Political books the presidential candidates should be reading
The Times' book staff asked writers, historians and cultural observers for their suggestions on books that could help Romney or Obama govern effectively over the next four years.
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Jane Smiley( Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times / August 16, 2012 )
Smiley is the author of many novels, including "Private Life," "Ten Days in the Hills" and "A Thousand Acres."
"Why the West Rules, for Now" by Ian Morris
Seventy-thousand years of humans trying to wring a living from the earth have led to this election, and you gentlemen need to read about how two specific traditions, eastern Asia and Europe, have gone about rising, but especially falling. Every lesson Morris has to teach is a critical one, especially now, when, as he points out, the world as a whole is approaching a development "ceiling" that old empires have hit before. If these ceilings are not understood and dealt with, ruin ensues.
"Why Nations Fail" by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson
There are two types of economies, inclusive and extractive. Inclusive economies grow by spreading both the wealth and the political responsibility — England in 1689, for example. In extractive economies, the ruling class siphons off the wealth and kills the lower orders doing so — Spain in the New World, for example. The U.S. has mixed parentage on this score, and those who like the extractive economy have been gaining power for the last 30 years ("Government IS the problem"). See Ian Morris, above, for the probable endgame.
"American Nations" by Colin Woodard
The 11 cultures that coexist in the U.S., Woodard convincingly asserts, have different ideas about most values and most aspirations. Every so often, as during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, they form unstable coalitions and fight. The nations currently in the ascendant are extractive ones — Deep South (steeply hierarchical and unequal), Far West (dependent on oil, mining, ranching and corporations for wealth, dependent on the federal government for sustenance, and therefore resentful), and Netherlander (Wall Street, 'nuf said). Several of the other nations (Left Coast, El Norte, Yankeedom) may be getting fed up and ready for the fight.
"Predator Nation" by Charles Ferguson
Ferguson is from San Francisco, which wouldn't surprise Colin Woodard. He therefore has a lively sense of social responsibility, strong views about right and wrong, and is highly creative. In "Predator Nation" he lays out, with admirable verve and clarity, just who wrecked American banking, and who should be prosecuted and why. Ian Morris maintains that each civilization that finds itself approaching its biological, technological and teleological ceiling reacts in different ways. Ferguson understands that the American reaction of just letting it go accelerates collapse, of both the middle class, President Obama AND the upper class, Gov. Romney.
"L'Argent" (or, since Obama didn't spend the Vietnam War in France, "Money") by Emile Zola
We've been here before, and not too long ago. Zola, one of the most prescient 19th-century novelists, analyzed and depicted the system in his day, and is worth reading for both the similarities and the differences between the French Second Empire and the American current empire, in this case, the financial system. We are not so exceptional after all, and maybe both candidates need to understand that, even if they dare not mention it on TV.