The 22 Best Political Books of All Time

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What are the best political books of all time? What can you learn from books about politics?

Politics can be stressful and confusing. However, reading books about politics can help you understand them better. Whether you learn about racial inequality, government systems, or the political institutions of the past, it’s good to educate yourself about the ongoings of the world.

Below, we’ve rounded up a list of the best books to read to understand more about politics.

Best Political Memoirs/Biographies

Some of the best political books of all time come from those who dedicated their lives to politics. Nothing is more captivating than an exposé or a deep dive into a political figure’s personal life. Check out these memoirs and biographies to learn more about the people and events that shaped political history.

The Gulag Archipelago

The Gulag Archipelago is a work of historical nonfiction that describes life in Soviet prison labor camps, popularly known as gulags, in the USSR from the late 1910s to the mid-50s. Prisoners like author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn were arrested on minor or even fabricated charges, tortured and robbed by security officials, and held in camps for decades, where many were worked to death. 

Though the book was banned and Solzhenitsyn persecuted by his own government for publishing it, it exposed human rights abuses by the Soviet Union to the world, counteracting decades of propaganda. In the modern day, it acts as a warning of how governments can use violence, paranoia, and repression to control and exploit their citizens.


Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming delivers candid reflections on the life of the first African-American first lady. Offering a window into her personal evolution, Michelle details how ambition, hard work, and embracing her authentic story helped her journey from her family’s Chicago working-class neighborhood to a 47th-floor law office, then to the White House and beyond. 

Becoming provides insights into Michelle’s self-determination: She pushed herself to excel in Ivy League classrooms and achieve a prestigious career by age 26, then mustered the courage to swerve off that path in search of greater fulfillment. It details her relationship with Barack—a love story of two opposites—and their challenging quest to navigate family and political life. Through it all, we witness a woman who perpetually strives to become a better version of herself. 

A Promised Land

A Promised Land is Barack Obama’s memoir of his early political career and the first two years of his presidency. Obama takes us on his journey from relative obscurity as a biracial kid from Hawaii to becoming a transformative figure as the nation’s first African-American president. At every step of his career, Obama was guided by a deep faith in the fundamental unity of Americans; the potential and promise of America; the necessity of compromise and seeking common ground; and above all, the power of the democratic system to heal our divisions and effect real change for ordinary people.

Leadership: In Turbulent Times

Are great leaders born, or are they made? In Leadership: In Turbulent Times, bestselling author and historian Doris Kearns Goodwin argues that it’s the latter: Great leaders often grow from personal challenges that shape how they lead later on. In our guide, you’ll discover how the personal crises of four US presidents helped them lead through national crises. Why did a career setback lead Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation? How did a family tragedy help Theodore Roosevelt end a coal strike that threatened the lives of thousands? Why did Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s polio diagnosis end up helping him lead the country through the Great Depression—and how was Lyndon B. Johnson’s heart attack instrumental to the civil rights movement? 

Lincoln on Leadership

Many consider Abraham Lincoln the greatest US president of all time. He held the presidency from 1861 to 1865, and during that time, guided the Union to victory in the American Civil War and signed the Emancipation Proclamation—a document that began the process of ending chattel slavery in America. But, in Lincoln on Leadership, author Donald T. Phillips doesn’t just focus on what Lincoln did—he also focuses on how he did it. 

In Lincoln on Leadership, you’ll explore the main components of Lincoln’s leadership style that Phillips identifies in the book: how he communicated, acted ethically, and made his decisions. 

Permanent Record

In 2013, whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed the existence of STELLARWIND, the US government’s mass surveillance program. Until Snowden revealed the program, the US government was recording the phone and computer activities of nearly everyone in the world.

In Permanent Record, Snowden explains how he became involved with the government, how he learned about the mass surveillance program, and how he ultimately made the decision to speak up—a decision that would change his life, and the lives of everyone who uses the Internet, forever.

Best Books on the Politics of Inequality

Inequality is still a recurring issue in politics. Whether it be racial, economic, or gender inequality, people have disagreements about how to proceed with the issue. Here are books that discuss the politics of inequality to open your mind to the struggles others face. 

How Not to Be Wrong

In How Not to Be Wrong, one of the UK’s leading radio personalities—known for his ability to argue his guests into submission and prove his own rightness—changes course, compelled by a personal crisis to examine his “wrong” beliefs and misguided ways of relating to others.

