school. The academic output of India, particularly in the popular history or popular publication market, pales into insignificance compared to the rich and varied output in US. 

Indians carry their incurious nature as a second skin to any country they emigrate to. It is not uncommon to see Indians, irrespective of how long they live in US or UK, to have a churlish attitude towards the lands that they emigrated to and refuse to depart from. Intellectual incuriousness is not a malaise unless the person unmindful of it starts spouting inane opinions with little understanding. They mistake that watching CNN or Sky News makes them well informed about a complex society. It is as stupid as an American who might think he understands India by watching Zee TV or any of the hundreds of local variations. 

There’s an America that’s to be discovered through a rich bibliography selection. Based on the books I’ve bought, and read some, over the many years here’s a list that could be useful for any curious mind that seeks an answer as to how a motley group of colonies in 1776 willed itself into a nation and over two centuries became a land of prosperity, hope and opportunity for millions, not to mention creating unprecedented economic prosperity, a military that is formidable and completely dominate university rankings. Here is the America that earned my love and respect.

I’ve arranged the bibliography by topics. This is a sprinkling of a selection that any decent reader can use to form an opinion of USA. I’ve ensured that large tomes do not dominate and mostly kept the list to the moderately difficult to read.



Before a comprehensive list here’s a short list of recommendations:

  1. The metaphysical mind: A story of ideas in America — Louis Menand.
  2. The radicalism of American Revolution - Gordon Wood
  3. Ideological origins of the American Revolution - Bernard Bailyn
  4. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence - Pauline Maier
  5. The great American university:Its rise to preeminence its indispensible national role, why it must be protected — Jonathan R. Cole
  6. The idea factory: Bell Labs and the great age of American innovation — Jon Gertner
  7. The fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery — Eric Foner
  8. This republic of suffering: Death and the American civil war — Drew Gilpin Faust
  9. Parting the waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 — Taylor Branch
  10. Gideon’s Trumpet: How one man, a poor prisoner took his case to the US Supreme Court - Anthony Lewis
  11. The paranoid style in American politics — Richard Hoftstadter
  12. The passions and the interests: Political Arguments for capitalism before its triumph — A.O. Hirschman
  13. Free to choose - Milton Friedman
  14. The Founders and Finance: How Hamilton, Gallatin, and other immigrants forged a New Economy — Thomas K. McCraw
  15. The Dead Hand: The untold story of the cold war arms race and its dangerous legacy — David Hoffman
  16. Looming Tower: Al Queda and the road to 9/11 — Lawrence Wright
  17. Black Flags: The rise of ISIS — Joby Warrick
  18. Gunfight: The battle over the right to bear arms in America — Adam Winkler
  19. America’s bitter pill: Money, politics, backroom deals, and the fight to fix our broken healthcare system — Steven Brill
  20. Fault Lines: How hidden fractures still threaten the world economy — Raghuram Rajan
  21. Washington — Ron Chernow
  22. Thomas Jefferson: The art of power — Jon Meacham
  23. Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan invented the 1980s - Gil Troy
  24. Arrow smith (fiction) - Sinclair Lewis
  25. Atlas Shrugged (fiction) - Ayn Rand
The Trump election:
Let’s start with the obvious.

  1. Hillbilly Elegy: A memoir of a family and culture in crisis — J.D. Vance
  2. Strangers in their own land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right — Arlie Hochschild
  3. The politics of resentment: Rural consciousness in Wisconsin and the rise of Scott Walker — Katherine J. Cramer
  4. White Backlash: Immigration, race and American politics — Marisa Abrajano and Zoltan L. Hajnal
  5. What is populism? — Jan-Werner Muller
  6. The populist explosion: How the great recession transformed American and European politics — John B. Judis

Science and Education:
Little do many realize that America’s dominance of tertiary education is far more than its military dominance compared to other countries. The story of US is better understood by approaching through a learning of its education system, the battles over science and scientific innovation.

