For Freshmen. By Freshmen.
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Aug 30 2017
by Avery Lumeng

8 Book Recommendations for Political Science Majors

By Avery Lumeng - Aug 30 2017

Like a lot of college majors outside of STEM, political science requires a lot of reading. However, depending on your classes and major requirements, many political science majors may miss out on some of the best political science writings in the modern era. Whether you’re someone just considering a political science major who wants to learn more, or you're a current poli-sci major who wants to expand his or her knowledge, here are eight books to add to your reading list.

1. "Game Change" by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann


This is my personal favorite from the list. Political reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann use their experiences and access to campaigns to write the magnum opus of the 2008 presidential campaign, focusing on the vicious Democratic primary battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Sarah Palin’s impact on John McCain’s campaign and everything in between. If you’re in college right now, there’s a good chance you only vaguely remember the 2008 presidential election. This book is an easy guide to the most important election in decades — until 2016, that is. Click to read all 448 pages.

2. "What It Takes" by Richard Ben Cramer


This is like "Game Change" cranked up to 11. Ostensibly a book about the 1988 presidential election, it’s really 1,000+ pages about four major candidates: Bob Dole, Gary Hart, Michael Dukakis and George H.W. Bush. The 1988 election wasn’t especially remarkable or historically important. However, Richard Ben Cramer’s work examines what drives someone to aspire to be in the highest office in the land and to be crazy enough to actually try to reach it. Click to read all 1,072 pages.

3. A Political Memoir


I have some specific book recommendations, but some have to be more broad: Political science itself is a fairly broad discipline, with numerous conflicting arguments on virtually every level. That’s why I can’t recommend one specific political memoir — there are literally hundreds. In many respects, political memoirs have very little purpose in the lives of everyday people. They’re almost exclusively written to make money or to set up a presidential campaign, and thus they rarely contain any substance. Still, it’s worth reading at least one to understand what they are and to know whether you want to steer clear of them in the future. (Pictured: Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father and Mitch McConnell's The Long Game)

4. "The Prince" by Niccolo Machiavelli


Most of the books on this list deal with politics, not political theory. In fact, there’s a good chance that you have read or will read "The Prince" in one of your political theory classes — it’s a classic of political books. On the off chance that you only read the Cliffnotes for your class, however, here’s encouragement that you should actually read this book. It was written hundreds of years ago, but the political strategies and theories about people who enter politics still hold true. Also, it’s only a little over a hundred pages, making it the shortest book on this list by a long shot. Click to read all 140 pages.

5. "All the President’s Men" by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward


The latter half of this list is almost exclusively historical, and with good reason: political science and history have so much overlap, at some schools it’s difficult to pursue both fields of study without contradictory classes. The first must be "All the President’s Men," the most comprehensive account of the most consequential American political event since World War II. Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, two journalists for The Washington Post, document their investigation of the Watergate scandal which eventually led to Richard Nixon’s resignation from the highest office in the land. Not only is it a great history of the Watergate scandal, but it’s also one of the best books about investigative journalism out there. Click to read all 480 pages.

6. "The Years of Lyndon Johnson" by Robert Caro


Speaking of mid-twentieth century presidents, Robert Caro’s magnum opus, a five-volume examination of Lyndon B. Johnson’s life and political rise, is a must-read for political and history buffs. Unlike other political biographies, the series is not important for its examination of its central figure, but rather how Caro uses the career of Lyndon Johnson to examine political power and great movements in history. From a personal side, the series also stands out for its unflinching portrayal of Johnson as a complex man who flip-flopped every moment between political scheming and optimistic progressivism. "The Path to Power" is 882 pages.

7. "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" by William L. Shirer


The second book on our list to leave the United States, Journalist William L. Shirer examines the genesis of Nazi Germany, beginning at Adolf Hitler’s birth, and concludes with the end of World War II, using primary documents throughout. More than just a historical book, Shirer also considers what led Germany to be so susceptible to Nazism. While Third Reich has problems, it is still considered the preeminent accessible history of Nazi Germany. Click to read all 1,614 pages.

8. "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin


If you want all of the great things from the rest of this list — profiles of politicians, political intrigue and history of epic proportions — in one package, "Team of Rivals" is the book for you. The basis for Steven Spielberg’s 2012 film "Lincoln," "Team of Rivals" documents the meteoric rise of Abraham Lincoln, conflict with his cabinet (three of whom had been his electoral rivals in the past) and how the 16th president achieved a political and militaristic reconciliation of the United States. It is 916 pages.

You’ll read plenty of excellent political books and works in your courses. However, to truly expand your understanding of our world of politics, you need to step outside of the classroom and into the past, present and future. 

Lead Image Credit: Jacob Creswick via Unsplash

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Avery Lumeng - Wellesley College

Avery is a politics junkie and statistics nerd from Ann Arbor, MI. She is attending Wellesley College as a member of the class of 2021 in the fall, majoring in political science and minoring in mathematics. // Twitter: @avery_lumeng // Instagram: @averylumeng

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