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Best Political Books of 2004

Already made up your mind how to vote in next month's election? These titles are still worth reading for the next four years, and beyond.

By the time you read this, all three presidential debates will be history and the 2004 election will be two weeks away. It's probably too late to change your mind about your choice for president, but it's never too late to broaden your political horizons.

Here, then, are our choices for the best political books of 2004, a year that saw journalists, spies, public officials and anyone else with a political connection or opinion rush to get their words into print and their names onto a dust jacket.

Globalize Liberation
Edited by David Solnit

This City Lights publication is part exhortation, part toolbox for the new generation of protesters. All the progressive touchstones are addressed here: racism, corporate control, indigenous rights, imperalism. But the book also sets out plans of action with media-savvy blueprints and buzzwords. How to frame the debate? Read this book.

The 9/11 Commission Report
By the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

Published in July, this has been one of the summer's biggest sellers and was just named as a nonfiction finalist for a National Book Award. Every time I've popped into a bookstore to ask for it, it's sold out. Nothing gives me more hope this election season than to know Americans are actually reading the report, straight from the source. Or at least buying it.

The Right Nation
By John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge

If you like the Economist magazine, especially those long special reports they publish every quarter, you'll love The Right Nation. It's a thorough examination of how the conservative movement (or movements) have come to the fore in this country. Served up in sometimes impenetrable British style, it's nonetheless a valuable look at America from the outside.

American Dynasty
By Kevin Phillips

Published at the beginning of 2004, Dynasty was somewhat overlooked in the year-long avalanche of political tomes. Longtime Republican insider Phillips lays out in scathing detail how generations of Bush family have wielded power, rewarded their friends and punished their enemies at the highest echelons of business and government. Frightening and fascinating.

The Future Dictionary Of America
Edited by Jonathan Safran Foer and McSweeney's staff

The introductory note on the first page of the Future Dictionary pretty much sums it up: brief bits written by dozens of authors, some famous, some not, with all proceeds benefiting "groups devoted to expressing their outrage over the Bush Administration's assault on free speech, overtime, drinking water, truth, the rule of law, humility, the separation of Church and State, a woman's right to choose, and every other good idea this country's ever had." With a bonus CD of protest music, including songs by R.E.M., Blink 182, and the Flaming Lips. (Fair disclosure: Literary Arts associate editor Suzanne Kleid did some editing work on Future Dictionary.)

Michael Moore Is A Big Fat Stupid White Man
By David Hardy and Jason Clarke

With his film Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore arguably did more damage to the Bush Administration than any Democratic campaign, but his dubious "documentary" methods have mostly escaped mainstream scrutiny. Are Moore's movies "as manipulative as totalitarian propaganda," as the authors charge? Putting ideology aside, it's a fair question. If we can criticize the infamous Swift Boat ads, we shouldn't give Moore a free pass.

What's The Matter With Kansas?
By Thomas Frank

Taking up the populist mantel, Baffler founder and editor Frank combines wonky detail with a bare-fisted attack on the conservative forces that have convinced America's poor and working classes that the Republican agenda is good for them. Frank uses blue-collar Kansas as his proving ground to show how conservative appeal to cultural issues such as religion and "elitism" has hoodwinked a vast swath of Americans who should be voting on the left.

Shock And Awe In Fort Worth
By Sheryl Elam Tappan

A contract bidding specialist at Bechtel Corp., San Mateo resident Tappan details the process by which Halliburton got exclusive contracts to reconstruct Iraq in the wake of the American invasion. Anyone who wants to dig deeper into the Halliburton accusations that opponents of Bush/Cheney continue to level during the campaign should check out this slim volume.