The world is a crazy, mixed-up place, isn't it? A year ago, who would have predicted the downfall of Tiger Woods, BP, Carrie Bradshaw, Toyota, Al and Tipper, Dubai, Law & Order, and the KFC Double Down sandwich? (OK, that one is wishful thinking.) While we'd like to claim that we saw the end of Sandra Bullock and Jesse James coming, we're no clairvoyants, either. But we can offer a consolation prize: this list. It's a sort of literary road map to the most important stories of the moment, as explained by some of the best minds in their diverse fields. Read it, and we promise you perfect hindsight.
Rebels with a Cause
Before Glenn Beck, there were--well, lots of cranks and soreheads just like him, and on both ends of the political spectrum. Call them the winners of our discontent.
The Paranoid Style in American Politics
by Richard Hofstadter
Written during the rise of Barry Goldwater, Hofstadter's book is the definitive account of how fringe groups--or, in his memorable phrase, "movements of suspicious discontent"--can influence American politics.
The Politics of Rage
by Dan T. Carter
Carter's definitive, authorized biography of the late Alabama governor and third-party presidential candidate George Wallace locates the roots of conservative populism in the racial conflict of the American South--and shows that the danger of demagoguery is nothing new.
Voices of Protest
by Alan Brinkley
When Louisiana Gov. Huey Long was shot in 1936, he was preparing a third-party challenge to FDR that would have rivaled Ross Perot's run more than 50 years later. Brinkley's book explains how Long and radio personality Father Coughlin amassed huge followings by combining populist rhetoric with radical economic appeals--an apt lesson in the age of Beck and Palin.
by Darcy G. Richardson
Richardson's four-volume history of third parties in America tells you everything you want to know--and more--about the early history of the subject, from the Anti-Masonic Party of the 1820s to Norman Thomas's 1928 presidential run.
Why Americans Hate Politics
by E. J. Dionne
By analyzing the major ideological currents in American politics over the last 30 years--and explaining how they present the public with nothing but false choices--Dionne accurately diagnoses why Americans hate politics and tend to be attracted to (if not ultimately supportive of) third-party candidates.
Hot summer reading for a cooling economy. Intelligent, slightly oblique takes on the big-picture issues of the day, from climate change to financial reform.
Fortunes of Change
by David Callahan
A sympathetic and comprehensive survey of the trust funders, venture capitalists, environmental entrepreneurs, and Wall Street liberals who helped make the Democrats the party of the rich--in 2008, at least.
Chasing Goldman Sachs
by Suzanne McGee
It's not so much what the once admired investment bank does that's the problem, argues McGee. It's that Goldman's earnings inspire the rest of the financial sector to ramp up risk and speculation.
The Climate War
by Eric Pooley
A fast-paced, campaign-style, behind-the-scenes narrative about the conflict over regulating emissions. Really!
The Upside of Irrationality
by Dan Ariely
The follow-up to Predictably Irrational is predictably readable and insightful about the foibles of economic decision making.
Pretty much since we got here, Americans have been arguing over the right time to hang out the no vacancy sign.
by Oscar Handlin
Winner of the 1952 Pulitzer Prize in history, Handlin's chronicle of the European-immigrant experience in the late 19th and early 20th centuries helped launch immigration studies as a discipline. …