The 2021 Summer of Democracy Reading List

In honor of the 14 weeks between now and Labor Day, here are 14 reads about civic life, democracy, history, politics, and more.

Since 2018, Civic Nebraska has kicked off the summer with some suggested reading, nominated by our staff and by you, our loyal supporters. Together with our partners at the Omaha Public Library and Lincoln City Libraries, we encourage Nebraskans to dive into books about civics, history, politics, and human nature this summer. You can use the 14 titles on this year’s List to fill the 14 weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day – or go at your own pace, whatever you wish. Of course, the 2021 Reading List is also special to us because it includes our book, which was released April 27.

Reclaiming We: Twenty Everyday Acts to Strengthen the Common Good and Defend Democracy

Civic Nebraska, Steve Smith (2021)
Our country is at a crossroads: One path, fixated on the me, inevitably benefits the powerful and well-connected. But the other path leads to we – a reinvigoration of community, mutual responsibility, faith in our democratic institutions, and limitless civic power. We can only set ourselves on the right path if we act daily on democracy’s behalf. Civic Nebraska outlines twenty straightforward steps any American can take to co-create a more vibrant, informed, civically healthy democracy.
Amazon ~ B&N ~ Francie & Finch (Lincoln) ~ The Bookworm (Omaha) ~ Chapters Books & Gifts (Seward)

After Democracy: Imagining Our Political Future

Zizi Papacharissi (2021)
What if democracy is a transition stage to something better? Drawing on original interviews conducted with citizens of more than 30 countries, Papacharissi explores what democracy is, what it means to be a citizen, and what can be done to enhance governance. This book expands on the well-known difficulties of realizing the intimacy of democracy in a global world – the “democratic paradox” – and presents a concrete vision of how communications technologies can be harnessed to implement representative equality, information equality, and civic literacy.

Amazon ~ B&N ~ Francie & Finch (Lincoln) ~ The Bookworm (Omaha) ~ Chapters Books & Gifts (Seward)

How Emotions Are Made:
The Secret Life of the Brain

Lisa Feldman Barrett (2018)
Feldman Barrett overturns the belief that emotions are automatic, universal, and hardwired in different brain regions. Instead, we construct each instance of emotion through a unique interplay of brain, body, and culture. How Emotions Are Made reveals the real-world consequences of this breakthrough for everything from neuroscience and medicine to the legal system and even national security, laying bare the immense implications of our latest and most intimate scientific revolution.
Amazon ~ B&N ~ Francie & Finch (Lincoln) ~ The Bookworm (Omaha) ~ Chapters Books & Gifts (Seward)

Beyond Civility: The Competing Obligations of Citizenship

William Keith, Robert Danisch (2021)
Distinguishing civility from politeness, Keith and Danisch claim that civil argument must be redirected from the goal of political comity to that of building and maintaining relationships of minimal respect in the public sphere. They also take into account how civility enables discrimination, indicating conditions under which uncivil resistance is called for. When viewed as a communication practice for uniting people with differences and making them more equal, civility is transformed from a preferable way of speaking into an essential component of democratic life.

Amazon ~ B&N ~ Francie & Finch (Lincoln) ~ The Bookworm (Omaha) ~ Chapters Books & Gifts (Seward)

The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope

Jonathan Alter (2007)
This is the story of a political miracle, the perfect match of man and moment. Rich in insights and with fresh documentation and colorful detail, this thrilling story of presidential leadership – of what government is for – resonates through the events of today. It deepens our understanding of how Franklin Delano Roosevelt restored hope and transformed America.

Amazon ~ B&N ~ Francie & Finch (Lincoln) ~ The Bookworm (Omaha) ~ Chapters Books & Gifts (Seward)

The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters

Tom Nichols (2018)
Today, everyone knows everything. Average citizens believe themselves to be on an equal intellectual footing with doctors and diplomats. All voices, even the most ridiculous, demand to be taken with equal seriousness, and any claim to the contrary is dismissed as undemocratic elitism. Nichols shows how this rejection of experts has occurred: the openness of the internet, the emergence of a customer satisfaction model in higher ed, and the transformation of the news industry into a 24-hour entertainment machine, among other reasons.

Amazon ~ B&N ~ Francie & Finch (Lincoln) ~ The Bookworm (Omaha) ~ Chapters Books & Gifts (Seward)

Reconstructing Democracy: How Citizens Are Building From the Ground Up

Charles Taylor, Patrizia Nanz, Madeleine Beaubein Taylor (2020)
To restore responsible government, we must reinvigorate democracy locally. But what does that mean? Drawing on examples of successful community-building in cities large and small, the authors make a powerful case for re-engaging citizens. They highlight innovative grassroots projects and show how local activists can form alliances and discover their own power to solve problems.