  1. The great American university: Its rise to preeminence its indispensible national role, why it must be protected — Jonathan R. Cole
  2. The Chicago school: How the university of Chicago assembled the thinkers who revolutionized economics and business — Johann Van Overtveldt
  3. The marketplace  of ideas: Reform and Resistance in American University — Louis Menand
  4. The closing of the American mind - Allen Bloom
  5. In defense of a liberal education — Fareed Zakaria
  6. Emperor of Maladies — Siddhartha Mukherjee
  7. Polio — David Oshinsky
  8. The social transformation of American medicine: The rise of a sovereign profession and the making of a vast industry — Paul Starr
  9. The devi in Dover: An insider’s story of Dogma V. Darwin in small-town America — Lauri Lebo
  10. Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s continuing Debate over Science and Religion — Edward J. Larson
  11. Operation Paperclip: The secret intelligence program that brought Nazi scientists to America — Annie Jacobsen
  12. The idea factory: Bell Labs and the great age of American innovation — Jon Gertner
  13. The chosen: The hidden history of admission and exclusion at Harvard, Yale and Princeton — Jerome Karabel
  14. Mismatch: How affirmative action hurts students it’s intended to help, and why universities wont admit it — Stuart Taylor Jr. and Richard Sander
  15. The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks — Rebecca Skloot
American history (Revolutionary Era):
  1. The radicalism of the American revolution — Gordon Wood
  2. Founding brothers: The revolutionary generation — Joseph J. Ellis
  3. American creation: Triumphs and tragedies in the founding of the Republic — Joseph J. Ellis
  4. American Sphinx: The character of Thomas Jefferson — Joseph J. Ellis  
  5. Ideological origins of the American revolution — Bernard Bailyn
  6. The Barbarous years: The peopling of British North America — The conflict of Civilizations — Bernard Bailyn
  7. Ratification — Pauline Mayer
  8. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence — Pauline Mayer
  9. The bill of rights: Creation and Reconstruction — Professor Akhil Reed Amar
  10. American Colonies — Alan Taylor
  11. The metaphysical mind: A story of ideas in America — Louis Menand
American history (Civil War and Slavery)
  1. Battle cry of freedom: The civil war era - James M. Mcpherson
  2. Civil war trilogy  - Bruce Catton
  3. The classic slave narrative — Henry Louis Gates
  4. The fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery — Eric Foner
  5. The Problem of slavery (2 volumes) — David Brion Davis
  6. This republic of suffering: Death and the American civil war — Drew Gilpin Faust
  7. Mothers of invention: Women of the slaveholding south in the American civil war — Drew Gilpin Faust
  8. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Fiction) — Harriet Beecher Stowe.
  9. Gone with the wind (fiction) - Margaret Mitchell
  10. Underground Railroad (fiction) - Colson Whitehead
  11. The other lavery: The uncovered story of Indian enslavement in America — Andres Resendez
American history (Civil Rights Struggle)

1. The souls of black folk - W.E.B. Du Bois
2. Parting the waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 — Taylor Branch
3. Malcolm X - Manning Marable
4. Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference — David Garrow
5. W.E.B. Du Bois (2 separate volumes) — David Levering Lewis
6. The race beat: The press, the civil rights struggle and the awakening of a nation — Gene Roberts
7. Common Ground: J. Anthony Lukas
8. Freedom’s Daughters: The unsung heroines of the civil rights movement from 1830-1970 — Lynne Olson
9. Hidden figures: The American dream and the untold story of black women mathematicians who helped win the space race — Margot Lee Shetterly
10. From Brown to Bakke: The Supreme Court and school integration 1954-1978 — J. Harvie Wilkinson
11. When affirmative action was white: An untold history of racial inequality in twentieth century America — Ira Katznelson

Law:
  1. Make no law: The Sullivan case and the First Amendment — Anthony Lewis
  2. Gideon’s Trumpet: How one man, a poor prisoner took his case to the US Supreme Court - Anthony Lewis
  3. The Nine: Inside the Secret world of the Supreme court - Jeffrey Toobin
  4. Origins of the fifth amendment: The right against self incrimination -- Leonard Levy

