Essential Election Reading: Everything You Need to Know for the Upcoming 2020 Election

Every election matters and, for many, the 2020 election this November will be one of the most important votes we ever cast. Never has there been such starkly different paths in front of us and the quest for truth and understanding so urgent. We are committed as readers to be informed, to grow and seek varying perspectives on issues that not only affect ourselves but our fellow citizens. It is with that desire to learn all we can that we have compiled a list of essential reading on some of the most important issues we face today and will be voting on this election. From climate change to race inequality, the economy to health care, it is our civic duty to be aware of the challenges ahead and what we can do to make a difference.

In honoring the legacy of the great Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

Climate Change

No One Is Too Small to Make a Difference Deluxe Edition (B&N Exclusive Edition)
Greta Thunberg

“Everything needs to change. And it has to start today.” Greta Thunberg’s actions and unyielding dedication have sparked a global climate revolution—inspiring millions and garnering the attention of leaders around the world. This collection of speeches is a rallying cry to protect the living planet—that no matter how powerless we may feel, anyone can make a difference. Our Barnes & Noble Exclusive Edition contains 16 pages of bonus material, including additional color photos and two new speeches by Greta giving you all the most up-to-date information around the issues from “one of our planet’s greatest advocates.”—Barack Obama

Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming
David Wallace-Wells

Described as this generations’ Silent Spring, this riveting read is equally a meticulously researched work of science, a travelogue of the near future for life on earth, and completely terrifying! With lyrical prose, Wallace-Wells will argue that our climate crisis is all much worse than you think, and without mercy, zeros in on the power structures and mindless greed that have brought us here. “Most of us know the gist, if not the details, of the climate change crisis… David Wallace-Wells has now provided the details, and with writing that is not only clear and forceful but often imaginative and even funny, he has found a way to make the information deeply felt.”—Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Winning the Green New Deal: Why We Must, How We Can
Varshini Prakash, Guido Girgenti

What IS the Green New Deal? Does it resonate? Do I agree? Or disagree? With only weeks before the 2020 election, now is the time to delve deeper than the headlines and hyperbole. This carefully curated collection of essays by environmentalists, thinkers, writers, critics, journalists and economists provides the why, what and how for the Green New Deal movement and a clear outline of what is at stake. It is thought-provoking, inspirational and practical.


Separated: Inside an American Tragedy
Jacob Soboroff

A book of gripping details that delves into the Trump administration’s policies on separating children from their parents and how despite the program’s illegality, it has continued courtesy of a Congress that does not legislate. The power of the narrative arises from chronological telling, intertwining Soboroff’s own journey and the wrenching story of a father and son caught in the horror.

One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger
Matthew Yglesias

What if the answer to many of America’s most thorny issues could be found in one “simple” solution? Increase our population to 1 billion. An audacious proposal that addresses immigration, housing, jobs, environment, international economic competition and everything else you might think to ask. This argument to think bigger is a completely fresh thought-puzzle—and arguing with Matthew Yglesias along the way is a whole lot of fun.

Conditional Citizens: On Belonging in America
Laila Lalami

Sixteen faceted essays thematically connected, asking the question—who belongs? Who is an American citizen? Who is “not quite”? The question is personal and political and Lalami explores the many circumstances that render this belonging conditional status. An elegantly written, poignant meditation on the effects of exclusion and suspicion and what embracing citizenship might mean.

Black Lives Matter & Race Inequality

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism
Robin DiAngelo

In the larger national conversation about race, racism, antiracism, individual and systemic action and reaction, White Fragility has been a key title for readers seeking guidance. DiAngelo calls out past indifference from whites when facing critiques of race and class and challenges their often “fragile” response of tears and anger. “With clarity and compassion, DiAngelo allows us to understand racism as a practice not restricted to ‘bad people.’ In doing so, she moves our national discussions forward with new ‘rules of engagement.’”—Claudia Rankine

How to Be an Antiracist
Ibram X. Kendi

From the author of Stamped from the Beginning—a sweeping history of racist institutions—this remarkably direct “self-help” book asks us to turn a laser inward and ask ourselves “Am I a racist or an antiracist?” Am I a participant in the systemic history of race denigration or an actor in its dismantling? Kendi confronts the same questions that he asks of his readers, sharing his own resistance and discoveries. This read can’t help but spark conversation and reflection.

