Read and resist: Essential books in the Trump era
Bill McKibben, Dave Eggers, Margaret Atwood and others explain what words inspire them to keep fighting
Donald Trump’s presidency provides daily, sometimes hourly, outrages — from his assault on climate action to his separating immigrant children from their families to his active and ongoing collusion with Vladimir Putin to subvert our democracy.
No wonder the original “resistance” movement has grown so big. So it seemed like a good time to highlight some books, both new and old, worth reading in these troubled times.
In a series titled “Resistance Reading,” Mother Jones talked to authors, activists, and others (including me) last year for book recommendations “that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor.”
But before listing those, here are a few newer books:
- Naomi Klein — No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need
- David Frum — Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic.
- Madeleine Albright — Fascism: A Warning
- Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblat — How Democracies Die
And if you’re looking for a handbook for action in the Trump era….
“How To Go Viral is today’s must-read primer on messaging and persuasion for every progressive candidate, organizer, volunteer, and activist,” says former presidential candidate Gov. Martin O’Malley.
While How to Go Viral and Reach Millions will benefit any communicator, I wrote this specifically for those who are fighting back against Trump.
“We’re in an age of protest,” says Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org and one of the world’s best writers on climate. Here’s the “Resistance Reading” he recommended to Mother Jones:
- Rules for Revolutionaries, by Becky Bond and Zack Exley. They “spearheaded Bernie’s distributed organizing team” and “understand the tools that work right now for big change.”
- This Is an Uprising, by Paul and Mark Engler. McKibben calls it “the best summary of all that the last 75 years has taught us about nonviolent organizing.” He adds: “It’s the book I wish I’d had a decade ago, because it would have saved a lot of trial-and-error experimentation as we got 350.org up and running.”
- The Lord of the Rings, since it’s about “a horrible tyrant. An obsession with power…. Small folks doing their bit. And it comes out all right at the end. Or sort of all right. So comforting!”
- Moby-Dick, “An arrogant, narcissistic, crazed captain bent on revenge tackles the life force of Nature, and loses…. Don’t let it happen!”
- Darkness At Noon, by Arthur Koestler, about “how totalitarianisms brainwash people into caving in.” It’s “not exactly consoling, but forewarned is sometimes forearmed.”
McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers — author of the 2013 dystopian novel (and now movie), “The Circle,” as well as “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” has two recommendations:
- It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis’s classic 1935 book of semi-satirical fascist prophecy.
- The Great Lie, a collection of essays by writers who lived under tyranny, such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Václav Havel, and Hannah Arendt, for those who want to understand “the parallels between our current flirtations with truthless fascism and those societies that were truly crushed by totalitarianism.”
My own recommendations focus on collections of short essays:
- Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings, edited by Roy Basler and Carl Sandburg, is a master class on what America needed to do to preserve liberty the last time we were so divided. Alongside classics like the Gettysburg Address are gems like “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions,” in which a 28-year-old Lincoln explains the danger to the Republic of a demagogue just like Trump.
- A Collection of Essays, by George Orwell features the best work from the greatest essayist of the 20th century. Orwell is so relevant today, over six decades after his death, that he’s routinely ranked as Amazon’s №1 author in both “classics” and “contemporary” literature and fiction. Few essays offer better commentary on our alternative-facts president than 1946’s “Politics and the English Language,” in which Orwell explains why “in our time, political speech and writing are largely the defence of the indefensible.”
- Brave New World Revisited, by Aldous Huxley is a 1956 collection of essays Huxley wrote about the dystopian future he had envisioned in this 1932 classic. Essays like “Propaganda in a democratic society” and “Subconscious persuasion” are as relevant today as Orwell’s essays. One must-read is Huxley’s 1949 letter to Orwell (author of 1984) about which of their dystopias would turn out to be more prescient.
Trump’s twin wars on climate and democracy are really inseparable at this point, and both can lead to dystopia.
So all those who resist Trump need to understand how people can fight back against his totalitarian instincts. The above recommendations are a good place to start.