5 Great Books for Political Science Majors

If you are a political science major or are minoring in political science, the following five books will provide you with a foundation in the basics of United States politics. The field of politics is constantly evolving, but the five books we focus on below will give a good overview for political science majors.

1. Red State, Blue State, by Andrew Gelamn

This book focuses on the 2000 presidential election and how George Bush won. More than a book about elections, this is an analysis of how people around the country voted. Many of the myths about a divide between socially and fiscally conservative red state voters and socially liberal blue state voters are busted with data. A revised edition adds analysis of the 2008 election, so this is the version to read if available.

2. Nixonland, by Richard Perlstein

This book provides a comprehensive analysis of the Nixon White House. It starts by describing Nixon’s rise to national prominence after the Watts riots, and Johnson’s signing of the Voting Rights Act. Many liberals were run out of office the next year, and the conservative Nixon won the presidency in 1968, and again four years later. Nixonland describes how this happened and what it meant for national politics in subsequent decades. The blue state-red state divide emerged during this time, so the current political divide may be better understood by learning how things changed in the Nixon years.

3. The Power Broker, by Robert A. Caro

This Pulitzer-prize winning study of Robert Moses and the New York political machine is a great analysis of “machine” politics in a large city. A relatively obscure political figure names Robert Moses worked behind the scenes of politics in New York City, and the state, for several decades. Caro’s book looks behind the scene to explain just how Moses and cronies acquired so much influence and wielded it for so many years. A study of how power and influence work in politics at the state and local level is essential reading for any aspiring political scientist.

4. What it Takes, by Richard Ben Cramer

This study of presidential politics is a great companion to The Power Broker.  It describes the psychological makeup that it takes to mount a run for president. Cramer creates his outline of presidential character by looking at the main players in the 1988 presidential race. Gary Hart, George Bush, Robert Dukakis, and Robert Dole all get attention. Readers learn that stamina, shamelessness, and raw ambition contribute to the character of individuals who run for President or Vice President.

5. The Party Decides, by Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel, John Zaller

This complex study of presidential politics describes how senior party officials in the United States determine who represents Democrats and Republicans in each presidential election. The authors examine this process by looking at the 2008 Democratic Party primaries, where some politicians, political commentators and voters feared that superdelegates would end up selecting the party’s candidate. In the end, party insiders had a disproportionate influence on the outcome, as they had in past elections the authors describe.

Related Resource: 30 Great Small Colleges for ESFJ Personality Types

If you read these books for political science majors, you will have a good grounding in how the American political system evolved and how it works in 2017.