Just Us: An American Conversation
Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine’s Just Us: An American Conversation is an incredibly accessible work. It combines her poetry and essays that lend perfectly to a dialogue while reading the book—and again, after reading the book. Through photographs, illustrations and side-by-side page notes, we can consider the weight of the subject matter. The intimacy and personal recollections of Rankine’s writing will open your eyes to the world around you. It’s a deft gesture that only a poet and scholar of Rankine’s ability could pull off.

New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Michelle Alexander

If you were among the millions of viewers that watched Ava DuVernay’s 2016 documentary, 13th, on Netflix this past summer, you had the privilege to watch Michelle Alexander speak to this weighty issue. Here, in her groundbreaking and devastating analysis of the American prison system, you can continue the conversation. Alexander explains how the “war on drugs,” in concert with our criminal justice system, has intentionally and comprehensively installed a new system of racial control as thoroughly as any Jim Crow era initiative. New Jim Crow is essential reading and, unfortunately, as relevant and urgent today as it was upon its first publication ten years ago.


Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains
Kerri Arsenault

What are we willing to tolerate and whose lives are we willing to sacrifice for our own survival? What are the ways that “place” can shape, repel and draw us in? Arsenault sifts through historical archives and her own experience in this atmospheric memoir and searing exposé. “[C]ombining humanity, science, and capitalism … in elegant prose and harrowing reportage … [Arsenault] has managed to create at once both a cautionary tale and a literary treasure.”—Rachel Louise Snyder, author of No Visible Bruises

Capital and Ideology
Thomas Piketty

Published into the wake of the financial crisis of the late ’80s, Picketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century was in large part responsible for a broad awareness of growing economic inequality on a global scale—now an accepted concept at play in our daily contemporary political discourse. Here, Piketty is once again our guide on a 500-year grand tour, deep dive into the historical “why” of these recurring economic disparities. Above all, Thomas Piketty traces the history of ideas—economic, cultural and political—but mostly those surrounding a society’s notions of justice. We know 1,000+ pages can be daunting, but the argument is engrossing and absolutely pertinent.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century
Jessica Bruder

As a Barnes & Noble Discover Award-winner, a personal favorite, and now a movie starring Frances McDormand—we strongly encourage you to read this book. It is a brilliant work; enveloping, profound and magical, a road trip through a world of RV-living itinerant roamers—nomads—looking for seasonal work. Nomadland is the result of Bruder’s traveling for three years in the company of these very hard-working, remarkably resilient people. A beguiling narrative and eye-opening to say the least.

Voting Rights

His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope
Jon Meacham

Not a full biography, but a close and tender portrait of John Lewis’ engagement with the struggle for civil rights, the centrality of his Christian faith and its imperatives for good work—and good trouble. Here, his pursuit of redemption and justice, and his leadership and courage and commitment to the Voting Rights Act are all on display. This book ends with an afterword by the Congressman. His presence among us is so missed and Meacham’s book is a joy to read.

Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America
Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams captivated and inspired the nation with her campaign for governor of Georgia. Outlining some of the most important issues our country faces today—particularly around voter suppression—Abrams brings her passion and dedication to fair voting and civic engagement to the forefront in this hopeful and progressive blueprint for change. “This book is an essential toolkit for citizens of all backgrounds who believe … that democracy is not a spectator sport.”—Madeleine K. Albright, former United States Secretary of State

One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy
Carol Anderson

“The tools of Jim Crow disfranchisement worked all too well. In 1867, the percentage of African American adults registered to vote in Mississippi was 66.9 percent; by 1955, it was 4.3 percent.” Professor Carol Anderson lays out succinctly and engagingly that the actual voter fraud in place is a state-sanctioned and legislated history of racial discrimination, disenfranchisement and voter suppression. Not voter impersonation, double voting and vote by mail, but gerrymandering, voter ID restrictions and lack of access (to name a few) are the real tactics in the deception. Distressing, maddening and sobering, Anderson’s intent here is to put us on alert, to prepare us to stand firm and take back what is a right and not a privilege.

