15 Must-Read Books (And 2 Must-Watch Movies) For Political Science Students

by PM

28 April 2013, 1536 EDT

nixonlandConsider this a prompt for an open thread.

I’m looking for books to recommend to students to both give them a hint of what academic political science is “really” like but also to get them excited about the systematic study of politics. No single book can do it all, but a summer reading list can at least prod people to look in the right areas. So here’s my list; additions welcome.

  • Putnam and Campbell, American Grace: Fascinating survey of religion and politics in American life
  • Cohen, Karol, Noel, and Zaller, The Party Decides: Who makes presidents and why?
  • Gelman, Park, Bafumi, and Shor, Red State, Blue State: Why do people vote the way they do? Why are some states red and some states blue?
  • James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How do ideas constitute and guide state policy?
  • James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: Taking anarchism seriously.
  • Acemoglu and Robinson, Why Nations Fail
  • Hendrik Spruyt, The Sovereign State and Its Competitors: The states system we take for granted wasn’t the inevitable or even the only conclusion of European state-making
  • Rick Perlstein, Nixonland: Sweeping descriptions of how politics made and unmade American society–and a reminder that political contestation isn’t teleological.
  • BDM and Smith, The Dictator’s Handbook: Thinking like a bad guy.
  • John Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics: Few scholars have written such an approachable, provocative, and erudite book.
  • Richard Ben Cramer, What It Takes: Gripping.
  • Kenneth Waltz, Man, the State, and War: Worth re-reading. Most successful comps outline in the history of academia.
  • Michael Ross, The Oil Curse. The definitive statement of a generation of the resource curse research project.
  • Please Vote For Me: School politics with a twist. Is ‘picky eating’ a valid decision rule?
  • Street Fight. I think this was supposed to make me like Cory Booker, but I had the opposite reaction.


  • Steven Lukes, Power: A Radical View: Thinking hard about the core concept.
  • Robert Caro, The Power Broker. Shorter, more accessible, and vastly more successful as an intellectual and historical project than The Years of Lyndon Johnson, which have begun to reveal Caro’s abiding disdain for a complex and multifaceted political leader. The portrait of Moses in this book is one of the classic studies of bureaucratic power.