James O’Brien argues in this part memoir, part self-help book that learning to change your mind when you’re wrong is a valuable tool for combating prejudice. Coming from a man who was taught never to show vulnerability, his method for changing his own mind is unexpected: starting therapy and exploring his childhood trauma. O’Brien claims that only by getting to the root of our pain can we learn to have empathy for others.


What’s the goal of our society and its laws? What should this goal be? In Justice, American political philosopher Michael Sandel explores how political philosophers throughout the ages have answered these questions. Then, he offers his own critiques, insights, and examples to show how these abstract theories can apply to real-life political and moral dilemmas.

In Justice, Sandel explores several major philosophical and political dilemmas like freedom versus welfare, reason versus virtue, and the individual versus the community. Then, he examines the real-life political and moral dilemmas that Sandel uses to inform these contrasting views. 

Manufacturing Consent

In Manufacturing Consent, authors Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman explore how the American media frames events and creates narratives that serve the interests of the nation’s political, economic, and social elite. They argue that control of the media in the United States does not take the form of direct state censorship or a formal conspiracy to manage the news. Rather, there is a powerful set of informal restrictions and controls that limit what journalists cover—and how they cover it. 

White Fragility

White fragility is the phenomenon by which white people become angry, defensive, or hostile when confronted with the idea that they are complicit in systemic racism. In White Fragility, author Robin DiAngelo examines its origins in the failure of white society to understand the structural nature of racism, explores the history of the existing racial hierarchy, and makes a powerful case for why it is incumbent upon white people to accept their individual and collective responsibility for white supremacy—and to do the difficult work of challenging it.

Development as Freedom

In Development as Freedom, Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen calls for a radical rethinking of the way we view poverty and economic development. Pulling from more than five decades of his own research, Sen argues that economic development goes beyond increasing wealth—it’s about expanding freedom.

In this book, Sen examines the five types of freedom that he argues are integral to development. We explore how empowering women helps communities, how democracy prevents famine, and how capitalist values lead to the greater good. Development as Freedom also explains Sen’s reasoning—from what it means to be poor to his idea of justice and the role that markets play in development.

The Bottom Billion

About one billion people around the globe live in persistent poverty—in countries where the economy is constantly struggling and incomes are stagnant or shrinking. In The Bottom Billion, British economist Paul Collier argues that traditional economic theories and development aid programs have paid too little attention to these countries,” instead focusing on emerging markets that don’t require help from the West to grow.

The “bottom billion” are stuck in “poverty traps,” and will stay stuck, unless governments, aid agencies, international organizations, and private charities work together to craft policies to help them overcome these traps.

Why Nations Fail

In Why Nations Fail, economist Daron Acemoglu and political scientist James A. Robinson try to answer one question: Why do some nations have wealth and high standards of living while others struggle with poverty and instability? They argue that the answer to this question has to do with freedom and fairness in a nation’s economy and government: Open nations—those with free and fair economies and governments—succeed. Exclusive nations—those with restricted and unfair economies and governments—fail.

In this book, the authors fully define what it means for a nation to be “open” or “exclusive” and how these qualities determine a nation’s success or failure. They also examine how nations might change over time to become open or exclusive—or how they might resist such change. 

Poor Economics

Millions of people throughout the world live on less than 99 cents a day. MIT professors Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for their efforts to study the causes of such poverty—Poor Economics demonstrates their unique approach. 

They analyze poverty by asking small, pointed questions about specific aspects of the lives of the poor. Their goal is to develop a detailed picture of how the poor live and how policy interventions affect their lives so that policymakers can better design interventions that help them. Since publishing Poor Economics in 2011, their approach has come to dominate the field. 

In Poor Economics, we’ll see what the authors discover when they closely examine the lives of the world’s poorest people. 

The White Man’s Burden

In The White Man’s Burden, economist, NYU professor, and Brookings Institution senior fellow William Easterly argues that the global humanitarian aid system is fundamentally flawed. His main critique is that the international aid system prioritizes top-down, centralized, and tightly directed aid distribution—all controlled by people in rich countries (primarily the United States and those in Western Europe), far away from the developing world that they’re meant to be serving. Because the aid community is so disconnected, it creates big plans and sweeping missions that are overly ambitious and completely unsuited for the reality on the ground, it overlooks local needs and concerns, and it rarely holds itself accountable for its failures. 

Best Books About Government Systems and Beliefs

Last but not least, several books detail how governments got to where they are now and the beliefs they hold. These political books might even teach you a surprising thing or two about your own government. Additionally, you’ll be able to get insight into different ideologies that you may not necessarily agree with, but are worth exploring and understanding.

