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Book on American politics
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Peter S
(prse) - MLife

Locale: Denmark
Book on American politics on 12/17/2013 15:10:26 MST Print View

Hi chaffers

I'd like a recommendation on a book about how the American political system functions. Preferably one with historical background too.

Thanks in advance

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Book on American politics on 12/17/2013 17:11:24 MST Print View

"I'd like a recommendation on a book about how the American political system functions."

That will be tough since it is so dysfunctional.


Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: Book on American politics on 12/17/2013 17:57:58 MST Print View


In my opinion, politics and history should be studied hand in hand so I applaud you for seeking out some historical perspective.

I'd just pick up a used American Government and American History textbook off of Amazon. While you won’t walk away from them as a subject matter expert, it'll give you a 101 level of understanding and you can refine your search afterwards.

The US constitution is a short read. You can find it on the internet easy enough and be done with it in less than an hour. My limited understanding of it comes from many classes and sources, many of them were for criminal justice/procedure classes, so it’d be difficult for me to recommend just one.

spelt with a t
(spelt) - F

Locale: SW/C PA
A few to consider on 12/17/2013 18:26:39 MST Print View

A People's History of The United States, Howard Zinn
America: A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction, John Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show
Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, George Lakoff

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Book on American politics on 12/20/2013 17:38:03 MST Print View

"I'd like a recommendation on a book about how the American political system functions."

That will be tough since it is so dysfunctional."

No, that would be easy, just get a book full of blank pages.

Except now the Murray/Ryan deal may be ruining things.

Jeremy and Angela
(requiem) - F

Locale: Northern California
Re: Book on American politics on 12/20/2013 22:04:34 MST Print View

How far back are you looking to go?

I am tempted to suggest 1491 and 1493 as initial reads, even though they have a global scope, simply to build an appropriate background of the dynamics leading up to the founding of various American nations.

1. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
2. 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

Edit: I should also add de Tocqueville's On Democracy in America as a classic early text.

Over time I've developed a stronger appreciation for the role of geography (and the resulting economic forces) on history. My Stratfor subscription may be to blame, as their analyses tend to place individual actions as driven by circumstance, with only a very few exceptional leaders able to break past such limitations. In my opinion viewing history through a lens of realpolitik is more useful, if less entertaining, than viewing it through more ideological filters.

While the Stratfor articles rarely focus on U.S. politics, there are one or two that provide a useful historical perspective. (Please PM if interested.) For example, Stratfor's article "The Roots of the Government Shutdown" provides an interesting view of a shift in the mechanism of power from patronage systems to primaries, thus increasing the role of ideologues in American politics.

Edited by requiem on 12/20/2013 22:21:30 MST.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Book on American politics on 12/21/2013 08:42:03 MST Print View

Lots of stuff in wikipedia, e.g.:

Jeremy and Angela
(requiem) - F

Locale: Northern California
Re: Re: Book on American politics on 12/21/2013 12:43:45 MST Print View

Looks like the article I had in mind is online:

The Roots of the Government Shutdown

(Jerry, this is also somewhat germane to your concerns regarding the role of money in politics.)

Edited by requiem on 12/21/2013 12:44:17 MST.

jerry adams
(retiredjerry) - MLife

Locale: Oregon and Washington
Re: Re: Re: Book on American politics on 12/21/2013 14:25:44 MST Print View

Interesting analysis. Seems impartial. Never heard of the guy or the publication.

Ironic that replacing state conventions with primaries reduced power of "party bosses", but unintended consequence was that money became more important leading to our current mess.

It shows how tricky it is reforming the current system.

His conclusion is not comforting "I hold myself accountable as well: I have no idea what I could do to help change matters, but I am sure there is something"

Peter S
(prse) - MLife

Locale: Denmark
Thank you on 12/22/2013 07:34:44 MST Print View

everybody for your suggestions.

@Ian: Thank you, I feel i get a much better understanding of a subject if I get the historical background. And it sticks better in memory that way too. In a world of constant news streaming overload, it's such a relief taking the slow, steady high quality road to knowledge thru books.

@ Jeremy: I'll go as far back as needed. I'm in no hurry :-)

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Re: Book on American politics on 12/22/2013 08:33:16 MST Print View

Very interesting article Jeremy, thanks for the link.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Re: Re: Re: Book on American politics on 12/23/2013 23:07:34 MST Print View

Peter, all you really need to know is that money speaks loudest in our political system, and 99% of politicians are for sale to a greater or lesser extent to special interest groups and generally favor corporations and banks and themselves over what the average person, or the masses of average people want.

American politics in a nutshell.

Marko Botsaris
(millonas) - F - MLife

Locale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
Our constitution, then the Federalist Papers (and posibly some Jefferson to balance the Federalists) on 12/27/2013 14:06:10 MST Print View

'nuff said. This is if you are interested in the political system and philosophy behind it, and not the ephemera of the moment. I like my info from primary sources first before I go and read secondary and tertiary sources. Find out not only exactly what is there, but why it is there, what the original arguments were about, and so on. Hint: the arguments are STILL about basically the same set of issues.

Your not going to want to read all of it, of course, so might I suggest something like this a nice set of primary sources, with some intros.

Also, as over-suggested as it is (for good reason), I'm gonna +1 on de Tocqueville! That is probably what to read after the primary sources, especially if you are looking at it from the outside (if you are very ambitious).

As for current politics, oh God! << contemplates jumping off a cliff >>. Unfortunately, if you know US history you know that this is more or less the permanent situation with the number of crazies and degree of stalemate fluctuating from decade to decade. Like it or not this is how our political system has been structured - to be an ongoing debate about not just laws, but the role (and degree) of government. It is all in the primary sources and goes right through our history. There is no guarantee that the participants are going to be rational, unselfish, participate in the debate and not just snipe from the outside (or even be sane). Both the strength and weakness of our system is that we usually get the politics we deserve. One main success out of this mess - we have only fought one actual war over these issues.

EDIT: on the other hand that may have given us more time to fight with others!

Edited by millonas on 12/27/2013 19:53:21 MST.