Read with Us This Summer

By Jennifer Raymond Dresden, Associate Director of the Democracy & Governance Program

While classes are out for the summer and many of our students are excelling in internships around the world and contributing to research projects a bit closer to home, we here at the Democracy & Governance Program are still firing on all cylinders. To keep important conversations going over the summer and to keep everyone thinking about the fundamental issues of democracy, we are introducing our first-ever Democracy & Governance Summer Reading Group.

The purpose of the group is to come together to read and discuss books that are written for a general audience but that touch closely on important topics that are studied by scholars working in fields related to our mission.  Students, alumni, and friends of the D&G program will get together three times over the summer to discuss these books and consider how what we know from years of research can help us think about contemporary commentary and issues.  We are inviting you to read along with us.

The theme for this inaugural summer is American Democracy.  As has been noted previously on this blog, there are many good reasons to be concerned about the current state of democratic politics in the United States.  These are not partisan issues, and each side of the political spectrum has raised valid concerns about the health of our political system, from economic inequality and elitism to racial discrimination and from religious liberty to civil rights.  Our goal is to provide an opportunity to think about some of these issues from a variety of perspectives, in an environment that is welcoming of all who are concerned about the fundamentals of our democratic system, regardless of political identification.

We will announce each book about a month in advance of when our core group will meet.  The discussion leader for that session will contribute a post around the time of the meeting with questions raised by the book and some plain-English commentary connecting the book’s themes to significant findings in academic research.  While we realize most of you will not be able to join us for our in-person discussions, we hope that you will read along at home.  Our goal is to provide a framework for anyone who wants to reflect on the state of American democracy by thinking and talking about the issues behind these books.   This isn’t just for experts or policy wonks, so we hope you’ll join us!

First up, we have a double-header.  During the first week of July, we’ll be discussing two books that deal with identity and alienation, from very different perspectives:  Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance, and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  We encourage you to read both (not just the one that agrees with your partisan perspective) and look forward to an exciting discussion.

Check back in a few weeks for a post offering reflections on the two books.  If you end up forming your own local discussion group (and we hope that you do), tweet us about the experience at @georgetowndg!