The 2024 Summer of Democracy Reading List

We asked, and you delivered. Here's the 2024 Summer of Democracy Reading List, as nominated by Nebraskans and selected by Civic Nebraska staff.

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Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture

Kyle Chayka, 2024
With algorithms increasingly influencing not just what culture we consume, but what culture is produced, urgent questions arise: What happens when shareability supersedes messiness, innovation, and creativity—the qualities that make us human? What does it mean to make a choice when the options have been so carefully arranged for us? Is personal freedom possible on the Internet? Filterworld argues yes — but to escape Filterworld, and even transcend it, we must first understand it.

Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America

Heather Cox Richardson, 2023
With the same accessible voice that brings millions to her newsletter Letters from an American, Richardson singles out what we should pay attention to and what paths lie ahead. Her command of history and plainspoken prose allow her to pivot from the Founders to abolitionists to Reconstruction to Nixon to the Jan. 6 insurrection, highlighting the political legacies of the New Deal, fears of socialism, and “movement conservatism.” An essential read for anyone concerned about the state of America, Democracy Awakening is more than a history book – it’s a call to action. 

Healing The Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit

Parker J. Palmer, 2024
In this updated edition, Parker J. Palmer celebrates the power of “We the People” to resist the politics of divide and conquer. Palmer writes about what we can do to restore civil discourse, reach for understanding across lines of difference, focus on our shared values, and hold elected officials accountable. He explores ways to reweave the communal fabric on which democracy depends in everyday settings such as families, neighborhoods, classrooms, congregations, workplaces, and public spaces ― including five “habits of the heart” to fulfill America’s promise of human equality.

American Civil Wars: A Continental History, 1850-73

Alan Taylor, 2024
In a fast-paced narrative of soaring ideals and sordid politics, of civil war and foreign invasion, Taylor presents a pivotal 20-year period in which the United States, Mexico, and Canada all transformed into nations. The U.S. Civil War stands at the center of the story, and its military history and the drama of emancipation are the highlights. It’s a rollicking story of liberal ideals, political venality, and corporate corruption that marked the dawn of the Gilded Age in North America.

The End of Everything: How Wars Descend Into Annihilation

Victor Davis Hanson, 2024
War can settle disputes, topple tyrants, and bend the trajectory of civilization — sometimes to the breaking point. Moments when war ends in annihilation have signaled the end of political systems, cultures, and epochs. Though much has changed over the millennia, modern societies are not immune from a war of extinction. Highlighting the naivete that plagued the vanquished and the wrath that justified mass slaughter, Hanson delivers a sobering call to contemporary readers to heed the lessons of obliteration, unless we blunder into catastrophe once again. 

Streets of Gold: America's Untold Story of Immigrant Success

Ran Abramitzky & Leah Boustan, 2022
Immigration is one of the most fraught and misunderstood topics in American social discourse. Yet, in most cases, what we believe about immigration is based largely on myth. Using the tools of modern data analysis and 10 years of pioneering research, new evidence is provided about the past and present of the American Dream, debunking myths fostered by political opportunism and sentimentalized in family histories, and draw counterintuitive conclusions. Abramitzky and Boustan provide a new take on American history with surprising results, especially how comparable the “golden era” of immigration is to today, and why many current policy proposals are so misguided.

Provincials: Postcards from the Peripheries

Sumana Roy, 2024
Who is a provincial? In this subversive book, Sumana Roy assembles a striking cast whose lives and work provide varied answers to that question. Combining memoir with the history of an ignored people, she challenges the metropolitan’s dominance to reclaim the joyous dignity of provincial life, its tics and taunts, enthusiasms, and tragicomedies. In “postcards” from the peripheries of India, Europe, America, and the Middle East, Roy brings us deep into the imaginative world of those who have carried their provinciality like a birthmark. Her unprecedented account of provincial life offers an alternative portrait of our modern world.

The Exhausted of the Earth: Politics in a Burning World

Ajay Singh Chaudhary, 2024
Climate change is not only about the exhaustion of the planet, it’s about the exhaustion of so many of us, our lives, our worlds, even our minds. Ajay Singh Chaudhary brings together both the science and the politics of climate change. He shows how a new politics particular to the climate catastrophe demands a bitter struggle between those attached to the power, wealth, and security of “business-as-usual” and all of us, those exhausted, in every sense of the word, by the status quo. The Exhausted of the Earth outlines the politics and the power needed to alter the course of our world far beyond, far better than, mere survival.

Allow Me To Retort: A Black Guy's Guide to the Constitution

Elie Mystal, 2022
An easily digestible argument about what rights we have, what rights certain politicians are trying to take away, and how to stop them. Mystal explains how to protect the rights of women and people of color instead of cowering to the absolutism of gun owners and bigots. He explains the legal way to stop everything from police brutality to political gerrymandering, just by changing a few judges and justices. He strips out all of the fancy jargon some pundits and politicians hide behind and lays bare the truth of their project to keep America forever tethered to its slaveholding past.

Oath and Honor: A Memoir and a Warning

Liz Cheney, 2023
In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump and many around him, including certain other elected officials, breached their oath to the Constitution: they ignored the rulings of dozens of courts, plotted to overturn a lawful election, and provoked a violent attack on our Capitol. Liz Cheney, one of the few Republican officials to stand against these efforts, witnessed the attack first-hand, then helped lead the Congressional Select Committee investigation into how it happened. She tells the story of this perilous moment, those who helped spread the stolen election lie, those whose actions preserved our Constitution, and the risks we still face.

Respect and Loathing in American Democracy: Polarization, Moralization, and the Undermining of Equality

Jeff Spinner-Halev & Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, 2024
Many Americans believe respecting others is a necessary virtue, yet many struggle to respect opposing partisans. Surprisingly, it is liberal citizens, who hold respect as central to their view of democratic equality, who often have difficulty granting respect to others. Political theorists Spinner-Halev and Theiss-Morse (of Nebraska U.) explain why this is and why respect is vital to —and yet so lacking in — modern politics. Then, they propose a path forward that, while challenging, is far from impossible for citizens to traverse.

Young Readers

Rise Up and Write It!

Nandini Ahuja (author), Anoosha Syed (illustrator) ; ages 4-8
When Farah Patel realizes that the butterflies have disappeared from her neighborhood, she discovers that it’s likely because there aren’t enough flowers to attract them. She can’t help but think, “This isn’t right.” Luckily enough, Grove Hills is looking for ideas on what to do with the empty lot next door. And Farah has the perfect one — make it into a community garden to bring back a little green to their block! But when Farah finds out that she isn’t the only one with a plan for the future of Grove Hills, she’ll have to turn to her community for help. Readers can open the six envelopes inside to follow the story as Farah rises up and brings her neighborhood together.

Crenshaw

Katherine Applegate; ages 8-10
Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan again.
Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary. This title has Common Core connections.

All My Rage

Sabaa Tahir; ages 14-up
Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding.  
 
Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him —and Juniper — forever. When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth—and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst. It’s a breathtaking novel of young love, old regrets, and forgiveness—one that’s both tragic and poignant in its tender ferocity.

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