The 2019 Summer of Democracy Reading List

Civic Nebraska staff, supporters, and the public have picked their favorite books about democracy to read this summer.


We asked, and you delivered. In May, we put out the call for favorite books on citizenship, civic life, government, and democracy in general. Staff, supporters, and the public sent in more than 50 nominations. Today we’ve narrowed those down to 23 titles for this year’s Summer of Democracy Reading List.

This year’s list ranges from how-to’s in self-government to deep dives into the diversity of American civic life. It’s a mix of history, memoir, travelogue, even a dash of irreverence. We hope you find a selection (or two, or 23) that you resolve to read amid your travel, fireworks, and other summer activities this year.

Thanks to A Novel Idea in Lincoln for amplifying our call for nominations, and to Lincoln City Libraries and the Omaha Public Library, which will again feature Summer of Democracy Reading List displays at branches around each city. We’re grateful to our partners in encouraging meaningful reading this summer.

Last but not least: If you wish to start or join conversations about any of your readings this summer, be sure to join The Freedom Readers, our Facebook group for Summer of Democracy participants. See you over there. 

Without further ado, here it is: Our 2019 Summer of Democracy Reading List. Enjoy! 

Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility and Democracy
Eric Liu (2019)
4 nominations

“Liu challenges us to re-humanize our politics and to rekindle a spirit of love in civic life, to be engaged in today’s difficult and divided politics, and to restore hope in our country. Liu takes on these tough topics, providing inspiration and solace in a time of anger, fear, and dismay over the state of the Union. The explorations of democracy, liberty, equal justice, and citizenship implores readers to get involved to help rebuild a nation we’re proud to call home.”

Amazon | B & N


The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters
Priya Parker (2018)
2 nominations
“The gatherings in our lives don’t have to be lackluster and unproductive. Parker suggests instead of relying on routine, we should focus on distinctiveness and the people involved. At a time when coming together is more important than ever, Parker sets forth a human-centered approach to gathering that will help everyone create meaningful, memorable experiences, large and small, for work and for play.”

Amazon | B & N 


Great Plains Politics
Peter J. Longo (2018)
2 nominations
“The Great Plains has long been home to unconventional and leading-edge politics, from the fiery Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan to the country’s first female U.S. representative and first female governor to the nation’s only single-house Legislature. Longo provides a lively tour of our region through the civic and political contributions of its citizens.”

Amazon | B & N 

Our Towns: A 100,000-mile Journey into the Heart of America
James Fallows and Deborah Fallows (2018)
“For five years, James and Deborah Fallows traveled across America in a single-engine airplane. This is their attempt to capture the spirit of our country, told town-by-town through a host of different real-life characters. Each account details economic, social, cultural, and political capital at play in these communities, and highlights civic health as a whole.”
Amanda Barker, Civic Nebraska

Amazon | B & N 

I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual
Luvvie Ajayi (2016)
“Luvvie is hella funny and honest about what’s going down in dear America. Speaking on the rights and respect of women, she asks: ‘How many love stories begin with, He yelled at me from his car as I was going to work ?’ And on racism: ‘The United States of America was built on the backs of black and brown people, and it still stands on our necks. This is why I’m judging this country for the racism that permeates everything about it.’ There’s a blend and balance of personal tidbits and big-picture problem-solving (a.k.a. productive judgment).” – Emily Koopmann, Civic Nebraska

Amazon | B & N 

Democracy in America
Alexis de Tocqueville (1835)
“A classic that remains one of the best analyses of early America – and also a predictor of some of the unique trends we would see in our country over the next couple hundred years. It is a balanced analysis of the United States, weighing the benefits of our kind of society with its costs. If it were widely read, the benefits would be become more pronounced while the costs would diminish.”
Daniel Bennett, Civic Nebraska

Amazon | B & N

What You Should Know About Politics … But Don’t: A Nonpartisan Guide to the Issues that Matter
Jessamyn Conrad (2016 edition)
“This is a super-approachable primer that lays out major political issues, from the economy to foreign policy to energy. Each chapter handles one major topic, provides basic background, defines some buzzwords, and tells an interesting story of how this issue has evolved with (or against) our nation. If you don’t want a long read, each chapter starts with some Cliff’s Notes-style bullet points.”
Westin Miller, Civic Nebraska

