We’re asking our fellow TPMers to share their own personal reading recommendations: books they love or that have shaped their lives. Comment below with some of your favorites! Also: You can always purchase any of the books by visiting our TPM Bookshop profile page.
Our publisher Joe Ragazzo is first up. Here are five books that changed how he sees the world.
Voices of a Revolution: The Dissident Press in America by: Rodger Streitmatter
I went to college intending to become a sports writer. I had much more knowledge and expertise about sports than I did journalism. I was especially ignorant of the history of the dissident press in the United States and the role it played in making the country a more free and more just society. Whether it was William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist paper The Liberator, Robert Sengstacke Abbott’s The Chicago Defender campaigning against segregation, Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony’s The Revolution fighting for women’s rights or Come Out! Published by the Gay Liberation Front, the dissident press has long been the driving force for the disenfranchised or marginalized. Voices of a Revolution opened my eyes not just to what journalism could do, but the forms in which it had been most effective at helping those who needed it most.
I can’t say that I resolved then and there to commit myself to a career outside of mainstream media, but like any good book, it planted a seed in my psyche that has grown and blossomed over the years. I return to it often for inspiration, reassurance, and guidance.
Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Picketty
I can’t think of many economics texts that become as popular as Picketty’s tome on inequality. The breadth of research alone was astonishing, and the conclusions, simple and profound, changed forever how I thought about economics and public policy. Quite simply, it left me with the understanding that as long as things stay more or less as they are, the United States is doomed. Inequality will continue to rise and the powerful will gain more power. His now-famous equation R>G, signifying that if the rate of return on capital outpaces the growth in the economy, then inequality will rise indefinitely is a reality that still doesn’t seem to have sunk in with those who have the power to do anything about it.
Tribe by Sebastian Junger
Possibly the book that has had the largest effect on me as an adult, Tribe asks a seemingly simple question: Why do people willingly enlist for multiple tours of duty? To find the answer, Junger interrogates human nature seeking to understand what motivates us, what makes us happy. In the course of his meditation, he introduces a psychological concept called self-determination theory. It holds “that human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives, and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered ‘intrinsic’ to human happiness and far outweigh ‘extrinsic values’ such as beauty, money, and status.”
“Bluntly put,” Junger adds, “modern society seems to emphasize extrinsic values over intrinsic ones, and as a result mental health issues refuse to decline with growing wealth.”
Tribe sent me on a journey to learn more about human motivation and wellness. It led me to dozens of other books, and eventually even to start my own newsletter about navigating the human condition. I’ve given this book probably to a couple dozen people if not more, and I could not recommend it highly enough.
A People’s Tragedy by Orlando Figes
A People’s Tragedy is an incredibly detailed and thorough history of the Russian Revolution. I, like many, find revolutions endlessly fascinating. They are like forks in the road: which way will a society go? I was fairly unfamiliar with anything but the most surface level facts about the Russian Revolution even though it changed the entire world in ways that are still felt today. Fundamentally, it’s a story of power: Gaining power, wielding power, being corrupted by power, losing power and how this power affects the masses who have none. This book has helped me to better understand modern political dynamics between the east and the west, and especially to understand Russia’s position and self-perceived identity as being of both, but also of neither — a unique entity unto itself.
My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgård
I’m not really sure how to describe this book, which I think is a compliment. It’s not fiction, but it’s also not non-fiction. It’s kind of a memoir, but also not a memoir. The “struggle” Knausgård refers to in the title is the every day machinations, struggles, anxieties, and neuroses every human deals with, the things that seem too boring or too mundane to comment or dwell upon, yet make up 90% of our daily life. When I read this book, I was struck by two things. First, I couldn’t believe you could write a book like this and it would be successful. It was like taking journal entries, slightly editing them into a longform narrative and hitting publish. Second, and more important, the way Knausgård is just talking about the pains of his daily life made me feel less alone. Perhaps because so much of the regular, everyday stuff feels too insignificant to talk about, we never do so and we become alienated from each other. Knausgard made me feel less alienated, and I can’t really think of anything more important in literature than that.
Be sure to check back again next month for some new staff reading recommendations. If you’ve missed any, you can find all of our reading lists here. Happy reading!
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Joe Ragazzo is the publisher at TPM, overseeing the design, product and revenue staffs out of the New York City office. Joe used to be a journalist but realized if some journalists don’t figure out how to make journalism financially sustainable, there won’t be any left. He also says Go Browns.