Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Ask The Expert...Nonfiction November Style!


Hello, Nonfiction November-ites!  We are in Week 2 of the event, and it's going well for me so far.  I finished At The Mercy of The Mountains last week, and have moved on to 1776 by David McCullough.  It's been a long time since I delved into historical nonfiction, and I'm enjoying the change of pace.  This is definitely a great event for me!  Nonfiction has been woefully absent from my life in the last year or two.

For week 2, we are tasked with any one of three options...

"Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert)."

With that in mind, I am choosing to "Ask The Expert".  Specifically, I'm looking for recommendations on nonfiction regarding American politics.  Let me explain, because that's a pretty broad category!  I enjoy books that provide an inside view into American politics.  I've tried autobiographies (My Life by Bill Clinton, Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama, etc), bipartisan reports (The 9/11 Commission Report), heavily biased political analyses (The Assault on Reason by Al Gore), and books that trended more towards peeping-Tom-expose than behind-the-scenes-informative (In the President's Secret Service by Ronald Kessler).  The list goes on, but that at least illustrates some of the breadth of what I've attempted.

In all that reading, I've realized that I have several desires when I step into this genre.

-Smartly written, analytical writing.  I loved the heavily detailed account of Clinton's presidency in his autobiography; I hated the obviously-pandering-to-the-lowest-common-denominator expose style of Kessler's book.
-Not too dry.  Clinton's book had a lot of detail, but also a human element that kept my interest up (not just Lewinsky, ha).  On the other hand, the 9/11 Report was impressive, but also put me to sleep on several occasions.  It's all detail, no emotion.  Not a bad thing (I mean, consider its purpose), but just not tops on my list of reading options.
-Too heavily partisan.  This is a big one.  It's very hard to write about politics without any sort of partisan bias--I get that.  I'm not asking for every political book to be nonpartisan/bipartisan.  However, I think you can write from a political stance in a way that isn't hateful to the other side.  If you've ever read Gore's Assault on Reason, you know that that is an example of a HEAVILY partisan book...annoyingly so.  And that's coming from a Democrat.  (And since I've mentioned that--yes, I welcome books written from the right as well!  But again, as long as they are not overly hateful to the other side.  Rush Limbaugh suggestions, I can safely assume, will be left at the door.)

Just to give you an idea...without knowing much about them, a few books that have been on my TBR for a while are Pennsylvania Avenue by John Harwood, What Happened by Scott McClellan, and The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder by Vincent Bugliosi (okay, I admit the title of that one is not promising given the above requirements, but reactions from those who have read it are welcomed!).  Autobiographies and biographies also seem to have worked well for me in the past.

So there it is, experts!  I know I gave you a tough assignment, but give it a try.  Lay it on me.  What political nonfiction should I read next?

22 comments:

  1. I'm going to be watching this post, because I'd love recommendations and the "not too heavily partisan" part is HUGE for me. Huge.

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    1. Yup yup, even if you have a party affiliation, too far right or left can be really grating.

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  2. I can't be of any help, but I want recommendations too! "Not too heavily partisan" is key.

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    1. Looks like I'm getting some good replies below! Hope they can help you out :)

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  3. Oooh, I'll be watching the recommendations you receive. ;) Clinton's book was a revelation for me. I can't explain how much I enjoyed it. I could give you some suggestions but they're probably deeply partisan and not particularly timely nowadays. (I've enjoyed Al Franken, Michael Moore...you know, super bleeding hearts, lol.) Both sides are so entrenched now, I don't know if a non-partisan book exists. :( That makes my little bleeding heart sad.

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    1. Haha I've read my fair share of Michael Moore. ;) I suppose I don't mind his books as much, because I know what I'm getting going into it. I think when it comes from someone like Gore, who you expect to write in a bit more...tempered style, it's surprising.

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  4. I seriously have the best book for you...and it really fills the not heavily partisan part. The Unwinding by George Packer. It's an interesting mix of history and politics of the US over the last 40 years, through the stories of normal Americans and famous faces. I loved it. And it won the National Book Award for Nonfiction last year.

    If you don't mind something a little more partisan (left leaning) but really, really interesting on the role women (Hilary Clinton, Sarah Palin and Michelle Obama) played in the 2008 election, I absolutely adored Big Girls Don't Cry by Rebecca Traister.

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    1. Thank you!! I am going to check these out for sure!

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    2. I second The Unwinding, I'm about 20% in right now and it's fascinating.

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  5. How about David Halberstam's War in a Time of Peace? It explores how the Cold War influenced the politics of Bush and Clinton. Well written.

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  6. What an interesting question you put out there. I too am often disappointed how partisan political books are. Not sure why it's so hard to write a fair report of something that isn't dry. While not as absurd/irreverent as Steven Colbert (but in the same vein) you might want to check out Bleyer's "Me the People". It was humorous while discussing how the Constitution has and has not been fairly applied over the past couple of decades. He takes shots at both sides of the aisle and is up front in the beginning about his leanings so you can read on knowing where any bias is coming from. I really enjoyed the book.

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  7. Wish I could help! The only political books I've read deal with George Washington. ;)

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  8. From the other side of the world, the best I can offer is watch West Wing!

    What? West Wing isn't real life American politics?! Jed Bartlett wasn't a President of the United States?
    I'm devastated!!
    :-P

    I'll watch this list grow with interest - as this is a huge gap in my knowledge of world affairs.

    http://bronasbooks.blogspot.com.au/2014/11/my-year-in-non-fiction.html

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  9. Check out Our Divided Political Heart by E.J. Dionne, Jr. It's an interesting, informative look at how politics in our country have become so starkly contrasted—tea party vs. progressives, individual vs. community, etc. Here's my blog post on it: http://mylittleheartmelodies.com/2014/08/10/our-divided-political-heart/

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    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I will check out your review as well. That's definitely a point of interest for me, the two extremes that our political parties have gravitated towards.

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  10. I think it's incredibly difficult to find non partisan political books. I used to read lots of politics, but I chose not to write about political books on my blog, so don't read much of them anymore. I do have a satire on my Kindle called This Town by Mark Leibovich. I also liked Losers by Michael Lewis...he follows the primaries for the Clinton-Dole election (1996 maybe?). I thought it was fairly non partisan and Lewis is such a fantastic writer.

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    1. Thanks for the recommendations! I find it interesting that you choose not to review political books on your blog. I debated that for a while myself (still do)...I haven't really reviewed anything very political yet (closest was Obama's memoir) but obviously I have "outed" my political leanings, and even that makes me wonder if I'm apt to turn off some readers. Political discussion can be so intriguing, but it's a tough line to walk when you don't want to take away from the rest of your blog persona.

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  11. I wish I had some suggestions for you, but for some reason, I'm reluctant to pick up books about politics. I think I feel similarly to Sarah. I don't want my blog to be about my political (with, I suppose, the exception of reading books about feminism and reading books by diverse or female authors, which is a bit political but also seems uncontroversial among the bloggers I interact with). Interestingly, I don't mind sharing my opinion when I think a book about science is biased, but I think the difference there is that I feel far more confident that I know things about science and the truth in science than I do about my knowledge of politics.

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    1. Good point! I suppose I would feel similarly about books relating to education. If you have an expertise in an area, it's easier to discuss it with some level of confidence that what you're saying isn't all that controversial (or wrong!).

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