The two books that I would most highly recommend to readers in the U.S. today are “A People’s History of the United States,” by Howard Zinn, and “Labor’s Untold Story” by Richard Boyer and Herbert Morais. These books tell a history of the country that is generally kept secret.
“Why Unions Matter” by Michael Yates is a terrific short introduction to something you’ll never learn in school or from the U.S. corporate media: what a labor union is for.
Read “Contours of Descent: U.S. Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity” by Robert Pollin, the co-author of “Living Wage.” Pollin is a brilliant economist interested in using economics for the good of our society. He’s also ruthlessly honest, and you won’t catch him bragging, a’ la Dick Gephardt, about the glorious Clinton days. Pollin’s critique of Clinton’s economic program is harsh and that of W. Bush’s devestating. The lessons are clear, and Pollin closes with useful recommendations.
Every American should read two thin books about Iraq: “The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq” by Christopher Scheer, Robert Scheer, and Lakshmi Chaudhry, and “Warrior King: the Case for Impeaching George W. Bush” by John Bonifaz with forward by Congressman John Conyers. The first book exposes the lies that President Bush and members of his Administration knowingly told during the build-up to the war on Iraq, including the lies that are keeping US troops in Iraq today. The second book addresses Bush’s unconstitutional act of taking the US military to war without a declaration of war by Congress. A number of US soldiers and US Congress Members sued the President in a failed attempt to prevent this war, and this book lays out the case.
Perhaps the best introduction available to the problems caused by “free trade” is “Shafted: Free Trade and America’s Working Poor,” Foreword by Dennis Kucinich, Introduction by Anuradha Mittal, Edited by Christine Ahn. This book collects the testimony from a congressional hearing unlike most congressional hearings, one at which working people from a wide variety of backgrounds told their stories.
Probably the best introduction to the need for media reform in the United States is “Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy” by Robert McChesney.
Everyone should read “The Activist’s Handbook” by Randy Shaw. Even if you’re not an activist and don’t want to be, as long as you have any sort of interest in social change, this book will be well worth reading. Packed with examples of how movements have succeeded and failed, this extremely readable handbook will inspire through its analysis of strategies and tactics that can be used to accomplish what many of us desperately want. Most of us understand already that simply arguing for social justice will fail to achieve it, but — as Shaw demonstrates — Herculean efforts, if miscalculated, will just as surely fail. In this book, Shaw describes successful strategies for community organizers, effective relationships with elected officials, the use of coalitions, ballot initiatives, the media, lawyers, and direct action strategies. The most persuasive theme tying each of these discussions together is that the best defense is an effective offense, that a failure to aggressively pursue positive change is a strategy for worsening the status quo.
I also recommend an astonishingly good book called “The Working Class Majority” by Michael Zweig, for an understanding of why most Americans aren’t doing as well as they imagine all the others must be.
And Jonathan Kozol’s books are a good place to get an idea of how those many Americans live who have it even worse.
For the facts neatly laid out without a word to spare on what is happening with poverty in America and why and what can be done about it, I recommend “Locked in the Poorhouse,” edited by Fred R. Harris and Lynn A. Curtis. This collection of studies and analyses was released in 1998 on the 30th anniversary of the Kerner Report. It recommends a long list of federal efforts with a price tag of $56 billion and lists $145 billion in corporate welfare programs that we would be better off eliminating.