Amazon | B & N 

The Right To Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States
Alexander Keyssar (2008)
“This book provides a wide-ranging and clearly written history of the meandering course of voting-rights development since the 18th century. Keyssar explains recurring debates over equality under the law for racial and ethnic groups in American society. Women’s suffrage is extensively examined. His analysis shows the evolving concept of American identity. And this history connects right to the present day, given the ongoing political and legal battles over voting rights issues.” – G.S., Omaha

Amazon | B & N 

The Fifth Risk
Michael Lewis (2018)
“This is a story on the transition of the federal bureaucracy from President Obama to President Trump. After reading this, I had a greater appreciation for our federal bureaucracy and a fear for the future of the work they do.”
– A.L., McCook

Amazon | B & N 

Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone)
Sam Wineburg (2018)
“Sam Wineburg is well-known to most history teachers because many schools use his materials, but they probably don’t know that his current research involves how to think critically about online civic information. Many are talking right now about how we need to think more critically about political claims on social media but very few have anything useful to say about how to do that. Wineburg has evidence-based proposals about how we can help people ‘fact check’ in ways that actually work.” – R.M., Lincoln

Amazon | B & N 

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (2015)
“I consider it fundamental reading for anyone trying to truly understand how this nation has historically engaged with indigenous people. The civics lessons in this book are most often ones we don’t want to repeat, and there are things to be learned even today about how our government is still at odds with the basic rights of indigenous people.” – L.C., Nebraska City

Amazon | B & N 

Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States
Samantha Allen (2019)
2 nominations
“This cross-country road-trip stretches from Provo, Utah, to the Rio Grande Valley to the Bible Belt to the Deep South, and celebrates the vibrancy and vitality of queer communities in ‘red’ states like Nebraska. In this way, it is a great book on bridging difference and in demystifying the idea that Nebraska and other conservative states are simply unfriendly to the LGBT community.” – B.C., Omaha

 Amazon | B & N 


I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening)
Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers (2019)
“This book is authored by two women, mothers, lawyers; one registered Democrat and one registered Republican. They do a great job of breaking down and discussing how we need to handle all types of conversations among people of different sides of the political/belief spectrum. These could be conversations with your elected official (or constituent), neighbor, or family member. We need to engage in conversations with others beyond just the niceties, but it is almost as if we need a road map instead of just shying away from certain topics.” – H.J., Lincoln

Amazon | B & N 

Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope
Johann Hari (2018)
“Hari uses extensive research and personal experience to outline nine causes of depression and anxiety. Of the nine, five are disconnection from things directly related to civic life: disconnection from meaningful work, disconnection from other people, disconnection from meaningful values, disconnection from status and respect, and disconnection from a hopeful or secure future.” – M.W., Lincoln

Amazon | B & N 

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
Carol Anderson (2016)
“It’s so important for people, especially privileged white people, to understand the history of the black American experience beyond our high-school textbooks. I knew our racism was systemic, I just didn’t know just how much it was. This book was a real awakening to anyone of privilege and strikes at the core of our ‘democratic’ beliefs and principles of equality for all.” – B.J., Omaha

Amazon | B & N 

It Can’t Happen Here
Sinclair Lewis (1935)
“This classic cautionary tale about fascism taking hold in the United States dramatically unveils just about how fragile American democracy could be. When it was published during the Great Depression, it was called ‘a message to thinking Americans.’ Its lessons persist today.”
– Julie Ward, Civic Nebraska

Amazon | B & N 

A People’s Future of the United States
Edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams (2018)
“This collection of 25 creative near-future stories is sometimes anxious, sometimes full of hope, but always thought-provoking. Many of the stories detail an American nation that could come to pass soon – and, too often, one that already seems chillingly real. But through it all there’s an optimism to A People’s Future, emphasizing empathy while focusing on what could happen, both good and bad, to the marginalized among us in these imagined futures.”
– Steve Smith, Civic Nebraska

