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This election year is baffling, especially to non-Americans. On one hand, there’s a candidate who has an elastic relationship with the truth. And on the other hand, there’s Donald Trump.

So how do you understand it all? There’s a surplus of writing (and bile) out there explaining the Trump phenomenon, taking down the Clintons, and trying to put the candidates in their best light. See, here, Clinton’s Hard Choices and Trump’s Great Again. But instead of reading these books, which we’ll all thankfully forget after November, there are more enduring, interesting titles to take a look at.

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Hillbilly Elegy: Proud hillbilly J.D. Vance writes about growing up in Appalachia among the forgotten and maligned people of America, who slowly shifted from Democrats to Republicans. In the best tradition of the American Dream, Vance picks himself up (with some help from Marine drill sergeants) and graduates Yale Law. Here’s someone who sees both sides of an increasingly divided America.

 

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Unequal Gains: Much of this election is about the revenge of the have-nots. In America’s answer to Thomas Piketty, this book reveals how America always manages to rebuild itself after a crisis – the Revolution, the Civil War, the Depression – but at the cost of dividing the rich from the poor.

 

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Constitution Of The United States Of America: Everyone argues about rights, and amendments, and freedoms. Here’s a novel idea…why not read the Constitution? It’s a pretty short document and a model for governments around the world.

 

 

 

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The Federalist Papers: And when the arguments about the Constitution end, people ask, “What did the Founding Fathers mean?” Um, well, in a series of letters to each other, the Fathers debated just that and wrote it down for posterity. Includes contributions from the original Alexander Hamilton!

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Democracy In America: An outsider’s view of America. Alexis de Tocqueville travelled America in the 1830s and sketched a young, vibrant democracy for readers back in Europe. This travelogue still explains to America and the world what truly is great about that country (spoiler: it’s not a wall).

 

 

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Things That Matter and DriftAmerica wouldn’t be America without ongoing debate and ~polite~ disagreement over the direction of the country. For these counterpoints try out conservative icon Charles Krauthammer and liberal lion Rachel Maddow.

 

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