Political Science
  1. Anti-intellectualism in American Life — Richard Hofstadter
  2. The paranoid style in American politics — Richard Hoftstadter
  3. The American Political tradition: And the men who made it — Richard Hofstadter
  4. The cycles of American history — Arthur Schlesinger Jr.
  5. The Conservative mind: From Burke to Eliot — Russell Kirk
  6. The conservative intellectual movement in America since 1945 — George H. Nash
America and Capitalism:
  1. The passions and the interests: Political Arguments for capitalism before its triumph — A.O. Hirschman
  2. Free to choose — Milton Friedman
  3. The road to serfdom - Friedrich Hayek
  4. The Founders and Finance: How Hamilton, Gallatin, and other immigrants forged a New Economy — Thomas K. McCraw
  5. Prophets of regulation — Thomas K. McCraw
  6. Founding Choices: American Economic Policy in the 1790s — Douglas Irwin
  7. The half has never been told: Slavery and the making of American capitalism — Edward E. Baptist
  8. An empire of wealth: The epic history of American economic power — John Steele Gordon
  9. The Walmart effect — Charles Fishman
  10. Exxon: Private Empire  — Steve Coll
  11. Steve Jobs — Walter Isaacson
  12. American Icon: Alan Mulally and the Fight to save Ford Motor Company
  13. Freedom’s Forge: How American business Produced victory in World War II — Arthur Herman
  14. The arsenal of democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic quest to Arm an America at War — A.J. Baime
  15. The forgotten man — Amity Shlaes
Labor movements and Labor history:
  1. Triangle: The fire that changed America — David Von Drehle
  2. It didn't happen here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States — Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Wolfe
  3. Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic controllers, and the strike that changed America — Joseph A. McCartin
Cold-War, Post-Cold War and Foreign Policy:
  1. The Dead Hand: The untold story of the cold war arms race and its dangerous legacy — David Hoffman
  2. Command and Control: Nuclear weapons, the Damascus accident, and the illusion of safety — Eric Schlosser
  3. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis — Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow]
  4. Lenin’s Tomb: The last days of the Soviet Empire — David Remnick
  5. Red Plenty (part fiction) — Francis Spufford
  6. THe coldest Winter: America and the Korean War — David Halberstam
  7. Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam — Neil Sheehan
  8. Vietnam: A history — Stanley Karnow
  9. Present at the Creation — Dean Acheson
  10. George F. Kennan: An American life — John Lewis Gaddis
  11. Thirteen days in September: The dramatic story of the struggle for peace — Lawrence Wright
Post 9-11 world:
  1. Looming Tower: Al Queda and the road to 9/11 — Lawrence Wright
  2. Ghost Wars: The secret history of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laded — Steve Coll
  3. Black Flags: The rise of ISIS — Joby Warrick
  4. ISIS Apocalypse: The history, Strategy and the doomsday vision of the Islamic state — William McCants
  5. A history of Isis — Fawaz A. Gerges
  6. No good men among the living: America, the Taliban and the war in Afghanistan — Anand Gopal
  7. The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a secret army and a war at the ends of the Earth — Mark Mazetti
  8. Fiasco: The American military adventure in Iraq, 2003-2005 — Thomas E. Ricks
Contemporary Politics and Issues:
  1. Gunfight: The battle over the right to bear arms in America — Adam Winkler
  2. America’s bitter pill: Money, politics, backroom deals, and the fight to fix our broken healthcare system — Steven Brill
  3. Remedy and reaction: The peculiar American struggle over healthcare reform — Paul Starr
  4. While America Aged: How pension debts ruined General Motors, stopped NYC subways, bankrupted San Diego, and loom as the next financial crisis — Roger Lowenstein
  5. Fault Lines: How hidden fractures still threaten the world economy — Raghuram Rajan
  6. Too big to fail: The inside story of how Wall Street and Washington fought to save the Financial system—and themselves — Andrew Ross Sorkin
  7. Stress Test: Reflections on financial crises — Timothy F. Geithner
  8. Dark money: The hidden history of the billionaires behind the rise of the radical right — Jane Meyer
Music and Arts:
  1. Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley — Peter Guralnick
  2. The history of Jazz — Ted Goia
  3. How to listen to Jazz — Ted Goia
  4. Pops: A life of Louis Armstrong — Terry Teachout
  5. Satchmo blows up the world: Jazz Ambassadors play the cold war — Penny M. Von Eschen
  6. Dinner with Lenny: The Last long interview with Leonard Bernstein
Notable biographies and memoirs:
  1. Washington — Ron Chernow
  2. Hamilton — Ron Chernow
  3. Thomas Jefferson: The art of power — Jon Meacham
  4. John Adams - David McCullough
  5. Truman - David McCullough
  6. Traitor to his class: The privileged life and radical presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt — H.W. Brands
  7. Unfinished life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 — Robert F. Dallek
  8. The power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York — Robert Caro
  9. Reagan: The life — H.W. Brands
  10. Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan invented the 1980s - Gil Troy
  11. Destiny and Power: The american odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush — Jon Meacham
  12. The Bridge: The life and rise of Barack Obama — David Remnick
  13. Emerson: The mind on Fire — Richard D. Richardson Jr
  14. Walt Whitman’s America: A cultural Biography
Oxford Publications on American history:
  1. The Glorious cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 — Robert Middlekauff
  2. Empire of Liberty: A history of the early republic, 1789-1815 — Gordon Wood
  3. What hath God wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 — Daniel Walker Howe
  4. From Colony to Super Power: U.S. Foreign Relations since 1776 — George C. Herring
  5. Freedom from fear: The American people in Depression and War, 1929-1945 — David M. Kennedy
Notable fiction:
  1. Arrowsmith - Sinclair Lewis
  2. Main Street - Sinclair lEwis
  3. Humboldt’s Gift - Saul Bellow
  4. The adventures of Augie March — Saul Bellow
  5. As I lay Daying / The Sound and the fury / Light in August — William Faulkner
  6. Leaves of grass - Walt Whitman
  7. A farewell to arms - Ernest Hemingway
  8. American Pastoral - Philip Roth
  9. Fountainhead - Ayn Rand
  10. Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand

4 comments:

Pazhavalli said...

Thanks for the list. I have just read a couple of books in your long list and intend to read many more, but was planning to read "ROOTS: The Saga of an American Family". Wouldn't that book fit into the above list?

Anonymous said...

Piketty!

Anonymous said...

AK,

Your wonderful list could do with the addition of Ross Douthat's 'Harvard and the education of the Ruling Class (he and J. D. Vance thought to being two sides of the same coin)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the list.
- Sripriya Srinivasan