Must-Reads From the Panelists of Flaming Politics

Flaming Politics is the web's watering hole for LGBT political junkies. Each week, its panel of LGBT voices from across the political spectrum give their take on the issues of the day. Left, right, middle of the road or just plain out there, our panel is a button-pushing antidote to the boring echo chamber of traditional gay media. We asked the panel members to share their "must-read" list, and here are their picks:


Sociobiology: The New Synthesis, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition

by Edward O. Wilson

Joe Moag's pick: Perhaps the most important book on biology and evolution since Darwin's Origin of Species. Wilson single-handedly created the field of social biology with this work. Much pilloried by socialists and the Left over the years, Wilson is a secular humanist who looks at the biological basis for social behavior in the animal kingdom. What's this got to do with politics and gays? Well, you tell me. What does a book that talks about the biological basis for social behavior — which is what politics and homosexuality are — have to do with politics and homosexuality? Hmmmm...


Richard Scarry's Busy Busy World

by Richard Scarry

Joe Moag's pick: Seriously. I read this as a kid over and over, and I think it has a lot do with how I see the world — or, should I say, how I think I want to see the world. All sorts of different people (well, animals, actually), working together, in humor and mutual support. Something, I think, that the LGBT community could still learn a lot from. I sometimes think that our LGBT leaders are turning a fight for equality and integration into a fight for equality through self-segregation. Lowly Worm would be mortified.


American Wife

by Curtis Sittenfeld

Nick Dierman's pick: Because this work of fiction is based largely on the life of Laura Welch Bush, it's a secret window into the soul of a complicated woman who departs from the traditional Halston-and-pearls gay icon of a first lady (à la Nancy Reagan) and crafts her own bookish, mousy, creative and open-minded persona which is an icon all its own (think Leanne Marshall from Season 5 of Project Runway).


All the King's Men

by Robert Penn Warren

Nick Dierman's pick: To even begin to understand this great big mess that is American politics, you should start with the best political novel ever written, an insight into populism, power and the inevitable corruption that follows.

This book also appears on Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction


What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America

by Thomas Frank

Nick Dierman's pick: Because it's worth understanding why (and not just how) Red State America differs from our cozy liberal vision of Blue State America, and why people vote with their values and not their economic interests — and it's worth noting how the entire premise behind this book may become moot if North Carolina, North Dakota and West Virginia help elect an African-American Democrat to the White House based on the shambles that is our economy, "morals" and "values" be damned.


Machiavelli's The Prince

by William J. Connell, Niccolo Machiavelli

Brock Savage's pick: Writtten in 1513, this political treatise gives us not only the adjective "Machiavellian" but is also the source of "it is better to be feared than loved" and "the ends justify the means." A political philosophy roundly rejected by most right-thinking governments, it gives a historical perspective on the philosophies that currently rule the Republican party. While in boarding school (the same one Dubya attended), we were treated to a talk by one of the trustees, a Texas oilman and cohort of our current president, during the course of which he read, quite unironically, from The Prince in order to provide us, his audience, with the same advice he reportedly took to heart and followed everyday. Needless to say, the audience was rendered speechless.



by Edward W. Said

Brock Savage's pick: Said's 1978 book explores the way in which Western scholarship, even that which is pro-oriental (in this case "oriental" refers to the original meaning of the Arab Middle-East, as opposed to the more modern meaning of the Far East) is filtered through a skewed lens in which the West is inherently superior. Though Said traces most of this prejudice to 18th and 19th century French and English scholarly traditions, the practice of the West defining itself in opposition to the Middle East is as old as time. Roberto Callaso's The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony and even Herodotus' The Histories explore in-depth how the Ancient Greeks (upon whose back most of Western philosophy and sholarship is built) defined themselves against the people of the Middle East: "They are what we are not, We are not them." This bi-polar oppositional view colors almost all of modern politics, from the "War on Terror" to immigration policies in Europe.


The Greed Merchants: How the Investment Banks Played the Free Market Game

by Philip Augar

Brock Savage's pick: In this 2005 book, pre-dating the current economic crisis and the down-fall of the titans of Wall Street, Augur (a former financial insider) reports on how the investment banking cartel has stacked the odd in their favor, controlling all capital markets, and how through complex transactions with intentional obfuscations on the part of the banks they make it impossible for corporations to complete basic financial transaction that they should (at least in theory) be able to do themselves. What is trully interesting is how Augar points out that regardless of whether or not there is a crisis (as we are currently experiencing) that the average person eventually pays the price for the banks greed mongering. Having worked for investment banks myself, I can tell you that this book only touches on the surface of nasty and immoral practices which are par for the course. While working for one investment bank, I watched as the entire bank's support staff (i.e. everyone not a banker) were told that they would receive no bonuses that year to due to losses incurred in the 3rd quarter. Two months later it was then reported in the WSJ that the CEO of that firm recieved the highest bonus of any CEO on Wall Street. Classy!


From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present

by Jacques Barzun

Japhy Grant's pick: Is history primarily the actions of great men or is it the story of our collective culture? In my favorite history book of all time, Barzun argues that the answer is "both." A great white shark would be as useless on the African serengeti as a lion would be dumped into the ocean. Barzun follows the history of arts and thought as it responded to and influenced the events of the last 500 years. It's a page turner with everyone from Proust to Martin Luther to the Beatles taking a walk across its pages. The central thesis, that the ideas that drove the Reformation — Freedom, Equality and Liberty — have become meaningless in our own time, is an important one.


Bohemian Los Angeles: and the Making of Modern Politics

by Daniel Hurewitz

Japhy Grant's pick: Beginning with Julian Eltinge, a popular mainstream cross-dressing vaudevillian who moved to early Hollywood to join the nascent film industry and ending with the birth of The Mattachine Society, America's first gay political organization, Hurwitz tells the story the shaping of gay identity through the lens of L.A. I reccomend this book because most gays and lesbians are unaware that the "gay identity" is a wholly political invention — and a recent one at that. This book engagingly tells the story of how a group of "commie pinkos" invented the modern gay identity — and why we should both celebrate and be skeptical of that identity as we move forward.


The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

by Edmund Morris

Japhy Grant's pick: How "Teddy" Roosevelt went from an asthmatic and aristocratic boy to a rough-ridin' president is one of America's greatest stories. Along the way, T.R. finds himself losing the love of his life, fighting the New York machine, finding solace in the Badlands of the Dakotas and becoming a prolific writer in his own right. It's no secret that T.R. is my political hero (flaws and all) and the first book in Norris' trilogy captures all his enthusiasm, energy and intellectual vigor.


The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America

by Louis Menand

Japhy Grant's pick: Following the threaded lives of Oliver Wendell Holmes, William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey after the Civil War, The Metaphysical Club tells the story (though not so much the ideas) of "pragmatism," arguably America's sole contribution to philosophy. As dull as that sounds, the book is really the story of how these thinkers struggled to shape the future direction of a country racked by war and deep domestic failures by investigating the world around them, testing their theories and engaging in dialogue with each other and with the world at large without resorting to the comfort and dangerous fallacies of ideology. See, history is important!


State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III

by Bob Woodward

Joe Moag's pick: An all-around slamming indictment on the Bush administration's war in Iraq. The book speaks for itself.