I have received some requests online for book recommendations so I thought I would put together a short list rather than respond to each one individually. I unfortunately don’t read as much as I would like to as I prefer to get most of my knowledge from documentaries I watched on edibles and half remember. As such this list is obviously incomplete, the most likely reason for the absence of any particular book is that I simply haven’t read it.
The areas where I personally feel that I have some degree of understanding are political and economic history in the 20th and 21st century. I haven’t read much Marxist theory, I don’t really read philosophy, and, with some exceptions, my pre-20th century history is of the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article variety (I’ll try to remedy that in the next few years). This list should be approached as something for someone interested in expanding their knowledge on those areas I’m actually familiar with. If you want a reading list to help better understand Hegel’s dialectics or whatever the fuck bother Kantbot.
I’ve divided my list into the loose and overlapping categories of History, Economics, and Political Science. I find the best way to learn about a subject is to just start with those areas that most interest you personally and proceed from there. If anything on the list jumps out at you then that is the one I would recommend most.
As always feel free to comment or message me your reading suggestions and perhaps I’ll return to this and update it in the future.
The story of CIA spymaster Allen Dulles is a story without any heroes except for the 1968 flu pandemic that eventually killed him. The CIA, and the much ridiculed and dismissed notion of the “deep state”, has become the dominant force in American political life after the Second World War. This isn’t just a biography of Allen Dulles and his role in the early history of the current US national security state, this is the best single volume history of the period 1945 to 1969 I’ve read.
Peter Dale Scott is without question the most brilliant public intellectual living in America today and he lives in near total anonymity even among people who actively follow US politics and history. His books have very small print runs and sell for exorbitant prices on Amazon but as a 93 year old retired professor I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you steal a pdf from some Russian website. Drugs, Oil, and War is probably his best introductory book. A concise but definitive and damning primer proving that working with local drug mafias is and has been deliberate US policy from Italy, to France, to Southeast Asia, Colombia, and now to Afghanistan.
Keith Lowe plugs one of the major gaps in our common history of the second world war, which in popular telling ends with the signing of Germany’s surrender on May 7, 1945. Despite the peace treaty the years after were a time of continued violence, starvation, ethnic cleansing, and political intrigue. From Greece, to Poland, to Italy, to Yugoslavia, Lowe’s book provides invaluable perspective on the conflicts still smoldering today. Learn about the rare European ethnic subtypes and why they all hate each other. Use it to enhance your posting online.
In 1933 a 30 hour work week bill passed the US Senate by a vote of 53-30. How did this happen? Because workers used to have more power to influence government policy. American private sector union membership was once almost 35%, today it is about 6%. Jefferson Cowie’s book is a very readable account of the New Deal, the height of worker power in the United States. He doesn’t romanticize but does allow you to get your heart stirred on occasion by genuinely heroic stories such as the 1936 Flint sit down strike.
A very short overview of American business connections to the holocaust. For all the hours of holocaust education that Americans are exposed to the subject of American businesses like General Motors, Ford, IBM, Coca-Cola, Standard Oil, The Rockefeller Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, and Sullivan & Cromwell making money off the extermination camps and murder squads just doesn’t seem to come up. But hey, only so much time in the school year, guess you gotta condense and leave things on the cutting room floor. Big credit to author Edwin Black, who opens his acknowledgements by thanking the corporate funded Holocaust Museuem in Washington DC for refusing to cover any of his research.
Any thinker in the modern world is forced to confront a disturbing realization. Those of us who choose to live in major US urban centers such as New York City have wittingly or unwittingly volunteered to serve as frontline soldiers in any war with China or Russia. Those outside these cities might not be moved by our plight but they should consider that while a nuclear explosion in New York would take out Goldman Sachs and the cast and writers of Saturday Night Live many innocent people would also die. Thus is the reason for Douglass’ subtitle: why he died and why it matters. The American military industrial complex that killed a sitting president for trying to stop war is not a subject of the past.
The Bank of Credit and Commerce International (or BCCI) has been one of the amazing forgotten stories of the late 80s and early 90s. Jonathan Beaty and S.C. Gwyen were Time magazine reporters who broke many of the initial stories on BCCI and lay out an extremely disturbing account of the bank here. It’s important to note that Ronald Reagan’s director of the CIA, William Casey, was meeting regularly one on one with the head of a criminal organization engaged in child sex trafficking, assassinations, weapons trafficking, drug trafficking, and money laundering for countless dictators and terrorists. This is not some sort of conspiracy theory. This happened and it is documented.
