I need a liberal but-not-too-liberal political book to give my dad.
October 31, 2010 12:43 PM   Subscribe

I have agreed to read a book by Bill O'Rielly that my dad wants me to read, if I can pick out the next book he reads. What should I pick?

My dad is 75 and staunchly republican (mostly staunchly pro-life). He is generally willing to engage in debate and to listen. He's agreed to read something I pick out. Unfortunately I haven't read much of all lately. I'll read whatever it is first. I'd like to to be center to left-of-center politically. He seems to like the O'Rielly book because it reminds him of his growing up. I've considered Obama's books. I want it to be a book that we can talk about that doesn't make him think "all liberals are crazy" or "all democrats are commies". What else should I consider?
posted by dpx.mfx to Human Relations (37 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend a good left leaning work of fiction as opposed to a political book. A good story slips past people's defenses, while a political onslaught, however well written, just makes them putt all power to their front deflector shields. You want to sent a message, on an special encrypted frequency they don't even know exists, that goes directly into their mainframe and subtlety rewrites their political thought code

Lima Beans and City Chicken (A Memoir of the Open Hearth) is collection of stories centered around a liberal, union loving family from the 40s and 50s, which might work.
posted by nomadicink at 12:52 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I haven't read it yet, but it seems like Garrison Keiller's book on how growing up in Minnesota affected his politics might be a good fit for your dad if he likes books that remind him of his youth: Homegrown Democrat.
posted by warble at 12:54 PM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

My father-in-law is conservative and loves to read non-fiction, so every Christmas I get him something from the liberal end of the spectrum just to 'piss him off'. :) Last year or the year before I got him this book by Bob Woodward.

I think most people would agree that Bob Woodward is a respectable journalist, so the author's credibility shouldn't be a factor for your dad. Note that I have not actually read this book myself, so I can't vouch for how liberal and/or anti-conservative it gets. But I do know it paints GW in an unflattering light, and considering the weird halo that man wears for some people in this country, it's good to shine a light on what he was doing "wrong".
posted by wwartorff at 1:04 PM on October 31, 2010

My father is about the same age as your father. The book that reminds him of growing up is Grapes of Wrath. It isn't overtly political, but a liberal message is definitely there.
posted by Houstonian at 1:11 PM on October 31, 2010

A People's History is probably too left for OP's father, if he's an O'Reilly fan. I'd start smaller.

I loved Obama'sDreams of My Father. Granted I was coming at him from the opposite direction, politically, but it really gets his "not a scary socialist Black Panther type" narrative across. I would certainly recommend it if your dad is one of the folks who is prone to believing patently ridiculous things about the President.
posted by Sara C. at 1:12 PM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Big Lies, by Joe Conason. It takes apart the corporate right-wing mythology very nicely. It's pre-Obama, though, so it might feel a bit dated today.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:19 PM on October 31, 2010

Deer Hunting with Jesus is interesting in that Bageant grew up surrounded by guns, conservatives, poverty in Virginia, fought in the Vietnam War, came back and went to school in CA on the GI Bill; then began asking himself all manner of questions as to why his people back home (whom he is still tight with) seem to act in ways that are against their own self interest. Non preachy and eye opening.
posted by subajestad at 1:20 PM on October 31, 2010 [9 favorites]

I know that this isn't exactly a liberal book, but I think it is thought provoking in the leftward direction: Freakonomics.

I am pretty sure that Steven Leavitt is not a liberal (UChicago economist and all). But the message that everyone reacts to incentives, whether it is cheating sumo wrestlers or bagel stealing CEO's seems to me to be a fairly good reason to try to design good laws and regulations, rather than hoping the magic of the market makes people behave honestly and forthrightly.

Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational is also a step in this direction.
posted by cogpsychprof at 1:39 PM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh, and the abortion chapter in Freakonomics will drive him crazy, if that is what you are looking for. But then again, it will probably drive you crazy too.
posted by cogpsychprof at 1:40 PM on October 31, 2010

But the message that everyone reacts to incentives, whether it is cheating sumo wrestlers or bagel stealing CEO's seems to me to be a fairly good reason to try to design good laws and regulations, rather than hoping the magic of the market makes people behave honestly and forthrightly.