How Democracies Die

The election of Donald Trump has sparked a great deal of discussion about the fate of American democracy. How Democracies Die explores some key questions that have become paramount in the Trump era. Does the election of a figure like Trump—an inexperienced outsider with obvious authoritarian instincts—suggest that democracy in the US is backsliding? Are we doomed to suffer the fate of other 21st-century democracies, like Hungary, Venezuela, and Turkey, where true democracy ceased to exist? By what processes was democracy killed in those and other countries—and how might we prevent it here? 

American Marxism

In American Marxism, Mark Levin argues that Democrats and leftist organizations are fueling a Marxist revolution against American culture and society. They’re indoctrinating the public with radical Marxist ideologies like Critical Race Theory through public education; reinforcing these ideas through the media and entertainment, and censoring opposition with “cancel culture.” Levin claims that if American patriots fail to expose this left-wing brainwashing, Democrats will gain dominion over the American government and society. Ultimately, they’ll create a totalitarian regime in which American values like freedom of speech, free-market capitalism, and private property rights are non-existent.

This exposé details what Levin believes is the rise of Marxism in America by discussing who the American Marxists are, the ideologies they’re pushing, how they’re indoctrinating the public, and what American patriots can do to maintain their freedom. 

The Origins of Political Order

To understand the pressures on democracy in the 21st century, it’s important to understand what modern democracy is and where it came from. In The Origins of Political Order, political economist Francis Fukuyama explores the development of political systems from prehistory to the eve of the American and French revolutions to show how and why modern democracies evolved.

Fukuyama argues that a stable democratic society requires three components: a strong state, the rule of law, and accountability. In this book, Fukuyama explores each of these components in detail and shows, for example, how Chinese bureaucracy created the first modern state and how local English legal disputes eventually led to democracy. 

The Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers are a unique window into the minds of the men who drafted the Constitution and founded the United States. This series of 85 essays, originally published at the time of the raging debate over ratification, make the case for a stronger national government and urge the adoption of the Constitution. This is one of the most important documents in American history, revealing what the Founding Fathers thought about human nature, civil society, and the relationship between government and liberty. 

Strangers in Their Own Land

In Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, sociologist Arlie Hochschild seeks to understand the social, cultural, and emotional forces driving right-wing politics, to move past the partisan divide and approach American politics from a position of empathy for those on the right.

By breaking down this empathy wall, we can come to truly inhabit the emotional world of the right, giving us insight into why these voters believe what they believe—and why those beliefs might make sense given these voters’ experiences.

A Warning

A Warning is an inside look at the chaotic Trump administration by a senior Trump administration official writing anonymously. It’s a follow-up to the author’s September 5, 2018, New York Times op-ed piece describing internal efforts to control Trump’s impulses. This is no longer working, “Anonymous” writes (in 2020, former Homeland Security official Miles Taylor revealed himself as “Anonymous” and the author of A Warning). The book depicts an impulsive and corrupt president, who put his self-interest above the country’s interest, in the process undermining the foundations of democracy and putting national security at grave risk. 

“Anonymous” describes the increasingly futile efforts of a handful of principled White House officials (referred to as the Steady State) to stave off disastrous, often illegal actions. The author warns that the “guard rails” had come off—the principled staffers had mostly been driven away and Trump was uncontrollable while in office.

An American Sickness

American healthcare is commonly known to be in a deplorable state, costing 18% of GDP while underperforming in quality among developed nations. Changing the situation systemically also seems intractable—passing Obamacare was a torturous path of compromises that ended as a sliver of its original ambition. Costs continue to rise without a clear winning strategy.

American Sickness unpacks how US healthcare got to this state. It examines the competing interests of the major blocs in healthcare – hospitals and doctors, pharmaceuticals and devices, and insurers. This book clarifies how deeply entrenched the interests are and why it’s so difficult to change anything.

American Sickness is written by Dr. Elisabeth Rosenthal, who trained at Harvard Medical School and served as a reporter at the New York Times for 21 years.

Final Words

Politics affect almost every aspect of life, so it’s helpful to try to understand them, even if you don’t always agree with them.  By reading these political books, you can learn how ideologies are spread around the world and what can you do to make a difference.

Did we miss any of the best political books of all time? Leave us your suggestions in the comments below!

The 22 Best Political Books of All Time

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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