Political Gabfest Book Recommendations

Whistlestop
by John Dickerson

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
From Face the Nation moderator and contributing editor for The Atlantic John Dickerson come the stories behind the stories of the most memorable moments in American presidential campaign history.

The stakes are high. The characters full of striving and ego. Presidential campaigns are a contest for control of power in the most powerful country on earth. The battle of ideas has a clear end, with winners and losers, and along the way there are sharp turning points-primaries, debates, conventions, and scandals that squeeze candidates into emergency action, frantic grasping, and heroic gambles. As Mike Murphy the political strategist put it, “Campaigns are like war without bullets.”

WHISTLESTOP tells the human story of nervous gambits hatched in first-floor hotel rooms, failures of will before the microphone, and the cross-country crack-ups of long-planned stratagems. At the bar at the end of a campaign day, these are the stories reporters rehash for themselves and embellish for newcomers. In addition to the familiar tales, WHISTLESTOP also remembers the forgotten stories about the bruising and reckless campaigns of the nineteenth century when the combatants believed the consequences included the fate of the republic itself. Some of the most modern-feeling elements of the American presidential campaign were born before the roads were paved and electric lights lit the convention halls-or there were convention halls at all.

WHISTLESTOP is a ride through the American campaign history with one of its most enthusiastic conductors guiding you through the landmarks along the way.


Charged
by Emily Bazelon

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A renowned journalist and legal commentator exposes the unchecked power of the prosecutor as a driving force in America’s mass incarceration crisis—and charts a way out.

“An important, thoughtful, and thorough examination of criminal justice in America that speaks directly to how we reduce mass incarceration.”—Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy

“This harrowing, often enraging book is a hopeful one, as well, profiling innovative new approaches and the frontline advocates who champion them.”—Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted

The American criminal justice system is supposed to be a contest between two equal adversaries, the prosecution and the defense, with judges ensuring a fair fight. That image of the law does not match the reality in the courtroom, however. Much of the time, it is prosecutors more than judges who control the outcome of a case, from choosing the charge to setting bail to determining the plea bargain. They often decide who goes free and who goes to prison, even who lives and who dies. In Charged, Emily Bazelon reveals how this kind of unchecked power is the underreported cause of enormous injustice—and the missing piece in the mass incarceration puzzle.

Charged follows the story of two young people caught up in the criminal justice system: Kevin, a twenty-year-old in Brooklyn who picked up his friend’s gun as the cops burst in and was charged with a serious violent felony, and Noura, a teenage girl in Memphis indicted for the murder of her mother. Bazelon tracks both cases—from arrest and charging to trial and sentencing—and, with her trademark blend of deeply reported narrative, legal analysis, and investigative journalism, illustrates just how criminal prosecutions can go wrong and, more important, why they don’t have to.

Bazelon also details the second chances they prosecutors can extend, if they choose, to Kevin and Noura and so many others. She follows a wave of reform-minded D.A.s who have been elected in some of our biggest cities, as well as in rural areas in every region of the country, put in office to do nothing less than reinvent how their job is done. If they succeed, they can point the country toward a different and profoundly better future.

“Bazelon, cogent and clear-eyed as ever, lays out a welcome double-barreled argument: A prosecutorial shift toward mercy and fairness is crucial to healing our busted criminal justice system, and it’s already happening.”—Sarah Koenig, host of Serial


On Her Trail
by John Dickerson

Before Barbara Walters, before Katie Couric, there was Nancy Dickerson. The first female member of the Washington TV news corps, Nancy was the only woman covering many of the most iconic events of the sixties. She was the first reporter to speak to President Kennedy after his inauguration and she was on the Mall with Martin Luther King Jr. during the march on Washington; she had dinner with LBJ the night after Kennedy was assassinated and got late-night calls from President Nixon. Ambitious, beautiful and smart, she dated senators and congressmen and got advice and accolades from Edward R. Murrow. She was one of President Johnson’s favorite reporters, and he often greeted her on-camera with a familiar “Hello, Nancy.” In the ’60s Nancy and her husband Wyatt Dickerson were Washington’s golden couple, and the capital’s power brokers coveted invitations to swank dinners at their estate on the Potomac.
Growing up in the shadow of Nancy’s fame, John Dickerson rarely saw his mother. This frank memoir — part remembrance, part discovery — describes a freewheeling childhood in which Nancy Dickerson was rarely around unless John was in trouble or she was throwing a party for the president and John was instructed to check the coats. By the time John was old enough to know what the news was, his mother was no longer in the national spotlight and he didn’t see why she should be. He thought she was a liar and a phony. When he was fourteen, his parents divorced, and he moved in with his father.
As an adult, John found himself in Washington, a reporter covering her old beat. A long-delayed connection between mother and son began, only to be cut short by Nancy’s death in 1997. In her journals, letters and yellowed newspaper clippings, John discovered the woman he never knew — an icon in television history whose achievement was the result of her relentless determination to reinvent herself and excel. “On Her Trail” is a fascinating picture of the early days of television and of Washington society at its most high powered, and charts a son’s honest and wry search for the mother he came to admire and love.

