A lot of things are going on in the world right now: climate change, gender inequality and populism, big tech, pandemics, race, and so on. Our experts suggest titles that will help people understand the issues of the day.
Michael E Mann on the environment
Michael Mann is the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University. He is a well-known climatologist and geophysicist. Author: More than 200 peer-reviewed and edited publications have been written by him. He has written four books, including The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, which came out in 2012. His upcoming book, “The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back our Planet,” comes out in January 2021. (Public Affairs Books).
For Small Creatures Such as WeSasha Sagan (Murdoch Books, 2019)
Carl Sagan was one of the best science communicators of our time. The way he talked about science made a lot of people want to study it. He is very sad to leave us. But his daughter, Sasha Sagan, has written a wonderful new book that pays tribute to him and his work. Sasha’s book, Contact, takes its title from a line from Carl’s novel Contact, which was made into a movie in 1997. She encourages us to look at the world through the lens of science, sharing a worldview that was formed by her unique upbringing. This book will make you feel better about our world, our universe, and our place in it.
The Ministry for the FutureKim Stanley Robinson (Orbit, 2020)
Doomsday framing can be bad for you, and it’s all too common in popular climate change-themed stories these days, but it can be hard to avoid. This new book from sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson is a refreshing change from all the apocalyptic visions of climate change out there (with whom I recently spoke about the effort). Stan tells the stories of people who live in the future to show how bad climate change is going to be. There is a sense in which that future is already here, but not in the full sense. If our fate is set in stone, he shows how we can rise to the occasion. If we don’t do anything, we could end up in a bad place. But a utopian future isn’t out of reach if we do well at what we do.
All We Can SaveEdited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K Wilkinson (Penguin Random House, 2020)
Climate change is a powerful “threat multiplier,” which means that it makes already existing problems and injustices even more dangerous and unfair. They are more likely to be displaced or killed by extreme weather, and there is a link between climate change and gender-based abuse. In many cultures, women do most of the work that is important for survival, like getting water and wood or growing food. These are already difficult things to do, but climate change can make them even more difficult. People will also have to fight for their health, education, and money. Over 60 women, many of whom I know and work with, write in All We Can Save about the climate movement. It’s a good book because it has a lot of interesting and provocative essays.
The Great DerangementAmitav Ghosh (University of Chicago Press, 2016)
No, we aren’t crazy. Amitav Ghosh, a well-known Indian author, says that future generations might agree with him. It’s hard to think of another way to explain why we can’t come up with creative ways to deal with global warming. Author Ghosh’s first major nonfiction book since 1992’s In an Antique Land focuses on how we can’t understand how big and violent climate change is. This is his first book of nonfiction since 1992’s In an Antique Land. As we face the biggest problem of our time, he wants us to work together and make big changes.
Resetting Our Future: What If Solving the Climate Crisis Is Simple?Tom Bowman (Changemakers, 2020)
Too often, we hear people say that climate change is a “wicked” problem that can’t be solved. So it’s not good to use this kind of bad language. Tom Bowman is a communication expert who has worked with museums to make them more fun and educational for people who want to learn about climate change. In this short, easy-to-read primer on climate action, he explains why the only things that stand in the way are people’s and governments’ will to do something. And if we make the commitment, as Yoda said, to not just try but do, we can get over those obstacles.
Anne Applebaum on populism
Anne Applebaum is a journalist and historian from Poland and the United States. She is a staff writer at the Atlantic and a senior fellow at the Agora Institute at Johns Hopkins. In 2004, she won a Pulitzer Prize for Gulag: A History, which was about the history of the prison. For the last time, she has written a book called Twilight: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism.
What Is Populism?Jan-Werner Müller (Penguin, 2017)
The movements we call “populist” have one thing in common: They don’t want to be diverse. That’s what Jan-Werner Müller says in his book, What Is Populism?, which is the best book on modern authoritarian populism. Popularists say that they are the only ones who speak for everyone, or that their opponents are traitors or foreigners or unpatriotic elites. They say there can be no neutral political institutions or symbols. If they get into power, authoritarian populists always say that they need to change the rules of the game, destroying democratic norms and institutions so that they can stay in power. If they can convince people that these rules and institutions aren’t worth it, they can win.
