Lists

11 of the Best Books on Politics to Read Before the Election

This content contains affiliate links. When you buy through these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Julia Rittenberg

Senior Contributor

Julia is a professional nerd who can be spotted in the wild lounging with books in the park in Brooklyn, NY. She has a BA in International Studies from the University of Chicago and an MA in Media Studies from Pratt Institute. She loves fandom, theater, cheese, and Edith Piaf. Find her at juliarittenberg.com.

If you live in the United States, this is one of the years when American politics becomes entirely unavoidable. It’s the year when eligible voters in the United States select a president, one of a two-party system. However, the choice on the ballot is something that’s intensely reductive. There are a host of political issues that affect all of our daily lives, and in this particular election year, it’s important to understand the structure of political processes and how to get involved in your community and on a larger scale. Book Riot regularly covers book censorship news, and most of the censorship activity starts in local school boards and PTAs. It’s critical to have an understanding of how politics is threaded throughout our lives, from daily experiences to the long arc of international relations. The best books on politics are a great place to start for your political education.

The problem with the U.S. presidential election is that it tends to suck up all the air in the room for political conversation. All problems are grafted onto the election, even the international ones. It’s important because the U.S. is a massive, world-shaping political entity, but there’s more to know than who is in the White House. We all should read a variety of sources about U.S. and global politics to develop a strong set of requirements for political participation, from local protests to world events. Here are some books to get you started, including titles that deep dive into the topics at the center of political debates right now.

The Best Books On U.S. Politics

what you need to know about voting and why cover

What You Need to Know About Voting—And Why by Kim Wehle

If you are recently eligible to vote, know someone who is, or have a friend who doesn’t vote, Kim Wehle’s book provides an excellent primer on voting in the United States and why it matters. In addition to teaching readers how to register to vote, she answers the basic questions about the process of voting, from mail-in ballots to the electoral college. She also explains the history of voting in the United States and how an informed, active voting public is a positive.

give people money cover

Give People Money: How a Universal Basic Income Would End Poverty, Revolutionize Work, and Remake the World by Annie Lowrey

Universal Basic Income is a concept that is as simple as it sounds: the government gives a fixed amount of money to every single citizen, every month. When this book first came out in 2018, it was a major issue being debated. After the stimulus checks and unemployment assistance given to people during the COVID-19 pandemic, I had assumed it would become even more of a rallying cry. Lowrey presents a deeply researched account of how UBI helps people and how global poverty is perpetuated by uncaring governments. In a time of intense income inequality, her argument for UBI is intensely relevant.

hood feminism cover

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall

Once again, Kendall’s book is one that seemed to anticipate the problems that arose after its publication: she outlined the many ways in which the contemporary feminist movement was failing as an intersectional political movement. She deftly outlines how white feminists focus on their own power accumulation, while feminism as a way to support marginalized women has fallen to the wayside.

the cover of Hate in the Homeland

Hate in the Homeland: The New Global Far Right by Cynthia Miller-Idriss

The far-right is an unfortunate fact of life now, and instead of assessing the why, Idriss dives into where these communities are meeting and organizing. Their tactics for recruiting are incredibly powerful and often hide within plain sight. Young people come across far-right ideology constantly on the Internet, and they can become the violent extremists of tomorrow if we don’t intervene early and often to argue against these far-right funnels.

freedom is a constant struggle cover

Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Y. Davis

Still a critical voice in the world of political protesting, in 2015, Angela Davis used the summer of protests in 2014 in Ferguson as a jumping off point to discuss the history of protests. That particular summer was a boiling over of many decades-long liberation movements. The global connections between these movements become clear through Davis’s writing.  

when crack was king cover

When Crack Was King: A People’s History of a Misunderstood Era by Donovan X. Ramsey

Drugs and their effects on communities are a crucial part of American political history. The rise of crack and cocaine in the United States led to an intensification of the drug war and the ballooning of the incarcerated population. Ramsey weaves the accounts of four people whose lives were affected by the drug with the concurrent history of the legal system and policing.

dying by the sword cover

Dying by the Sword: The Militarization of U.S. Foreign Policy by Monica Duffy Toft and Sidita Kushi

Before moving totally to global politics, it’s necessary to understand how the U.S. wields its military might around the world. Instead of other methods of diplomacy, the writers argue that the U.S. government has resorted to military violence more often than any other solution. There will be far-reaching implications for global politics and life in the United States.

The Best Books on Politics: A Global View

the hundred years war on palestine cover

The Hundred Years’ War on Palestine by Rashid Khalidi

At the time of my writing this, this is the number one book in the international politics genre on Amazon, probably because people want to understand how and why a genocide is allowed to occur in plain sight. Starting from the very beginning, Khalidi traces the history of the assault on Palestine from every angle: from the British colonial occupation of the Middle East to the Zionist push to expel the people of Palestine from their land. At every stage of the past one hundred years of international politics, Palestinians have suffered the wrath of settler colonialism.

putin's people cover

Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West by Catherine Belton

News from Russia can occasionally feel very opaque, so Catherine Belton uses her extensive background in reporting on Moscow to demystify the history of the country and how their current strongman came to power. The Kremlin is filled with political power players with deep roots in Russia’s Soviet era, and they seek to enrich themselves and consolidate power.

tainted democracy cover

Tainted Democracy: Viktor Orbán and the Subversion of Hungary by Zsuzsanna Szelényi

Viktor Orbán, president of Hungary, is essentially the face of far-right political extremism in Europe. After the end of the Soviet Union, Hungary was much more liberal, but after his election in 2010, Orbán shifted further and further right. The writer of this book is the founder of the opposition party, Together, and she presents the reasons for Orbán’s success and the ways to resist his party’s autocratic rule.

history of south africa cover

History of South Africa: 1902 to the Present by Thula Simpson

There’s much more to South Africa’s history than the end of apartheid: from the colonization by the Dutch and the British to the many influential figures who worked alongside Nelson Mandela to end the unequal government rule. South Africa’s liberation struggle had far-reaching implications for global politics as well as the freedom of the people who lived there.


The state of the world often feels overwhelming to me. Arming oneself with knowledge, whether it’s about women in politics or the history of queer liberation, can be both soothing and galvanizing.