Book Recommendations Part II – History and Political Science

January 12th, 2010  |  Published in General Thoughts, Reading Recommendations

Here is the second of my reading recommendations.  As a science student in college, requirements and pre-requisites meant that my course selection was quite limited.  A voracious reader since childhood, during college I read mostly fiction. These days I am able to explore many other areas and have found that I particularly enjoy reading History and Political Science. Through these books, I have found some wonderful examples of leadership and courage that have much to teach us today. They also help us understand our own and other cultures.

Here are a few of my favorite reads of the last couple of years:

Team of Rivals, also by Doris Kearns Goodwin – Lessons in leadership from Abraham Lincoln.  Goodwin is one of my favorite historians.  Her writing style is lively and her research meticulous.  In this book she paints a picture of life in the 19th century and brings to life Abraham Lincoln and the members of his cabinet many of whom had previously been his political rivals.  This is one of the books that President Obama was reading prior to assuming office.  (Also by Goodwin and recommended: No Ordinary Time, which details the life and presidency of Franklin Roosevelt and his marriage to and partnership with Eleanor Roosevelt)

The Defining Moment, by Jonathan Alter - Alter’s book details events leading up to and during the first year of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first term as president.  This is a great book that helps put into context the current economic crisis.  The Great Depression occurred in part as a result of a leadership vacuum and the pressure of entrenched interests.  Through painstaking detail Alter explains the creation and impact of many of the programs that comprised the New Deal and the political maneuvering necessary to bring them about.

Blunder, by Zachary Shore – Although this is not, strictly speaking, a history book, it uses historical anecdotes to illustrate some of the mental models that result in bad or sometimes catastrophic decisions.  I have not seen a better and more practical explanation for the value of keeping an open mind seeing issues from multiple perspectives.

The Conscience of a Liberal, by Paul Krugman – Again, not history, but a historical context for economic policy by the winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics and New York Times columnist.  Krugman simplifies difficult economic theory and is highly readable if always provocative (also by Krugman, read The Return of Depression Era Economics, and the Crisis of 2008 for an outstanding if more complex explanation of our current financial situation)

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