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Summer Reading 2014

Published by USC Bedrosian Center on

This summer, we thought we’d bring you a different kind of summer reading list. We don’t know about you, but summer seems to be the only time we can catch up to things we’ve been meaning to get to. This list is brought to you by the Faculty, Students, and Staff at the Bedrosian Center and each book has something to do with public policy and governance.

Some of these books are ones we’ve had on our “to read” shelf for too long, some we’ve finally just finished and recommend, some of these are classic “must reads.” We hope you find something to add to your “to read” list and take some time this summer for some serious reads along with your fun reads.

Full list behind the cut.

States of Credit: Size, Power, and the Development of European Polities

by David Stasavage

Novel account of the importance of representative institutions to public credit in the development of nation-states.  Shows us how history can inform our understanding of the fundamentals of governance. – Anthony Bertelli

Follow the Money: How Foundation Dollars Change Public School Politics

by Sarah Reckhow

As the title suggests, the book is on the role of private foundations in education reform. The book focuses on Los Angeles and New York City. – Pam McCann

 The Modern Prison Paradox

by Amy E. Lerman

This is on the effect of prison policy on prisoners, guards, and communities. National in scope with a focus on California. – Pam McCann

It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism

by Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein

The authors think that Congress is broken, and the Republicans are leading the charge. – Pam McCann

No Middle Ground: How Informal Party Organizations Control Nominations and Polarize Legislatures

by Seth E. Masket

A great study of California politics, explaining how California’s political parties have thrived despite electoral rules intended to weaken them. – Pam McCann

White-Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class in Economic Policy Making

by Nicholas Carnes

On the role of class background on political decision-making. – Pam McCann

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom

by Jonathan Haidt

An excellent review of material on happiness and the public policy implications of that research but, more important, a great read from a positive psychologist well-grounded in social science and neuroscience. – Robert B. Denhardt

What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets

by Michael J. Sandel

These are important ideas about what limits there should be on what people buy, sell, and trade. He takes up a lot of questions in public policy, including carpool lanes, carbon permits, paying to kill and endangered species, and many other salient issues. – Lisa Schweitzer

Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics

by William L. Riordan and Peter Quinn

A really old, but amazingly still fresh look at graft, a topic that seems appropriate these days. – David Sloane

A Neighborhood That Never Changes: Gentrification, Social Preservation, and the Search for Authenticity

by Japonica Brown-Saracino

Japonica Brown-Saracino has written a very insightful book into a topic also on many minds this summer, gentrification: A Neighborhood That Never Changes. She complicates the concept of gentrification, helping us understand better not everyone gentrifies for the same reasons. – David Sloane

The Informal American City: Beyond Taco Trucks and Day Labor

by Vinit Mukhija and  Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris

The informal economy is on lots of minds as well, but books on how it is playing out in the city are actually still pretty rare. Two UCLA professors Vinit Mukhija and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris have edited The Informal American City: Beyond Taco Trucks and Day Labor, which should have really good chapters. – David Sloane

An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964

by Todd S. Purdum

Not only is this book appropriate reading for the 50th Anniversary of the CRA, it’s a good read period. It highlights what leadership, trust, bipartisanship, civility and savvy politics once accomplished–and can accomplish–for good governance. – Sherry Jeffe

The Old Regime and the French Revolution

by Alexis De Tocqueville

Many of us have read this classic many years ago.  If you have not read it before or have not read it in recent years, it is worthwhile to read it again.  In the past several years, it has become a popular reading among leaders and scholars in China, who are pondering about causes of social grievances, how they may trigger revolutions, and how old institutions may persist even after a revolution.  All these issues are critically important for anyone interested in governance reform in developing countries. – Yan Tang

The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson IV

by Robert A. Caro

It is a no brainer to recommend Caro’s latest book since it is another spellbinder, and he presented at USC as a guest of the Bedrosian Center. However, if I could impose my will I would require reading all 4 of his books on LBJ, not simply to learn about an extraordinary political figure of the 20th Century, but the history of the US in the 20th Century per se. Short of this, which would be one heck of a summer’s reading, I would recommend Master of the Senate, as one of the best books I have ever read on the US Senate, of course, through the experience of LBJ, but so much more. – Dan Mazmanian

Capital in the Twenty-First Century

by Thomas Piketty

… It’s a tremendous contribution. – Anthony Bertelli

I think as a work of scholarship, it’s remarkable. The willingness of the guy to get his fingernails dirty in order to piece together these data to provide a coherent picture of what’s been happening, not just inequality, which is sort of been what’s gotten in the headlines but also to the size of the capital stock, the composition of the capital stock. Across time the relationship between a country’s level of development and its growth rate. I think it’s just an astonishing work and it took him a long time to do it and I find it miraculously that it didn’t take even longer. – Richard Green

The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited

by Louisa Lim

I feel a general sense of misunderstanding when it comes to what happened when the People’s Liberation Army soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians in Beijing that day in June 1989. This book is on my “to read” list for the interviews and the first hand accounts.  – Aubrey Hicks

Cities for People

by Jan Gehl

My fascination with city planning coming through here … an accessible guide to city planning. – Aubrey Hicks

A People’s Guide to Los Angeles 

by Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough, and Wendy Cheng

An alternative look at LA history… plus good restaurant recommendations. The authors tell us about social justice and also where to get a good cupcake! – Donnajean Ward (she leaves a copy at her desk at work too, just in case the need arises.)

The Bright Continent: Breaking Rules and Making Change in Modern Africa 

by Dayo Olopade

Not sure I totally buy the author’s take but it’s definitely a fresh take on a continent with some of the fastest growing economies (and populations). – Donnajean Ward

The Routes of Man: Travels in the Paved World 

by Ted Conover

A look at how road building/infrastructure impacts history. – Donnajean Ward

The Way We Live Now 

by Anthony Trollope

A great companion for Piketty’s Capital! (yes, it’s fiction). – Donnajean Ward

Confronting Suburban Poverty in America

by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube

Last week, the Census Bureau released a report chronicling the changing demographics of poverty. One interesting finding from the American Community Survey report was that between 2000 and 2010, a large chunk of people living in poverty areas shifted from urban areas to suburban neighborhoods. For a more in-depth exploration of the increasing suburban character of poverty in the U.S., check out Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube’s excellent Confronting Suburban Poverty in America. – Jeremy Loudenback

Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

by Marc Reisner

If you’ve been following the news in California over the past year, you’re well aware of the governance challenges posed by the state’s persistent drought. But this isn’t the first time that California (or Governor Jerry Brown) has been faced with these dire issues. To bone up on your history of water in the west and its still-enduring politics, Marc Reisner’s Cadillac Desert is an essential read. – Jeremy Loudenback

If Mayors Ruled the World

by Barber Benjamin R.

The thesis of Benjamin R. Barber’s new book is that mayors, rather than the leaders of often politically factionalized nations, may be better able to deal with the most pressing governance problems of the 21st century: climate change, poverty, terrorism, drug trafficking, more. Check out his thought-provoking new book If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. – Jeremy Loudenback

A History of Future Cities

by Daniel Brook

Daniel Brook’s fascinating new book, A History of Future Cities offers a look at the aspirations of four global gateway cities: Dubai, Mumbai, St. Petersburg, and Shanghai. These fast-moving cities highlight the tension between the early fragments of an idealized western modernity and emerging transnational identities. – Jeremy Loudenback

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