This Could Hurt
by Jillian Medoff

“Periodically a writer captures the pattern of comedy and tragedy that peppers office life like alternating colors of carpet squares. . . . As smart as Medoff’s critique of corporate inanity is, it’s tempered by compassion for these people, who are ultimately tender with each other, too. . . . Medoff finds plenty of hurt—but strains of hope, too.”

—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

A razor-sharp and deeply felt novel that illuminates the pivotal role of work in our lives—a riveting fusion of The Nest, Up in the Air, and Then We Came to the End that captures the emotional complexities of five HR colleagues trying to balance ambition, hope, and fear as their small company is buffeted by economic forces that threaten to upend them.

Rosa Guerrero beat the odds as she rose to the top of the corporate world. An attractive woman of a certain age, the longtime chief of human resources at Ellery Consumer Research is still a formidable presence, even if her most vital days are behind her. A leader who wields power with grace and discretion, she has earned the devotion and loyalty of her staff. No one admires Rosa more than her doting lieutenant Leo Smalls, a benefits vice president whose whole world is Ellery.

While Rosa is consumed with trying to address the needs of her staff within the ever-constricting limits of the company’s bottom line, her associate director, Rob Hirsch, a middle-aged, happily married father of two, finds himself drawing closer to his “work wife,” Lucy Bender, an enterprising single woman searching for something—a romance, a promotion—to fill the vacuum in her personal life. For Kenny Verville, a senior manager with an MBA, Ellery is a temporary stepping-stone to bigger and better places—that is, if his high-powered wife has her way.

Compelling, flawed, and heartbreakingly human, these men and women scheme, fall in and out of love, and nurture dreams big and small. As their individual circumstances shift, one thing remains constant—Rosa, the sun around whom they all orbit. When her world begins to crumble, the implications for everyone are profound, and Leo, Rob, Lucy, and Kenny find themselves changed in ways beyond their reckoning.

Jillian Medoff explores the inner workings of an American company in all its brilliant, insane, comforting, and terrifying glory. Authentic, razor-sharp, and achingly funny, This Could Hurt is a novel about work, loneliness, love, and loyalty; about sudden reversals and unexpected windfalls; a novel about life.


Grant
by Ron Chernow

The #1 New York Times bestseller.

New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2017

Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Chernow returns with a sweeping and dramatic portrait of one of our most compelling generals and presidents, Ulysses S. Grant.
 
Ulysses S. Grant’s life has typically been misunderstood. All too often he is caricatured as a chronic loser and an inept businessman, or as the triumphant but brutal Union general of the Civil War. But these stereotypes don’t come close to capturing him, as Chernow shows in his masterful biography, the first to provide a complete understanding of the general and president whose fortunes rose and fell with dizzying speed and frequency.
 
Before the Civil War, Grant was flailing. His business ventures had ended dismally, and despite distinguished service in the Mexican War he ended up resigning from the army in disgrace amid recurring accusations of drunkenness. But in war, Grant began to realize his remarkable potential, soaring through the ranks of the Union army, prevailing at the battle of Shiloh and in the Vicksburg campaign, and ultimately defeating the legendary Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Along the way, Grant endeared himself to President Lincoln and became his most trusted general and the strategic genius of the war effort. Grant’s military fame translated into a two-term presidency, but one plagued by corruption scandals involving his closest staff members.

More important, he sought freedom and justice for black Americans, working to crush the Ku Klux Klan and earning the admiration of Frederick Douglass, who called him “the vigilant, firm, impartial, and wise protector of my race.” After his presidency, he was again brought low by a dashing young swindler on Wall Street, only to resuscitate his image by working with Mark Twain to publish his memoirs, which are recognized as a masterpiece of the genre.
 