Women’s Rights

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

Mikki Kendall takes on the racism of white-defined feminism to save its soul. We cannot express the impact of this book in any way that comes close to the power of her own words. Suffice to say, you’ll find the clarity of her critique and the illustrations from her personal experience intensely revealing. “Too often mainstream feminism ignores that Black women and other women of color are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine of hate … Mainstream, white-centered feminism hasn’t just failed women of color, it has failed white women.”

Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All
Martha S. Jones

Paying homage to Alice Walker’s In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens, which celebrated the lives of unknown and uncelebrated women who “came before,” Vanguard, too, is an eye-opening work of recovery, mining the archives of Black women’s political pasts and charting the arcs of their actions to 21st-century American discourse. The book is a treasure trove of discovery, a history we should all have known—but are grateful to have now.

She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs
Sarah Smarsh

WWDD? From Heartland to Dolly Parton, both of Sarah Smarsh’s books are very much about “working hard and being broke in the richest country on earth” (which happens to be the subtitle of Heartland). Dolly Parton is, after all, an embodiment of “the little engine that could”—and did! This is a smart, surprising and love-filled take on Parton as an icon and muse, sister, confessor and voice of the voiceless. Both personal and political, this book makes a unique and inclusive contribution to an evolving conversation about feminism, culture and class.

Democracy & International Affairs

Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism
Anne Applebaum

The blend of memoir, journalism and history make this a compelling think piece on the fragile nature of democracy and the ever-present threat posed by authoritarianism. Charting changes over time in intellection frameworks, political leadership, the alliance of friends and family, the rise of paranoia and conspiracy-mongering and the global spectra of governments that no longer feel compelled to reach all citizens, we found this a persuasive outlay of what is at stake as we look at our upcoming election must-reads.

Four Threats: The Recurring Crises of American Democracy
Suzanne Mettler, Robert C. Lieberman

Four Threats highlights four historical moments in American history that illustrate four inherent threats to our democratic “experiment.” As a democracy, we’ve weathered one crisis at a time, on occasion perhaps two such crises together, but the sobering takeaway is that we are now facing a simultaneous four-front assault. How we answer this challenge is not an idle question.

Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good
Michael J. Sandel

This sharp analysis of our national love affair with the ideal of a social “meritocracy” makes a thoughtful case that the underpinnings of a “level playing field” are illusory and that this idea has, in fact, significantly undermined respect, dignity and community. Sandel provides an often counter-intuitive perspective, turning any number of common assumptions and critiques about who gets “ahead” fully upside down.

Health Care

Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World
Fareed Zakaria

Let’s face it—we’re all suffering from a little pandemic fatigue right now. The COVID-19 outbreak has changed the way we interact with each other, has drastically altered our daily lives and most importantly—has impacted how we look at health care in America. Fareed Zakaria not only looks at the current situation to argue what we could and should have done better to protect our nation but also looks to the future, the inevitable global changes and the question we’re all wondering—what comes next?

Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris 
Mark Honigsbaum

If you want to really understand the current pandemic, you need to brush up on your history. Starting with the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, medical historian Mark Honigsbaum details the fears, the science and the bureaucracy that has shaped a century of viral disasters to bring some clarity to what’s happening today. “The moral of his cogent tale is that the next deadly pandemic is not a matter of if but of when and preparing for that fact is a far better prescription than reacting with panic, fear, or indifference.”—Howard Markel, author of When Germs Travel 

Our Malady: Lessons in Liberty from a Hospital Diary
Timothy Snyder

America’s labyrinthine and broken health care system nearly ended Timothy Snyder’s life, driving home the critical intersection of health, life and liberty. In a society where who gets health care and who does not is a decision made by the fewthere is no liberty, there is no freedom. “The word freedom is hypocritical when spoken by the people who create the conditions that leave us sick and powerless.” This argument for national healthcare is incisive, powerful and vital. 


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