Lance Bennett (Professor of Political Science; Ruddick C. Lawrence Professor of Communication; Director, Center for Communication and Civic Engagement)
I recommend Republic Lost by Lawrence Lessig. It is an accessible and insightful look at how money has corrupted American democracy and what we can do about it. As Lessig points out, simply inventing legal language to allow the tide of money to flood into our elections and policy processes does not make it acceptable. The Supreme Court can call money speech, or regard corporations as people, but the reality is a loss of democratic representation and political equality. As the title suggests, the republic may be lost unless the people decide to take it back.
Jamie Mayerfeld (Professor of Political Science)
Among books I’ve recently read, one that I would recommend is Scott Horton’s Lords of Secrecy. Horton argues that over the past few decades US national security elites have extended secrecy beyond its proper sphere, using it to wrest political decision-making from the public and block effective oversight. The result is a rise in bureaucratic incompetence, wrongdoing, and criminality; a passive Congress; and a confused and apathetic public. Horton is sparklingly clear on the threat that pervasive secrecy poses to democracy, and his grasp of political, bureaucratic, legal, and international realities is remarkable. You will learn a lot from this book whether or not you agree with all its conclusions.
Megan Ming Francis (Assistant Professor of Political Science)
I recommend Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics by Cathy Cohen. This is a standout book in political science. It combines a trenchant analysis of American politics, theory, and race and ethnic politics. Written at a time when only a handful of politicians and even fewer academics had focused on the AIDS epidemic in the black community, Cohen breaks new ground and analyzes how cross-cutting issues of class, gender, and sexuality challenge accepted ideas of who belongs in the community. Not only is the subject relevant to a people from a wide variety of disciplines, but Cohen employs a multi-method approach that combines quantitative with qualitative data—including interviews with activists, ministers, public officials, and people with AIDS. When I read Boundaries of Blackness in graduate school, it transformed my view of what type of scholarship was possible in political science.
Rebecca Thorpe (Assistant Professor of Political Science)
Reading Plato’s Republic during my freshman year of college is what first led me to become a political science major and pursue a career in the field. Plato’s dialogue between Socrates and his interlocutors concerns the meaning of justice, as well as the order of just communities and of virtuous individuals. I would also recommend Frederich Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals. Nietzsche’s theory of the origin of democratic morality and critique of moral values kindled my interest in power, violence and alternative theories of value.
Susan Whiting (Associate Professor of Political Science)
Classic and prize-winning, Charles Epp's The Rights Revolution, a study of the 20th Century Civil Rights "revolution" in the US, UK, Canada, and India, is well worth reading for the insights it offers not only into law and courts in democracies, but also in authoritarian regimes in the 21st Century. With lucid writing and analysis, Epp weighs the contributions of constitutional design, judicial attitudes, popular legal culture, and support structures (like the ACLU) to the achievement of meaningful civil rights and concludes that support structures are key. As the battle over the next appointment to the Supreme Court simmers in the US, revisiting Epp's argument suggests that organizations that help bring cases to the courts may be even more important than the results of the judicial appointment process. In authoritarian regimes, like China, that have adopted constitutional "protections" on paper, tolerated debates on judicial "independence," and even promoted popular awareness of "rights," Epp's framework draws attention to the brutal effectiveness of suppressing groups organized around rights advocacy. I recommend this book for its powerful message that demand for law is as important as its supply.