2020 Democracy & Governance End-of-Year Book List

By Jennifer Raymond Dresden, Ph.D., Associate Director

As we bid farewell (and good riddance) to 2020, we here at the Democracy & Governance Program are continuing the tradition of our annual end-of-year book list.  We’ve asked our alumni and faculty to share their favorite reads from the last year.  We encourage you to peruse the recommendations below for any last-minute or belated holiday gifts, or just something for yourself as we head into the New Year.  

Jodi Vittori, Adjunct Faculty

A Savage Order: How the World’s Deadliest Countries Can Forge a Path to Security 
Rachel Kleinfeld (Pantheon, 2018)

Rachel’s book examines how regimes use violence as a governing strategy for elites to maintain their power and the privileges that go with it, such as access to the state’s rents (corrupt or otherwise) and a leg up on the economic and social ladders.  She documents the effects privileged violence has on states and the rough path ahead for regimes to reform.

Grayson Lewis, Alumnus

This is Not Propaganda
Peter Pomarantsev (PublicAffairs, 2019)

An examination of the dangers and pervasiveness of truth decay by a reporter who observed its early growth in Russia in the 2000s. As people across the world turn increasingly to the internet as their source of truth, Pomarantev’s reporting deconstructs how this leaves us increasingly at the mercy of misinformation, disinformation, and partisan divisions. In a year where subject-matter experts and independent media sources are questioned more than ever (COVID-19, mail voting, the presidential election results, etc.) this book is still very timely, even 16 months on from its publication.

Molly Ball (Henry Holt & Co., 2020)

How did the highest-ranking woman in American political history get to where she is today, and what obstacles has she overcome along the way? These are questions that award-winning journalist Molly Ball explores in her intimate look at Nancy Pelosi’s life, rise to power, and relationships with figures like George W. Bush, John Boehner, Barack Obama, and of course Donald Trump. As the U.S. House prepares to again inaugurate Pelosi as its Speaker -possibly for the last time- this exploration of how she strategizes, makes compromise, and wields power is a must-read for those interested in the modern workings of Congress.

Georges Fauriol, Adjunct Faculty

The Emperor’s New Road: China and the Project of the Century 
Jonathan Hillman (Yale University Press, 2020) 

A timely, very readable, with useful case studies from different regions of the world, highlighting the sheer scope of China’s Belt & Road initiative and its strategic ambitions — as well as the inherent and deep flaws visibly emerging. The tales of shoddy project outcomes and opaque contracting are generating an expanding pool of corruption at all levels of public governance, from Sri Lanka and Pakistan to Kenya and Colombia. For those of us engaged in democracy assistance programming, this widens further the challenges that China represents worldwide — while paradoxically also creating a community of sceptics regarding China’s ultimate intentions.    

Liza Prendergast, Alumna

The Light that Failed: Why the West is Losing the Fight for Democracy
Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes (Pegasus, 2020)

Interspersed with insight and humor, this read offers a mirror into the recent past to help explain where liberalism and democracy find themselves in 2020.

Hashim Pasha, Alumnus

King of the Castle: Choice and Responsibility in the Modern World
Gai Eaton (Islamic Texts Society, 1999)

As students of Government we attempt to study theory so that we may help guide policy, and ultimately, the trajectory of other people’s lives. But so much that we wish to profess lies on cultural assumptions that we do not fully understand. Written by a distinguished British diplomat, this book is an enlightening and necessary read that will help remove the rust from our own moral compasses and improve our knowledge of the past.

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure
Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt (Penguin Press, 2018)

This book should be read by everyone that has had a tertiary education in the western world within the past decade. Everyone will relate to and agree with to some extent the main ideas of this book, which will disturb all who read it. But the good thing is the remedies outlined in this book are sensible, adoptable, and ultimately will improve the mental and academic health of students and faculty alike on all college campuses.

And, of course, if you didn’t have a chance to read along with the Democracy & Governance Summer Book Club this year, we would encourage you to check out David Shimer’s Rigged: America, Russia, and One Hundred Years of Covert Election Interference (Knopf, 2020) or Anne Applebaum’s Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism (Doubleday, 2020).  Both provide lots of opportunity for thought and discussion!

From all of us at the Democracy and Governance Program, we send you our best wishes for the holidays and a wonderful New Year. 

Happy reading!