Amazon | B & N 

The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas (2017)
“This may be young-adult fiction, but it’s a must-read for everyone. Angie Thomas carefully and masterfully tackles police brutality through eyes of 16-year-old Starr Carter, telling an inspiring story about identity and activism. This remarkable story is a great conversation starter for parents and their children (middle school and up), adult book clubs, and more.” Bridget Claborn, Civic Nebraska

Amazon | B & N 

Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win
By Jo Piazza (2018)
2 nominations
“Charlotte Walsh leaves a high-paying job in Silicon Valley to return to her hometown in Pennsylvania and run for a midterm Senate seat. ‘This campaign isn’t about the fact that I’m a woman,’ she says. ‘It’s not about how I got pregnant and it’s not about my husband. It’s about the voters of Pennsylvania. It’s about disrupting a broken system.’ But the press, and especially the opposition, don’t see it that way, and the election becomes mired in the things that pushed her to run in the first place. This novel fiercely scrutinizes the constant turmoil women face in a patriarchal government.”

Amazon | B & N 

By Sam Lipsyte (2019)
2 nominations
“An uproarious tale of Hark Morner, a wannabe stand-up comedian who gets a gig as a fake corporate expert paid to give strange speeches about some charlatan’s philosophy. Thus he creates ‘mental archery,’ a mix of jargon, platitudes, and self-help B.S. aimed at focus and productivity. Hark’s phony philosophy, though, ends up gaining him legions of followers, all of whom are so desperate for meaning that they’ll find it anywhere, even where it absolutely isn’t.”

Amazon | B & N 

Rosie Revere, Engineer
Andrea Beaty and David Roberts (2013)
“This book shows youth the value of persisting and even failing. Rosie has key moments with adult mentors that help guide her to pursue her passion and develop her strengths. Right in line with much of the social-emotional learning Civic Nebraska leads at our Community Learning Centers.”
Amanda Barker, Civic Nebraska

Lillian’s Right To Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans (2015)
An elderly African American woman en route to vote remembers her family’s tumultuous voting history in this picture book. As Lillian makes a ‘long haul up a steep hill’ to her polling place, she sees her family’s history: the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and her great-grandfather voting for the first time; her parents trying to register to vote; herself marching in a protest from Selma to Montgomery.”

Amazon | B & N

What Can a Citizen Do?
Dave Eggers and Shawn Harris (2018)
“A light-hearted but empowering look at the difference a citizen, especially kid citizens, can make in a community. The best line in the book is ‘A citizen’s not what you are – a citizen is what you do.’ ”

Amazon | B & N 

Further Reading

More suggested books from our staff, from our supporters, and from Nebraskans of all ages and backgrounds.

When Kids Rule the School: The Power and Promise of Democratic Education, Jim Rietmulder ~ The Mueller Report: The Final Report of the Special Counsel into Donald Trump, Russia, and Collusion by Robert S. Mueller III ~ America: The Owners Manual, Sen. Bob Graham and Chris Hand ~ The Other Side of Freedom: The Case For Hope, Deray Mckesson ~ The Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay ~ The Great Conversation, Robert M. Hutchins ~ Around the Cragged Hill: A Personal and Political Philosophy, George F. Kennan ~ We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, Ta-Nehisi Coates ~ Healing America: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Recapture the American Spirit, Rep. Tim Ryan ~ In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom, Yeonmi Park ~ Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics, Stephen Greenblatt ~ American Dialogues: The Founders and Us, Joseph J. Ellis ~ One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying our Democracy, by Carol Anderson ~ Read and Riot: A Pussy Riot Guide to Activism, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova ~ The Jungle, Upton Sinclair ~ The Manchurian Candidate, Richard Condon ~ 1984, George Orwell ~ Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro ~ The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Michael Chabon ~ It Occurs to Me That I Am America, various authors ~ Citizen: An American Lyric, Claudia Rankine ~ Around America to Win the Vote: Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles, Mara Rockliff and Hadley Hooper ~ Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution, Jean Fritz and Tomie dePaola ~ A Kids’ Guide to America’s Bill of Rights, Kathleen Krull and Anna DiVito ~ Of Thee I Sing, President Barack Obama ~ Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type, Doreen Cronin ~ The Global Interior: Mineral Frontiers and American Power, Megan Black ~ Zoo Nebraska: The Dismantling of An American Dream by Carson Vaughan

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