Amazon ~ B&N ~ Francie & Finch (Lincoln) ~ The Bookworm (Omaha) ~ Chapters Books & Gifts (Seward)

We the Possibility: Harnessing Public Entrepreneurship to Solve Our Most Urgent Problems

Mitchell Weiss (2021)
Entrepreneurial spirit and savvy in government are growing, transforming the public sector’s response to big problems at all levels. The key is a shift from a mindset of Probability Government – overly focused on safe solutions and mimicking so-called best practices – to Possibility Government. This means public leadership and management that’s willing to boldly imagine new possibilities and to experiment. We the Possibility provides inspiration and a positive model, along with crucial guardrails, to help shape progress for generations to come.

Amazon ~ B&N ~ Francie & Finch (Lincoln) ~ The Bookworm (Omaha) ~ Chapters Books & Gifts (Seward)

Of Bears and Ballots: An Alaskan Adventure in Small-Town Politics

Heather Lende (2020)
Heather Lende was inspired to take a more active role in politics during the past few years. Though her entire campaign for assembly member in Haines, Alaska, cost less than $1,000, she won. But Haines – a place accessible from the nearest city, Juneau, only by boat or plane – isn’t the sleepy town that it appears to be: We witness the nitty-gritty of passing legislation, the ideals of our Republic, and how national politics of our era play out in one small town. With an entertaining cast of characters, this inspirational tale is about what living in a community really means, and what we owe one another. 

Amazon ~ B&N ~ Francie & Finch (Lincoln) ~ The Bookworm (Omaha) ~ Chapters Books & Gifts (Seward)

The Address Book: What Street Addresses Reveal About Identity, Race, Wealth, and Power

Deirdre Mask (2020)
When most people think about street addresses, it is in their capacity to ensure that mail is delivered or travelers don’t get lost. But addresses weren’t invented to help us find our way; they were created to find us. In many places, your address can reveal your race and class. Mask looks at the fate of streets named after Martin Luther King Jr., the wayfinding means of ancient Romans, and how Nazis still haunt German streets. We also see what not having an address means for millions, including those who live in Kolkata slums and on London streets. The Address Book illuminates the complex and hidden stories behind street names and their power to name, to hide, to decide who counts, who doesn’t – and why.

Amazon ~ B&N ~ Francie & Finch (Lincoln) ~ The Bookworm (Omaha) ~ Chapters Books & Gifts (Seward)

Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter – Then, Now, and Forever

John McWhorter (2021)
Profanity has always been a part of our lexicon. In fact, our ability to curse comes from a different part of the brain than other parts of speech – the urgency with which we swear is instead related to the instinct that tells us to avoid danger. Language evolves with time, and so does what we consider profane or unspeakable. Nine Nasty Words is an examination of profanity, explored from every angle: historical, sociological, political. In a particularly coarse moment, when the public discourse is shaped in part by once-shocking words, nothing could be timelier.

Amazon ~ B&N ~ Francie & Finch (Lincoln) ~ The Bookworm (Omaha) ~ Chapters Books & Gifts (Seward)

National Pastimes: Cinema, Sports, and Nation

Katharina Bonzel (2020)
A fascinating work that discloses the common emotional and visual cues that belie each sports film’s underlying nationalistic impulses. Bonzel unravels the delicate matrix of national identity, sports, and emotion through the lens of popular sports films in comparative national contexts, demonstrating in the process how popular culture provides a powerful vehicle for the development and maintenance of identities of place across a range of national cinemas. National Pastimes opens up a new understanding of how films appeal to emotions, using myth-like constructions of the past to cultivate spectators’ engagement with historical events.

Amazon ~ B&N ~ Francie & Finch (Lincoln) ~ The Bookworm (Omaha) ~ Chapters Books & Gifts (Seward)

Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019

Ibram X. Kendi, Keisha N. Blain (2021)
A unique one-volume “community” history of African Americans from 1619-2019. Ninety writers each take on a five-year period of that 400-year span. The writers explore their periods through historical essays, short stories, personal vignettes, and fiery polemics. They approach history through the eyes of towering historical icons or the untold stories of ordinary people; through places, laws, and objects. While resistance, struggle, hope and reinvention course through the book, this collection deconstructs the idea that Africans in America are a monolith. It unlocks the range of experiences and ideas that have always existed within the community of Blackness.

Amazon ~ B&N ~ Francie & Finch (Lincoln) ~ The Bookworm (Omaha) ~ Chapters Books & Gifts (Seward)

We Gather Together: A Nation Divided, a President in Turmoil, and a Historic Campaign to Embrace Gratitude and Peace

Denise Kiernan (2020)
We Gather Together is anchored amid the strife of the Civil War, and driven by the fascinating story of Sarah Josepha Hale, a widowed mother with no formal schooling who became one of the 19th century’s most influential tastemakers and who campaigned for decades to make real an annual day of thanks. The stories of indigenous peoples, immigrant communities, women’s rights activists, abolitionists, and more inspires us to rethink and reclaim what it means to give thanks. The message of gratitude makes it one to read and share, over and over, at any time of year.

Amazon ~ B&N ~ Francie & Finch (Lincoln) ~ The Bookworm (Omaha) ~ Chapters Books & Gifts (Seward)

Previous Summer of Democracy Reading Lists
2020 | 2019 | 2018

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Sharon Robino-West
2 years ago

Love this list! Some great reads in here. Thanks for sharing this.


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