The People vs Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save ItYascha Mounk (Harvard University Press, 2018)
“Authoritarian populism,” which Yascha Mounk calls “democracy without rights,” is also a big part of his book, “The People vs. Democracy,” which is out now. But Mounk also talks about “rights without democracy,” which is the rise of technocratic elites who keep what should be political issues out of the public eye. Mounk says that in order to fight both of these bad trends, we need to make big changes in both the economy and culture. These changes can give people more power and control over their lives, as well as the belief that their political leaders are truly representing them.
How Democracies DieSteven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt (Viking, 2018)
In How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, two experts on democratic breakdown, focus on the United States. They have a lot of knowledge about the country’s history and politics. “Mutual toleration,” which means respect for election results and respect for the media, is breaking down. Also, more and more people aren’t sure that their political opponents are legitimate anymore, which is a bad sign. With their knowledge of other countries, they also come up with some ideas. There are a lot of people who don’t know how to talk with their political opponents; everyone on both sides should learn how to talk to their opponents. As the US election nears, the lessons from this best-selling book seem to be more relevant every single day.
Ruling the Void: The Hollowing-out of Western DemocracyPeter Mair (Verso, 2013)
The late Peter Mair’s book, “Ruling the Void,” was like a canary in the coalmine. It warned about the dangers of democratic decline before they were widely known and before the populist movements in Europe and the United States were fully seen. Observing political parties, Mair saw that the public was less interested in democratic debate. He also saw the rise of a new class of professional politicians, who were cut off from trade unions and church groups that had produced grassroots political leaders in the past. He told them why they were losing support, and why this was dangerous, before they even knew it was bad for them.
Post-Communist Mafia State: The Case of HungaryBálint Magyar (Central European University Press, 2016)
The rise of authoritarian populism is usually linked to a rise in corruption. This is not an accident, says Bálint Magyar. A mafia-like oligarchy will soon form when government inspectors, courts, and the media are all run by people who have ties to the government. How did this happen in Hungary, where cynicism and greed led not only to the end of democracy but to the end of fair markets? Magyar tells us. This is not what Hungary has. Instead, it has a system that is set up to favor people who are friends of the prime minister. Anyone who wants to know more than just how populism starts and where it ends should read this book.
Jeffrey Boakye on race
Hold Tight: Black Men, Millennials, and the Meaning of Grime is a book by Jeffrey Boakye, a writer and teacher from south London who now lives in Yorkshire. Black, Listed: Black British Culture is also a book by Boakye. His new book, I Heard What You Said, is about racism in British schools.
Think Like a White ManDr Boulé Whytelaw III: As told by Nels Abbey (Canongate, 2019)
One thing is a powerful look at race politics, another is scathing social commentary, and a third is razor-sharp satire. Putting them all together? This is a book like no other, taking you on a roller coaster ride through the world of white supremacy. It also gives you a thrill guide. Nels Abbey has made a work with the darkest humor possible, and it is unrepentantly good. If you think like a white man, you’ll remember that even though the race debate doesn’t come with a safety net, humor will help. There’s no way for me to tell. I’m still trying to get back to where I was before. Wicked in every way.
Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and BelongingAfua Hirsch (Jonathan Cape, 2018)
Journalist Afua Hirsch looks at her life, her times, and her own thoughts on race and identity through this lens. The result is interesting. Brit(ish) is both a beautiful, heartfelt memoir and a look at modern history and popular culture. In a way, the breadth of Hirsch’s attention is impressive. He looks at everything from sports, arts, and media to politics, education, and history. Her ideas are both big and small, and they are woven into the details of a personal life that we can all learn from.
The Good Immigrant USAVarious, edited by Chimene Suleyman and Nikesh Shukla (Dialogue, 2019)
“Twenty-six writers” might sound simple, but this collection of essays on how it feels to be “othered” in the United States today quickly turns out to be a complex and fascinating tapestry of marginalized perspectives from a wide range of interesting perspectives. White, mainstream America’s relationship with minorities is always worth paying attention to. First and second-generation immigrants need to be able to tell their stories in a variety of ways. This is a book that shows the fissures, cracks, and cave-ins that run through American identity politics. It’s sensitive, generous, and honest, and it gives real answers.
I Am Not Your Baby MotherCandice Brathwaite (Quercus, 2020)
Because black British women are five times more likely than their white counterparts to die during childbirth, you know this is going to be an important look at the realities of being a mother in the UK. Candice Brathwaite has a hard job: She has to put a lot of complicated information and social commentary into a memoir that is very easy to read. That’s not the only good thing about this book: It also lets you meet someone new who has a lot to say about being a black mom, a British person, and more. You can read this book to find out what it’s like to be either of these things at the same time.