People who are in favor of markets believe that incentives are a large part (if not the central part) of why markets work. The people who make the most thorough and well-supported arguments in favor of markets generally make arguments that attempt to prove that the market is better at creating incentives than alternate means. Talking about incentives is not going to make anyone less pro-market.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:45 PM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

How about The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan. This book is not about science per se, but rather about thinking scientifically. Chapter 12: "The Fine Art of Baloney Detection" might have particular relevance to Bill O'Reilly and his ilk. Also, Chapter 25: "Real Patriots Ask Questions."
posted by Surinam Toad at 1:52 PM on October 31, 2010 [7 favorites]

How about something from Kevin Phillips? He's a former Republican strategist (so cred points with your dad?) who is very critical of both the Republicans and the Democrats wrt our current hideous political/economic quagmire, most recently in Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism.
posted by scody at 2:00 PM on October 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

How about Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed, about working low-wage jobs in the contemporary US?
posted by brianogilvie at 2:06 PM on October 31, 2010 [6 favorites]

Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela of course has a compelling life story, and could be considered to be a democratic socialist (from an angle outside the traditional American liberal/conservative divide).
posted by plep at 2:22 PM on October 31, 2010

(Mandela is a few years older than your father, and has an awesome humanistic vision which is a no-contest with O'Reilly; he is also a fine writer - the book is fascinating as a piece of history regardless of your political affiliation - his arrest and trial would have been 'news' to someone of your father's generation).
posted by plep at 2:34 PM on October 31, 2010

I would do A People's History of the United States - it is a serious page turner that reads like a novel.
posted by By The Grace of God at 2:34 PM on October 31, 2010

I just read William Kittredge's memoir, Hole in the Sky. Kittredge, now a bit older than your dad, grew up on a huge cattle and grain ranch in Oregon. The book is not overtly political, but does follow Kittredge's evolving perspectives on violence, care for the environment, and the relentless drive for profit as his family and marriage break down over decades. Might serve as an antidote to the 'good old days' fantasy.
posted by jon1270 at 2:34 PM on October 31, 2010

I don't know how Wendell Berry votes. But the dignity and eloquence of his prose is itself a liberal value.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:36 PM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

As much as I love "A People's History Of The United States," I used to recommend a different book for people to share with their parents: his excellent Declarations of Independence. It's smart, accessible, and a lot of people who I suggested it for came back and said that it really helped them talk with their parents. BUT it's also twenty years old, so if you want something more recent, I just finished Zeitoun by David Eggers. It's smart, a great read, and it tells an enthralling story while providing a glimpse of a worldview almost opposite to Fox News. Good luck.
posted by history is a weapon at 3:32 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Personally, I thought Freakonomics was outright bad. Naked Economics takes a much more nuanced approach, but is still entertaining to read.
posted by schmod at 3:44 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Bageant and Ehrenreich books mentioned above are good ideas, and I'd second them; and alongside the Zinn classics you could also consider something by Studs Terkel if you're just looking for a generally good left read. But given that your side of this swap is a freaking Bill O'Reilly book, I don't see any strong reason to avoid abrasive and confrontational styles of argument and focus only on gentle persuasion — so I'd also recommend taking a look at the more polemical end of the spectrum, e.g. Chris Hedges (American Fascists, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning) or Thomas Frank (What's the Matter with Kansas?, The Wrecking Crew).
posted by RogerB at 3:53 PM on October 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really like a lot of the suggestions here and will append them to my reading list.

Your goal, OP, should be a bit different. You need payback for Mr. O'Reilly's bag of words.

I suggest you get a big god damn book. That B.Clinton book was about a thousand pages right? Nickle and Dimed is about 250 or so and a very easy read...but that Clinton book...1008 hardcover pages of liberal smugness personified by that photo on the cover. I would hate that if I didn't like Willy!

