Top 10 Must-Reads for Liberals

Essential Liberal Classics

Robert Reich
Robert Reich.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

One of the great hallmarks of liberalism is that it prizes reason over emotion. Unlike the shrill voice of demagoguery, the liberal point-of-view is built upon measured arguments that take into account multiple viewpoints. Liberals do their research; unlike offhand, knee-jerk commentary, liberal arguments are rooted in a firm grasp of the issues and are based on a comprehensive analysis of the facts.

That means that liberals need to do a lot of reading to maintain their knowledge. In addition to the great philosophical classics by Enlightenment thinkers such as John Locke and Rousseau, the following books should be considered necessary reading for anyone interested in American liberalism’s past, present, and future.

of 10

Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America (1956)

This is an oldie but goodie, a classic that argues that Americans are all, essentially, thoroughly liberal. Why? Because we believe in reasoned debate, we place our faith in the electoral system, and both Democrats and Republicans agree with John Locke’s emphasis on equality, freedom, religious tolerance, social mobility, and property rights.

of 10

Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (1963)

The catalyst for second-wave feminism, Friedan's book pointedly uncovered "the problem with no name": the fact that women in the 1950s and 1960s were extremely unhappy with society's limitations and stifled their ambitions, creativity, and intellects to conform. In the process, women accepted second-class status in society. Friedan's book forever changed the dialogue on women and power.

of 10

Morris Dees, A Lawyer's Journey: The Morris Dees Story (1991)

Learn what it takes to fight for social justice from Dees, the son of a tenant farmer who abandoned his lucrative law and business practice to join the civil rights movement and found the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC is most known for fighting against racism and prosecuting hate crimes and hate groups. 

of 10

Robert Reich, Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America (2004)

This call to arms against radical conservatism asks readers to reclaim the nation's political dialogue on morality by removing it from the social arena and refocus instead on economic inequality as a form of immorality. 

of 10

Robert B. Reich, Supercapitalism (2007)

If one book by Reich is a good liberal read, two is better. Here, Reich explains just how damaging corporate lobbying can be for all Americans, especially workers and the middle class. Reich outlines the rise of wealth and income inequality on a global scale and urges a greater separation of business and government. 

of 10

Paul Starr, Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalism (2008)

This book argues that liberalism is the only fair path for modern societies because it rests on the dual forces of classical liberalism's laissez-faire economics and modern liberalism's commitment to social welfare.

of 10

Eric Alterman, Why We're Liberals: A Handbook (2009)

This is the book you need in order to make more informed arguments in favor of liberalism. Media critic Alterman explains the emergence of American liberalism and the statistical reality that most Americans are fundamentally liberal.

of 10

Paul Krugman, The Conscience of a Liberal (2007)

One of America's foremost economists and popular New York Times columnist, Nobel Prize winner Krugman here provides the historical explanation for the emergence of the vast economic inequality that characterizes the United States today. Based on this analysis, Krugman calls for a new social welfare system in this long-awaited answer to Barry Goldwater's 1960 harbinger of the New Right, "The Conscience of a Conservative."

of 10

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013)

This bestseller became an instant classic because it forcefully demonstrates that the return on capital has been so much greater than economic growth that the resulting unequal distribution of wealth can only be remedied by progressive taxes.

of 10

Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States (1980)

First published in 1980 and reprinted many times over, this narrative history is a liberal classic. Conservatives argue that it's unpatriotic because it catalogs the various violations of equality and freedom that shaped the United States, including enslavement, the oppression and destruction of Indigenous peoples, the persistence of gender, ethnic, and racial discrimination, and the damaging results of American imperialism.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Silos-Rooney, Jill, Ph.D. "Top 10 Must-Reads for Liberals." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Silos-Rooney, Jill, Ph.D. (2021, February 16). Top 10 Must-Reads for Liberals. Retrieved from Silos-Rooney, Jill, Ph.D. "Top 10 Must-Reads for Liberals." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).