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A post-election reading list

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A post-election reading list
A post-election reading list
Book covers courtesy of publishers

The election has left many Americans looking for answers — and looking to better understand one another. That's where books can come in.

Carlos Lozada, a nonfiction book critic at the Washington Post, and David Ulin, a contributor to Lithub and assistant professor at USC, joined MPR News host Kerri Miller to build a reading list for the current moment.

"I think one of the great questions and great challenges facing us as a country right now is: How do we do we start to think about coming together? It is an incredibly divided country," Ulin said. "Maybe the only way for us to start coming together is to actually listen to each other's stories."

Books to read, post-election

"American Maelstrom" by Michael A. Cohen

"It's about the 1968 election and the politics of division at the time. There, you had a fear-mongering candidate stoking white resentment in [George] Wallace; a long-shot lefty along the lines of Bernie Sanders, who was Eugene McCarthy; and the establishment candidate of Richard Nixon, who in some bizarre ways was Hillary Clinton this time around," Ulin explained. "And '68 was brutal in some ways, with the conventions and with what was happening in the country at the time. This was a useful book to think about, in some ways ... we have been here before."

"Listen Liberal" by Thomas Frank

"I think that is an incredibly prescient book for 2016," Lozada said. It traces "how the Democratic party stopped being the party of the working class. Under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, it become enthralled with the creative class, with Wall Street, with Silicon Valley, and sort of forgot about workers. And now workers have helped Donald Trump with the presidency. I think that is a critical book for this year."

"Coming of Age in Mississippi" by Anne Moody

Brittany from the audience called to recommend Moody's 1968 memoir of growing up in rural Mississippi.

"She talks about growing up and then going to college and integrating with white people from the South. She battles with the prejudices she faces from the whites she's working with, and also her own prejudice against other people who are white, because of the way she was treated growing up," Brittany explained.

Ulin agreed: "It's a fascinating and really heartfelt book, and it does trace both the individual experience of the author and the navigation of that social divide."

"Behind the Beautiful Forevers" by Katherine Boo

Miller recommends Boo's look at poverty in India, to provide perspective.

"I think the discussion of poverty in this country was so one-dimensional during the campaign. I also want Americans, and I want our president-elect, to have a better view of what globalization and poverty looks like in another country," Miller said.

"Evicted" by Matthew Desmond

Lozada called Desmond's look at the issue of chronic eviction in Milwaukee, Wis., "the best book I've read in a long time that's trying to give a new lens on poverty in America." Desmond, a sociologist, spent four years reporting from an African-American community with high eviction rates. 

"I would recommend it to anyone trying to understand poverty in America and the role housing plays." Desmond puts for the thesis in the book that what mass incarceration has done to black men in the United States, eviction is doing to black women.

"The Plot Against America" by Philip Roth

"The literary critic in me is required to say I think it's a deeply flawed novel, but the political being in me thinks it's incredibly relevant to our moment," Lozada said. The book's premise is that Charles Lindbergh, the famous aviator, gains the Republican endorsement in 1940 and is elected president. Lindbergh introduces "a kinder, gentler fascism — an American fascism." 

"One of the things that's most terrifying about that novel is how quickly things become normalized and become couched in this language of the American experiment," Lozada said. "For that reason, I think it's a really profound cautionary tale."

"It Can't Happen Here" by Sinclair Lewis

To be read in combination with "The Plot Against America," Lozada recommends Lewis's novel, which is set in the 1930s, and "imagines a populist, anti-intellectual leader coming to power, who empowers visceral anti-Semitism in the United States." 

"As a novel, I don't think 'It Can't Happen Here' is anywhere near one of Sinclair Lewis's better novels, but as a political parallel, as a political statement, I think it's very apropos for the moment," Lozada said.

"The Longest Night" by Andria Williams

Kathleen from the audience recommended this historical novel on the nuclear age and military life, told from a woman's perspective.

"White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America" by Nancy Isenberg

This book details "the long history of white rural outcasts in America," Lozada said. "Politicians from Andrew Jackson to Donald Trump have tried to rally them, but they have often remained shunned and mocked, both in the public imagination and physically. It goes back to how the British tried to send their surplus poor to America, and people they were trying to get rid of." 

Lozada said it's one of three books that are being put forward as almost a trilogy of books to understand Trump's support in the white working class. The other two books are "Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance and "Strangers in Their Own Land" by Arlie Russell Hochschild, which was nominated for a National Book Award this year.

"The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead

Many of the recommended books are nonfiction, but the power of a novel can't be underestimated. Ulin recommended Whitehead's novel, which just won the National Book Award. Whitehead reimagines the path that slaves took to escape to the North as an actual railroad that runs beneath the earth.

"I think it's a really excellent, challenging, at times extremely brutal and disturbing novel that deals with America's racial history, among other things," Ulin said. "I think he's a beautiful writer and a gorgeous thinker."

"Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72" by Hunter S. Thompson

Thompson's classic political novel is a worthy re-read.

"Teacher Man" by Frank McCourt

Anna from the audience recommended McCourt's memoir, which came out after his bestselling book "Angela's Ashes." It looks at how the thirty years he spent as a teacher shaped his life.

"Ten Days that Shook the World" by John Reed

Matthew from the audience recommended this nonfiction account of the Russian Revolution. It "speaks to the power of journalism to capture the craziness, disorder and energy of a chaotic time," Matthew said.

"Cicero: The Life and Times of Rome's Greatest Politician" by Anthony Everitt

Lewis from the audience recommended "Cicero": "There's certainly a lot of parallels about empire. You want to see something that makes our political time look tame, this is it."

"The Debate on the Constitution"

Don't forget the founding documents.

"I don't mean the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence," Ulin said. He recommended this two-volume set that compiles the public discussions and debate on what should be included in the Constitution. "I know there's a resistance to reading 200-year-old writers, which is a resistance that I often share, but these are pieces that were written for the popular press, for the most part, so they're witty, they're accessible, they're pointed, they're provocative." 

What book would you recommend to people in this moment?

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