The best book I’ve read on the 2008 financial crisis. While most authors approach the subject from the perspective of the men with nice shoes in the big buildings in New York City, David Dayen actually bothers to go out and speak to the people who felt the impact of their decisions. This book focuses on the real story of 2008, the mass foreclosure fraud. Millions of people had their homes illegally stolen by the banks and this theft was de facto legalized by the Obama administration. It’s the greatest, most blatant violation of property law in modern US history and the fact that nobody talks about it will drive you insane. If you have Andrew Ross Sorkin’s 2008 crisis book on your shelf feel free to throw it in the garbage now.
My approach to economics is that of a man too stupid to grasp too many numbers, graphs, and equations. As such I’ve always focused on economic history: tell me what happened, what the government did about it, what happened because of that and don’t make me do long division. While not as impressive as equations with lambda in them this does seem to have more relevance to the real world than much of what else falls under the category of “economic science.” Hall of Mirrors is a simultaneous history of both the Great Depression and 2008 financial crisis in Europe and America that provides an enlightening narrative as well as gives you a good chance to compare and contrast the policy responses adopted by both contemporary and past governments.
Josh Kosman’s book on private equity is essential and extremely readable even for those without any sort of finance or economics background. He meticulously documents the history of private equity buyouts since the 80s and shows that they’ve been an absolute net negative for workers all while the industry has been heavily subsidized by the taxpayers. This book was used by the 2012 Obama campaign for opposition research against former private equity kingpin Mitt Romney. It’s a shame they didn’t read the parts about fixing the problem.
If you don’t understand offshore money and how shell corporations in the Bahamas work, start here. Oliver Bollough tells many engaging stories and at times the chapters feel like a series of loosely related essays but together they tell what is meant when one calls the rich “global citizens.” Through passport buying, trusts, foundations, and company formation agents they simply get to pick and choose which nation’s laws apply to them.
A very interesting but very long book on the economics of Nazi Germany. If you’re the kind of person who is intrigued by that sentence this is the book for you.
Michael Parenti is the working man’s shouting guinea intellectual. He wrote his books in straight forward, highly readable prose because he wanted people like his illiterate Italian (not to repeat myself) working class father to be able to understand them. Blackshirts and Reds is such a unique find because it so effectively and succinctly mounts an argument that you are almost never exposed to in American political education: a defense of the state socialist system of the Soviet Union. Readers outside the political left might be tempted to roll their eyes and dismiss his thesis out of hand but any thinker should be able to respond to the points he raises.
I consider this book to be the spiritual sequel to Devil’s Chessboard. Granted it was written beforehand but that’s just how ahead of his time Peter Dale Scott is. While Chessboard ends its story with the death of Allen Dulles The Road to 9/11 follows it through the 70s and 80s, tracing the work of those young functionaries like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who would pick up and wield the powers Dulles and his cohort enshrined in our shadow government.
Operation Mockingbird was a CIA operation to influence and control US media which we are assured was shut down at some point. Modern consumers of this media could be forgiven for being skeptical about Mockingbird having ended when they see the absolutely blood thirsty and psychotic way it discusses Vladimir Putin and Russia. American news watchers have been treated to a funhouse mirror history of a great nation, one which either skips over or distorts what happened there in the 1990s. This was the period when western imposed “shock therapy” resulted in more than 3 million excess Russian deaths, a mass murder unprecedented outside of wartime. Paul Klebnikov’s book is an extremely engaging and well written overview of the era and the fact that he was shot to death in Moscow in 2004 is about the only fact checking it needs.
A fascinating and expertly researched book on the role of money in US politics. It mostly focuses on the Koch Brothers and their network of aligned billionaires but the story is now replicated for those billionaires, particularly in tech, who have taken over the Democratic Party.
Former FCC chairman and Obama transition official Reed Hundt is for now the only Obama insider to write a book that is highly critical of his presidency. Hundt’s argument is summarized nicely by the chapter title “Obama picked his people and thus his policies.” The Obama administration was done as soon as he named his cabinet. The usual creeps like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner are featured prominently.
The definitive “why didn’t anybody go to jail for the financial crisis” book. Pairs well with 60 minutes and frontline documentaries on the subject. The long and short is a conclusion that won’t surprise anybody (big money and the revolving door has corrupted our judicial system beyond all recognition) but it’s important to understand the nuts and bolts so that you can refute the relentless army of shills and apologists who pop up whenever you say this out loud.