The Best Political Novels

List of Fiction Classics About Goverment and Politics in America

Some of the best political writing can't be found in newspapers or magazines or any nonfiction in general. The best political novels in American history offer sweeping and sometimes dystopian views of government and the people who run it.

Yes, the books that appear below are works of fiction. But they tap into real fears and fundamental truths about America, its people, and its leaders. They're not all about election day intrigue but deal instead with some of the most sensitive issues faced by mankind: how we think about race, capitalism, and war.

Here are 10 classic political novels, from "1984" to "To Kill a Mockingbird." 

Orwell's reverse utopia, published in 1949, introduces Big Brother and other concepts like newspeak and thoughtcrime. In this imagined future, the world is dominated by three totalitarian superpowers.

The novel served as the basis for Apple Computer's TV ad that introduced the Macintosh in 1984; that ad became an issue in the 2007 Democratic primary battle.

"Advise and Consent" by Allen Drury

Advise and Consent
Allen Drury, a former Associated Press reporter, wrote the novel Advise and Consent in 1959. The books was later made into a movie. Getty Images

A bitter battle ensues in the Senate during confirmation hearings for the Secretary of State nominee in this Pulitzer prize-winning classic by Drury. The former reporter for The Associated Press wrote this novel in 1959; it quickly became a bestseller and has withstood the test of time. First book in a series; also made into a 1962 movie starring Henry Fonda (read the movie review).

As relevant today as when it was written 50 years ago, Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about American politics traces the rise and fall of demagogue Willie Stark, a fictional character who resembles the real-life Huey Long of Louisiana.

"Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged
A road sign in Chicago uses the most famous line of Atlas Shrugged. Buster7/Wikimedia Commons

Rand's magnum opus is "a premier moral apologia for capitalism," just as "The Fountainhead" was. Tremendous in scope, it is the story of the man who said he would stop the world's engine.

A Library of Congress survey found it to be the "second most influential book for Americans." If you want to understand libertarian philosophy, consider starting here. Rand's books are popular among conservatives.

"Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World.
Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World. Getty Images

Huxley explores a utopian world state where children are born in laboratories and adults are encouraged to eat, drink, and be merry as they take their daily dose of "soma" to keep them smiling.

Joseph Heller mocks war, the military, and politics in this classic satire — his first novel — which also introduced a new phrase to our lexicon.

"Fahrenheit 451" by Raymond Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451
A poster for the 1966 science fiction thriller Fahrenheit 451, which was based on Raymond Bradbury's novel of the same name.. Getty Images

In Bradbury's classic dystopia, firemen don't put out fires. They burn books, which are illegal. And citizens are encouraged not to think or reflect, but instead "be happy." Buy the 50th anniversary edition for an interview with Bradbury on the book's classic status and contemporary relevance.

Golding's classic tale shows how thin the veneer of civilization might be as it explores what happens in the absence of rules and order. Is man essentially good or not? Check out these quotations from our contemporary literature articles.

"Manchurian Candidate" by Richard Condon

The Manchurian Candidate
The Manchurian Candidate was made into a successful motion picture. Stefanie Keenan/Getty News Contributor

Condon's controversial 1959 Cold War thriller tells the story of Sgt. Raymond Shaw, an ex-prisoner of war (and winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor). Shaw was brainwashed by a Chinese psychological expert during his captivity in North Korea and has come home programmed to kill a U.S. presidential nominee. The 1962 movie was taken out of circulation for 25 years following the 1963 assassination of JFK.

"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most widely read American novels of all time. Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images Stringer

Lee explores attitudes towards race and class in the Deep South of the 30s through the eyes of 8-year-old Scout Finch, "one of the most endearing and enduring characters of Southern literature," and her brother and father. This novel focuses on the tension and conflict between prejudice and hypocrisy on one hand, and justice and perseverance on the other.

Runners-Up

There are lots of other great political novels, including some that were written anonymously about supposedly fictional characters who resemble real politicians. Check out "Primary Colors" by Anonymous; "Seven Days in May" by Charles W. Bailey; "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison; and "O: A Presidential Novel" by Anonymous.
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Gill, Kathy. "The Best Political Novels." ThoughtCo, Jan. 10, 2018, thoughtco.com/top-classic-political-novels-3368080. Gill, Kathy. (2018, January 10). The Best Political Novels. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/top-classic-political-novels-3368080 Gill, Kathy. "The Best Political Novels." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/top-classic-political-novels-3368080 (accessed April 27, 2018).