Three Literary Stocking Gifts for Year Three of the Trump Era: Reading for Dark Times

by on December 23, 2019 · 4 comments

in Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

If you just can’t bring yourself to give up on the sordid consumer frenzy and go all in for a Buy Nothing Christmas , then perhaps getting your loved ones a few good books (from local bookstores) to help them navigate our dark times is the next best thing.

Here are three notable political books of 2019 that flew further under the radar than they should have:

Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America
by Christopher Leonard.

Building on the excellent work done by Jane Mayer in Dark Money and Nancy MacLean in Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, Christopher Leonard outlines seven years of research into how the Kochtopus was born and grew into a nightmare for American democracy.  If you wonder why we can’t seem to ever make any real progress on economic inequality, climate change, or much of the rest of the progressive agenda, this book is a good place to start.

As Leonard writes of Charles Koch, “His political network was enduring and massive.  And it would certainly outlive the Trump administration.” That’s why if we ever hope to win the long war, we need to know our enemies and understand that they are indeed bent on ensuring a dark, Social Darwinist corporate future for us all.  Kochland serves as an invaluable resource for accurately mapping the minefield that is our current political terrain.

The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells

David Wallace-Wells’s book will knock your ass out of your easy chair.  It is perhaps the best, most accessible yet comprehensive work on the myriad of dire threats we face from catastrophic climate change.  Eschewing both activist happy talk and scientific timidity, Wallace-Wells’s relentless catalogue of the environmental, health, economic, social, political, and psychological effects of unchecked warming is riveting and terrifying.  It should be informing the 2020 election and all of our social, political, and economic discussions. Non-fiction like this will put dystopian science fiction out of business. As Wallace-Wells ably illustrates, we are living it now.

If you care about the future, read this book.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

In an age where it becomes clearer every day that our infatuation with technology is creating problems for us on the individual and social levels that we are not well-equipped to solve, Jenny Odell’s sharp manifesto hits home.

In the introduction to the book, “Surviving Usefulness,” she observes that, “We submit our free time to numerical evaluation, interact with algorithmic versions of each other, and build and maintain personal brands. For some, there may be a kind of engineer’s satisfaction in the streamlining and networking of our entire lived experience.  And yet a certain nervous feeling, of being overstimulated and unable to sustain a stream of thought, lingers. Though it can be hard to grasp before it disappears behind the screen of distraction, this feeling is in fact urgent. We still recognize that much of what gives one’s life meaning stems from accidents, interruptions, and serendipitous encounters: the ‘off time’ that a mechanistic view of experience seeks to eliminate.”


Read this book for more on how to “manifestly dismantle” the cages we’ve made for ourselves and give it to a friend who needs help doing that work as well.

Happy Holidays, Dear Reader.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Thomas Ultican December 23, 2019 at 2:43 pm

Jim, I want to strongly concur with your recommendation of Kochland. I am in the process of writing a post about that book in which I call it the best book of the year and possibly the current century. I don’t believe I have ever learned so much about recent history as I did from this book. I even found out why we had rolling blackouts in California and What’s Wrong with Kansas. – tom


Rufus December 24, 2019 at 7:13 am

I chuckle at the “dark times” reference.


Dave December 24, 2019 at 9:20 am

Thank You Mr. Miller for this great book list.


Frances O'Neill Zimmerman December 24, 2019 at 10:13 pm

Only devotees of the Penitentes, who flagellate themselves while walking long distances,
would take on this reading list. The last one doesn’t sound too bad, but the trio sounds deeply depressing. I think we have an obligation to keep going in these days of Trump, not to fall apart or succumb to the onslaught. One positive note is that the main Kock brother died this year.


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