With lucidity, breadth, and meticulousness, Chernow finds the threads that bind these disparate stories together, shedding new light on the man whom Walt Whitman described as “nothing heroic… and yet the greatest hero.” Chernow’s probing portrait of Grant’s lifelong struggle with alcoholism transforms our understanding of the man at the deepest level. This is America’s greatest biographer, bringing movingly to life one of our finest but most underappreciated presidents. The definitive biography, Grant is a grand synthesis of painstaking research and literary brilliance that makes sense of all sides of Grant’s life, explaining how this simple Midwesterner could at once be so ordinary and so extraordinary.

Named one of the best books of the year by Goodreads • Amazon • The New York Times • Newsday BookPage Barnes and Noble • Wall Street Journal


Sticks and Stones
by Emily Bazelon

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

Being a teenager has never been easy, but in recent years, with the rise of the Internet and social media, it has become exponentially more challenging. Bullying, once thought of as the province of queen bees and goons, has taken on new, complex, and insidious forms, as parents and educators know all too well.
 
No writer is better poised to explore this territory than Emily Bazelon, who has established herself as a leading voice on the social and legal aspects of teenage drama. In Sticks and Stones, she brings readers on a deeply researched, clear-eyed journey into the ever-shifting landscape of teenage meanness and its sometimes devastating consequences. The result is an indispensable book that takes us from school cafeterias to courtrooms to the offices of Facebook, the website where so much teenage life, good and bad, now unfolds.
 
Along the way, Bazelon defines what bullying is and, just as important, what it is not. She explores when intervention is essential and when kids should be given the freedom to fend for themselves. She also dispels persistent myths: that girls bully more than boys, that online and in-person bullying are entirely distinct, that bullying is a common cause of suicide, and that harsh criminal penalties are an effective deterrent. Above all, she believes that to deal with the problem, we must first understand it.
 
Blending keen journalistic and narrative skills, Bazelon explores different facets of bullying through the stories of three young people who found themselves caught in the thick of it. Thirteen-year-old Monique endured months of harassment and exclusion before her mother finally pulled her out of school. Jacob was threatened and physically attacked over his sexuality in eighth grade—and then sued to protect himself and change the culture of his school. Flannery was one of six teens who faced criminal charges after a fellow student’s suicide was blamed on bullying and made international headlines. With grace and authority, Bazelon chronicles how these kids’ predicaments escalated, to no one’s benefit, into community-wide wars. Cutting through the noise, misinformation, and sensationalism, she takes us into schools that have succeeded in reducing bullying and examines their successful strategies. The result is a groundbreaking book that will help parents, educators, and teens themselves better understand what kids are going through today and what can be done to help them through it.

Praise for Sticks and Stones
 
“A humane and closely reported exploration of the way that hurtful power relationships play out in the contemporary public-school setting . . . As a parent herself, [Emily Bazelon] brings clear, kind analysis to complex and upsetting circumstances.”—The Wall Street Journal
 
“Intelligent, rigorous . . . [Bazelon] is a compassionate champion for justice in the domain of childhood’s essential unfairness.”—Andrew Solomon, The New York Times Book Review
 
“Bullying is misunderstood. Not all conflict between kids is bullying. It isn’t always clear who is the bully and who is the victim. Not all—or even most—kids are involved in bullying. And bullying isn’t the only factor in a child’s suicide, ever. Emily Bazelon, who wrote about the subject for Slate in 2010, here expands her reporting in an important, provocative book about what we can—and can’t—do about the problem.”—The Boston Globe

“Immersive storytelling with a sturdy base of science underneath, [Sticks and Stones] draws its authority and power from both.”—New York


Team of Vipers
by Cliff Sims

THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“Sims’s vivid portrait of Trump shrewdly balances admiration with misgivings, and his intricate, engrossing accounts of White House vendettas and power plays have a good mix of immersion and perspective. The result is one of the best of the recent flood of Trump tell-alls.” —Publishers Weekly

The first honest insider’s account of the Trump administration. If you hate Trump you need the truth; if you love Trump you need the truth.

After standing at Donald Trump’s side on Election Night, Cliff Sims joined him in the West Wing as Special Assistant to the President and Director of White House Message Strategy.

He soon found himself pulled into the President’s inner circle as a confidante, an errand boy, an advisor, a punching bag, and a friend. Sometimes all in the same conversation.

As a result, Sims gained unprecedented access to the President, sitting in on private meetings with key Congressional officials, world leaders, and top White House advisors. He saw how Trump handled the challenges of the office, and he learned from Trump himself how he saw the world.

