Just a brief Mail Time post today and a reminder that you can send questions for the next to firstname.lastname@example.org.
So far, it seems like people are asking mostly for book recommendations — texts that have been either formative for me politically or that I consider worth reading on this or that topic. The formative text questions are a little difficult to answer just because I feel like I’ve gotten to where I am in my politics not through a set of transcendent and memorable experiences with specific whole texts, but through an accretion of ideas from a lot of different sources — writing from peers I respect, a lot of different papers, excerpts, and essays I read in college, just engaging with our worsening political reality day to day, etc. I suspect I’ll have a more interesting answer a year from now as I’ve given myself an incredibly long reading list for my upcoming book on democracy. I’ll be writing up some of the bits I find interesting here in the newsletter, so stay tuned for that.
I will say, though, that if I really had to pinpoint a book that started my ongoing journey leftward, it would probably be Naomi Klein’s No Logo, which I read in high school. I haven’t touched it since, but I’d really like to read more contemporary writing at the confluence of subjects Klein covers there — labor rights, corporate power, and popular culture. There are solid critiques of anti-consumerism in the 1990s and 2000s, but between the new wave of corporate woke/greenwashing, the rise of fast fashion, the anti-globalization turn on the right, “Disney Global Intelligence and Threat Analysis,” and the election of a literal reality television star to the presidency, I really wouldn’t mind some of that critical sensibility returning, and I hope Klein dips a toe into those waters again sometime.
Here's just a handful of other books I find myself thinking about constantly.
The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution by Michael Klarman
I have a long review essay in the next issue of The New Republic on The History Wars™ and the wonderful work of the early American historian Alan Taylor. Everything I could say about those books is said there, so look out for that. You should also read The Framers’ Coup by Harvard Law’s Michael Klarman, an incredibly thorough analysis of the Constitution’s drafting and ratification as a conservative counterrevolution. Speaking of conservatism...
Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke
If you only read one conservative text in your lifetime, make sure it’s this one. Everything one ought to know about the right is here. Burke’s defenses of sociopolitical continuity and hierarchy are the heart of conservatism in all of its guises all the way through to Trump. Their writers and politicians might take on different affects and express themselves in different registers. The movement might take on different strategies suited to the different political and economic contexts conservatives find themselves within. But the concerns animating them have always been about the same.
The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green New Deal by Kate Aronoff, Alyssa Battistoni, Daniel Aldana Cohen, and Thea Riofrancos
The first here is one of the definitive works on the problem and the second is one of the definitive works on the solutions we need. I think it’s often very hard even for people who care about climate to think at the appropriate scale about the hole we’re in, what we’re in for and what it will take to recover a stable and equitable future from the chaos. These books will get your head straight if you’re not there already.
Public Opinion by Walter Lippmann
It should be said right off that this is functionally a critique of democracy as we’ve known and come to value it, and those who mistrust political science as a discipline will be especially repelled at Lippmann’s frame of mind here. That said, the challenges to democratic governance he outlines are real and important for small-d democrats to think through, and his thoughts about the information environments ordinary people have to navigate, stereotypes, and the interests journalism is constructed to serve are essential reading for political writers.
Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism by Benedict Anderson
Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America by Richard Rorty
Imagined Communities is one of the canonical theoretical texts on national identity and how it’s constructed, and Achieving Our Country probably ought to be one of the canonical texts on American identity specifically. Rorty gets a bit tendentious about identity politics, but the first chapter — on the idea that perfecting democracy might be the radical heart of the American project — is one of the major jumping off points for my book, and I’ll have more to say about it there than I can put in brief here.
There’ll be more and lengthier reading recs over the course of this thing, but that’s about it for now. For more on what I'm reading and what I'd like to read next, follow me on Goodreads.
As a final note, I’d like to thank all of you for subscribing this first month of the letter. More and better things are ahead once I get into a real rhythm here. Again, send your questions, comments, and even reading recs of your own to email@example.com for next month’s Mail Time.
Reasons To Be Cheerful
Pitchfork contributor Peyton Thomas reviews the latest LP from an up and coming "four-year-old pop phenom":
Peppa’s Adventures: The Album, the second LP by UK singer-songwriter and television star Peppa Pig, arrives at a critical moment for the young artist. Only 4 years old, and one of very few pigs working in the music industry today, Peppa’s rise has been as rapid as it was unlikely. Her 2019 debut, My First Album, was an unexpected smash upon release. The record racked up 136 million streams, reached No. 1 on the UK Independent Albums Breakers chart, and wonaccolades from fellow pop renegades Charli XCX and Lil Nas X. As Peppa readied her sophomore effort, critics wondered: Was My First Album a fluke? Or is Peppa equipped to play in the UK’s crowded pop big leagues, alongside more established stars like Dua Lipa and Ed Sheeran?
[...] Peppa has proven herself a graceful navigator of a pop scene often hostile to her species. When My First Album debuted, in 2019, on the same day as Iggy Azalea’s In My Defense, Azalea cruelly threatened to turn Peppa into “a breakfast special.” In light of such attacks, Peppa’s unapologetic embrace of her identity is all the more inspirational. She oinks without shame; she celebrates “jumping in muddy puddles” on no fewer than four of this record’s nine tracks. “Birdy Birdy Woof Woof” demolishes preconceived notions about animal vocalists—“The birds go woof, and the dogs go tweet!”—as Peppa enlists friends and frequent collaborators Suzy Sheep, Pedro Pony, and Candy Cat to sing in one another’s styles.