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Curtis Sittenfeld Recommends Five Great Political Reads

Posted on 6th July 2020 by Mark Skinner

Having reinterpreted the life of Laura Bush in American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld's masterly Rodham turns its attention to another member of American political royalty. A compelling alternate history narrative that imagines what would have happened had Hilary Rodham not married Bill Clinton, Rodham transforms the political novel into an intensely personal narrative. In this exclusive piece, Curtis highlights five books from across fiction and non-fiction which possess gripping political bite.    

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Yes, it's really as good as everyone says. No, I'll never write a novel about her because in Becoming she's so emotionally open that she obviates the need. With moving detail and power, Obama describes her childhood, her close family, her education at Princeton University and Harvard University, her early adulthood and courtship with Barack, her working mom balance, and her entry by marriage into national politics and the accompanying spotlight. No matter how old you are or what you do, she offers essential life lessons.  

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Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal story of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations - and whose story inspires us to do the same.
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Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister

In colorful detail and with sharp insights, Traister presents a kind of history of female and feminist anger in the US. Traister is particularly skillful at showing how events, or reactions to events, can feel singular or specific but are often part of larger (sexist) patterns. There are so many frustrating and inspiring stories and observations in Good and Mad, but one that I often think of when consuming media is how Traister points out that photographs of female politicians frequently show them with their mouths open, as if they’re shouting.

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Illuminating, timely and eloquently argued, Good and Mad explores female fury as political fuel and the persistent difference in the way anger is received – and portrayed – according to the gender of those who express it. Compelling and urgent, Good and Mad is a mesmerising analysis of society’s vilification of female anger and the intricate political interplay of emotion and power.
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Dark Money: How a Secretive Group of Billionaires is Trying to Buy Political Control in the US by Jane Mayer

The subtitle of this extraordinarily well-researched and well-written book captures its topic quite succinctly, but the revelations come in how nefarious the secretive billionaires are, how much their views don’t reflect the mainstream, and how effective their efforts have been. Dark Money gave me so much insight into how Trump had become president in 2016 that I wanted everyone I knew to read the book. I literally bought five copies to give away (I do know more than five people, but I was trying to be reasonable.)

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Dark Money is a powerful and meticulously researched journey into the slow death of democracy in the United States. Investigative journalist Jane Mayer reveals the network of grossly under-taxed billionaires on their way to gain control over the entire American electoral system, in order to maintain and deepen the intense economic inequality that works in their favour.
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Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Published in 2015 and written in the form of a letter to his then-teenage son, this short and powerful book is a memoir of Coates’ own experiences and a brutal and extremely persuasive indictment of American racism. Coates is one of the US’s foremost intellectuals, and he writes about race and racism with great lucidity.

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Framed as a letter to his son, Coates’s intimate and eloquent dissection of America’s tumultuous relationship with race is an invigorating collection of personal flashpoints that broadened the author’s understanding of racial injustice.
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The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst

In this acclaimed novel, which won the Booker in 2004, a recent Oxford graduate named Nick moves in with the family of his friend, whose father is a Tory MP. I love everything about The Line of Beauty: how intelligent it is in examining class, romance, and yearning; how elegant yet unpretentious the language is; how ambitious and fully realized its scope is.

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A profound panorama of British politics, sex and society in the Thatcherite 1980s, Hollinghurst’s Booker Prize-winning novel sees naïve Nick Guest enter the orbit of a Tory MP and his glamorous family.
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