For five hundred days, Sims also witnessed first-hand the infighting and leaking, the anger, joy, and recriminations. He had a role in some of the President’s biggest successes, and he shared the blame for some of his administration’s worst disasters. He gained key, often surprising insights into the players of the Trump West Wing, from Jared Kushner and John Kelly to Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.

He even helped Trump craft his enemies list, knowing who was loyal and who was not.

And he took notes. Hundreds of pages of notes. In real-time.

Sims stood with the President in the eye of the storm raging around him, and now he tells the story that no one else has written—because no one else could. The story of what it was really like in the West Wing as a member of the President’s team. The story of power and palace intrigue, backstabbing and bold victories, as well as painful moral compromises, occasionally with yourself.

Team of Vipers tells the full story, as only a true insider could.


The Genius Factory
by David Plotz

It was the most radical human-breeding experiment in American history, and no one knew how it turned out. The Repository for Germinal Choice–nicknamed the Nobel Prize sperm bank–opened to notorious fanfare in 1980, and for two decades, women flocked to it from all over the country to choose a sperm donor from its roster of Nobel-laureate scientists, mathematical prodigies, successful businessmen, and star athletes. But the bank quietly closed its doors in 1999–its founder dead, its confidential records sealed, and the fate of its children and donors unknown. In early 2001, award-winning columnist David Plotz set out to solve the mystery of the Nobel Prize sperm bank.

Plotz wrote an article for Slate inviting readers to contact him–confidentially–if they knew anything about the bank. The next morning, he received an email response, then another, and another–each person desperate to talk about something they had kept hidden for years. Now, in The Genius Factory, Plotz unfolds the full and astonishing story of the Nobel Prize sperm bank and its founder’s radical scheme to change our world.

Believing America was facing genetic catastrophe, Robert Graham, an eccentric millionaire, decided he could reverse the decline by artificially inseminating women with the sperm of geniuses. In February 1980, Graham opened the Repository for Germinal Choice and stocked it with the seed of gifted scientists, inventors, and thinkers. Over the next nineteen years, Graham’s “genius factory” produced more than two hundred children.

What happened to them? Were they the brilliant offspring that Graham expected? Did any of the “superman” fathers care about the unknown sons and daughters who bore their genes? What were the mothers like?

Crisscrossing the country and logging countless hours online, Plotz succeeded in tracking down previously unknown family members–teenage half-brothers who ended up following vastly different paths, mothers who had wondered for years about the identities of the donors they had selected on the basis of code names and brief character profiles, fathers who were proud or ashamed or simply curious about the children who had been created from their sperm samples.

The children of the “genius factory” are messengers from the future–a future that is bearing down on us fast. What will families be like when parents routinely “shop” for their kids’ genes? What will children be like when they’re programmed for greatness? In this stunning, eye-opening book, one of our finest young journalists previews America’s coming age of genetic expectations.

From the Hardcover edition.


Habeas Data
by Cyrus Farivar

A book about what the Cambridge Analytica scandal shows: That surveillance and data privacy is every citizens’ concern

An important look at how 50 years of American privacy law is inadequate for the today’s surveillance technology, from acclaimed Ars Technica senior business editor Cyrus Farivar.

Until the 21st century, most of our activities were private by default, public only through effort; today anything that touches digital space has the potential (and likelihood) to remain somewhere online forever. That means all of the technologies that have made our lives easier, faster, better, and/or more efficient have also simultaneously made it easier to keep an eye on our activities. Or, as we recently learned from reports about Cambridge Analytica, our data might be turned into a propaganda machine against us.

In 10 crucial legal cases, Habeas Data explores the tools of surveillance that exist today, how they work, and what the implications are for the future of privacy.


The Interestings
by Meg Wolitzer

Named a best book of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Time, and The Chicago Tribune, and named a notable book by The New York Times Book Review and The Washington Post

“Remarkable . . . With this book [Wolitzer] has surpassed herself.”—The New York Times Book Review

“A victory . . . The Interestings secures Wolitzer’s place among the best novelists of her generation. . . . She’s every bit as literary as Franzen or Eugenides. But the very human moments in her work hit you harder than the big ideas. This isn’t women’s fiction. It’s everyone’s.”—Entertainment Weekly (A)

From Meg Wolitzer, the New York Times–bestselling author of The Female Persuasion, a novel that has been called “genius” (The Chicago Tribune), “wonderful” (Vanity Fair), “ambitious” (San Francisco Chronicle), and a “page-turner” (Cosmopolitan).

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.



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