The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Sinclair muckraking socialist novel isn’t exactly uplifting. It’s a brutally realistic depiction of poverty, extreme working conditions and the prevalent hopelessness that engulfed the working class of the Chicago stockyards. It may focus on Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant, but it is partly based on Sinclair’s seven-week stint working incognito in the Chicago meatpacking business as part of an investigative piece on behalf of his newspaper. The soul-crushing atrocities and horrendous accounts of the meat industry were so alarming they even spurred federal investigations in 1904.
Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
Let’s take a moment and recognize I still haven’t been able to fathom all of Nietzsche’s work. Beyond Good and Evil build’s upon the German philosopher’s previous work, entailing a critical rejection of the traditional Western school of thought he essentially claims is a blind acceptance of the moral standard and various notions of truth and god. “Beyond Good and Evil” refers to this idea that morality, along with all that comes with it, is tied to one’s individual perspective and should not, in fact, be thought of as a universal standard to which all mankind must adhere. Err.. I think.
The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois
To put it simply, The Souls of Black Folk is an insightful examination of African-American life at the turn of the 20th century. It was and still is a momentous piece of sociological literature written as part of a semi-autobiographical essays looking at life after the Emancipation Proclamation. Du Bois’ prose is articulate and eloquent — whether addressing neoslavery, traditional music, or what he coins the “double consciousness” of the African American psyche — and serves as a both historical analysis and a harrowing piece social-political commentary that’s difficult to ignore.
The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison
I don’t know about you, but portions of the The Federalist Papers were mandatory high school reading on more than one occasion. The collection consists of 85 brilliant and eye-opening essays that delve into the establishment of various rules of governance and the promotion the U.S. Constitution. Forged by three of our nation’s Founding Fathers, the papers have been a political and historical landmarks ever since their initial release in late 1787 and early 1788. Like the Constitution however, they’ve open to interpretation, mentioned nearly 300 times in varying Supreme Court decisions.
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
Although The Prince wasn’t officially published until 1532, five years after Machiavelli’s death, a version of the treatise appears to have circulated almost 20 years prior. It’s regarded as one of the first and finest works of political philosophy, deeply rooted in Machiavelli’s fascination and political drive, and is considered a somewhat practical and straightforward guide on how to obtain power and become the ideal ruler. Perhaps the work is a political satire (following it to a tee could essentially undo someone in power), but nonetheless, the term “Machiavellian” didn’t arise from thin air.
President Obama: The Kindle Singles Interview by David Blum
President Obama is seemingly interviewed day in and day out by versatile swath of publications and people. In The Kindles Singles Interview, Eric Blum (New York Times Magazine, Wall St. Journal) sat down with the president at an Amazon facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They discuss the polarization of American politics, the need for government programs that are actually effective, the recession and various personal insights regarding his family among other things. It’s light, weighing in at about 30 pages, yet compliments the onslaught of literature regarding his presidency already in existence.
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
The Reign of Terror during the onset of French Revolution was a tumultuous and incredibly violent affair (17,000 deaths by guillotine is no laughing matter). Dickens’ classic tale of revolution and brash political upheaval features a love-laced plot, whirling around exiled French aristocrat Charles Darnay, English lawyer Syndey Carton and their indiscriminate fall at the hands of the revolution. Unlike other Dickens novels, it’s mostly devoid of humor, instead centered on providing political context that is both vividly alluring and dishearteningly frightening. Again, I truly doubt it was “the best of times.”
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
History is littered with political manuscripts and philosophers proposing their theories on class struggle and political dichotomy, but few of them carry the weighty influence of Marx and Friedrich Engels’ in-depth examination and critique of capitalism. It argues with labor comes wealth, which in turn increases the gap between economic classes with one becoming the ruling one at the expensive of the others. It lays down the theories ans goals behind the movement, outlined rather vividly, and proposes complete revolution as the only way to overhaul an unstable governmental and class structure.
Common Sense by Thomas Paine
Paine’s Common Sense is proof that writing to the people, for the people, is sometimes the way to go. The pamphlet, published anonymously in 1776 during the beginning of the American Revolution, presented an astute argument for the colonies to break free of British rule and establish their own independent republican government. It was written to be tangible and easily digestible, appealing to a mass audience of common people who were often left out the political dialogue, and helped convince its readership a land which upholds personal freedoms and lacks hereditary kingship isn’t that bad.
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
Have you ever heard of China’s Seven Military Classics? Didn’t think so, but you’ve likely heard of The Art of War. Sun Tzu, a high-ranking military general and strategist, composed the treatise as early as 2nd century B.C., simultaneously solidifying the work as one of the most definitive and influential strategy books of all time. It’s divided into thirteen chapters, each outlining a different aspect of warfare, and showcasing Tzu’s emphasis on the perils of war and its embodiment as a necessary evil to be carried out when no other alternatives exist.