And yeah...your dad can use that argument ANYTIME he wants to for ANYTHING. I think O'Reilly made it clear that "communist" is synonymous with "I disagree, but don't have a valid reason for doing so". But it will be harder to argue that the 1008 pages are crazy commie bullshit when the 3.4lb book is written by a former president. A two-termer, at that.

Good luck, and remember all those times he didn't show up to baseball when you lug that beast over to his place.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:02 PM on October 31, 2010

William O. Douglas's Go East, Young Man
posted by megatherium at 4:04 PM on October 31, 2010

It's not political at all, but Collapse by Jared Diamond is essential reading for everyone.
posted by anadem at 5:40 PM on October 31, 2010

Do you think the OReilly book will change your mind on any of your core beliefs? I'm guessing your Pop believes there is atleast an outside shot of that.
Instead of finding a liberal book that would appeal to conservatives I would instead focus on finding a book by someone you find palatable as a conservative. I'm fond of Andrew Sullivan - but I reckon there are loads more.
posted by ten year lurk at 6:15 PM on October 31, 2010

A book by one of the most decorated soldiers in US history, a man who President Theodore Roosevelt looked up to, who served in many conflicts and had an absolutely unimpeachable record of integrity and bravery: 'War is a Racket' by Smedley Butler.
posted by eccnineten at 6:19 PM on October 31, 2010

I'd go with My Life by Bill Clinton. There's a lot about him growing up, which your dad may enjoy, and even if you don't like his politics, it's hard not to walk away at least a little bit impressed. The man got to where he was due to sheer intellect and hard work- it's a pretty obvious contrast to the George W story.
posted by emd3737 at 7:49 PM on October 31, 2010

My two suggestions:

Manufacturing Consent by Noam Chomsky
Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Friedman (a well-reasoned, moderate, economics-based exploration on how to make the US more sustainable)

Beyond that, let me offer some general advice:

Do you think reading a Bill O'Reilly book is going to change your mind about anything??

I'm guessing not. So my advice then is to not to give him a book by somebody that he will have tuned out before he starts reading, like he's giving you. If you want him to moderate his views, he has to see something that gives him an "oh, now that I think about it that way..." moment.
posted by dry white toast at 8:20 PM on October 31, 2010

+1 Manufacturing Consent.
posted by pompomtom at 8:29 PM on October 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would recommend "He Died with a Felafel in His Hand.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:16 AM on November 1, 2010

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

Kicking Away the Ladder or Bad Samaritans, by Ha-Joon Chang
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:35 AM on November 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe Public Opinion, by Walter Lippman? I know a successful Democratic political strategist in Texas who keeps a stack of these in his office and hands them out like party favors. Although many of the cultural references are slightly dated, it's a seminal work of American democratic political theory and a study of the role that media plays in shaping public opinion.
posted by Mendl at 10:39 AM on November 1, 2010

I'd recommend The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan. He chronicles the Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the political/economic situations that made things worse, then better. Egan is a great writer, sometimes I could nearly feel the grit in my teeth.
posted by dbmcd at 3:35 PM on November 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I first read A People's History as a relative moderate, and it made me more conservative. (I got better.)

Do not not NOT give him a polemic. Give him a book that's about facts, where the facts happen to undermine his world view. Collapse would be a great one for an anti-environmentalist. Guns, Germs and Steel for an America-uber-alles type. Fast Food Nation for a free marketeer.

For a pro-lifer, I'm not sure. Maybe Under the Banner of Heaven or something else about religious extremism. It's not an area that I've read much about, but I think your goal should be to convince him not that his morals are wrong, but that his political solutions are.

Bill O'Reilly is a bully. His schtick is all about righteous anger. The left has plenty of righteous anger of its own, which I think is justified, but using it against political opponents is still bullying. I'm not sure what will convert people, but I think the best best is a demonstration of reality's well-established liberal bias.
posted by bjrubble at 8:18 PM on November 1, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I'm sure Bill O'Reilly's book isn't going to change my mind about anything except maybe my opinion about the man personally. I don't expect to change my dad's mind either. But I expect we can have some good dialog. I'll look into some of these suggestions!
posted by dpx.mfx at 1:50 PM on November 2, 2010

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