Come November: 5 Books to Understand the Modern World

It’s summer, which means beach books, blockbuster movies, and putting our brains in airplane mode for three months, right? Maybe so, but remember, fall will be here sooner than we’d like, and with it an election that promises to be historic regardless who is victorious at the ballot box. Now that the nominees for each party have been finalized, it’s time for the candidates to start focusing solely on the issues – though the likelihood of that happening is about as high as the likelihood of the new Star Wars movie being a box office flop.

That’s no excuse, however, for not being informed when you cast your vote next November. And no better time to start studying than now, when there’s enough daylight to get through your favorite trashy magazine and still crack open a book or two. To begin, try these books that help explain our modern world, and how we got here.

Field Notes From a CatastropheField Notes from a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert

With last year’s signing of the Kyoto Accord, a multinational agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions, it became official – climate change is a thing. But what exactly is it, when did it begin, and can we actually do anything to stop it? In this book divided into sections covering nature, man, and time, environmental writer Kolbert takes a sobering look at the effects of increasing temperatures around the globe. Both frightening and galvanizing, this book explains what will happen sooner than later if we don’t find a way to turn down the heat.

White TrashWhite Trash by Nancy Isenberg

Before conceding the nomination to Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders gathered widespread support for a campaign based on income inequality in our country, tapping into anger over a widening class divide. But the difference between the haves and have-nots is not just about the number of zeroes on their paystubs. As Isenberg writes in this history of class in America, property-less, uneducated, poor whites have shaped our notion of identity since the Revolution, and, as this election attests, continue to do so today.

Gun FightGun Fight by Adam Winkler

Fourteen times President Obama has been forced to address the nation following a mass shooting – six of them in the past year alone, most recently just a week ago following the massacre in Orlando. Each time, the answer to the problem seems ever more glaringly obvious – stronger limits, or an outright ban, on civilians’ access to guns. But as Winkler writes in this evenhanded examination of the debate over the right to bear arms, the issue is possibly one of the most complicated, and emotional, ones facing lawmakers, and our ongoing battle of how to interpret the Second Amendment has repercussions worldwide.

Beyond MagentaBeyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin

The current debate over who gets to go in which bathroom may seem like a tempest in a chamber pot, but politicians’ eagerness to exploit the issue reveals how much fear and misunderstanding remains about transgender people, despite their increased visibility in shows like I Am Cait and Transparent. Activists today are fighting for rights that will be enjoyed by the transgendered youth of tomorrow, making it possible to imagine a time when binary male/female distinctions are as outdated as, well, chamber pots. In this book, Kuklin pairs photographs and testimonies from teens across the gender spectrum.

No God But GodNo God but God by Reza Aslan

If Donald Trump is to be believed, “Islam hates us,” which is why he has pledged to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. if he’s elected president. Setting aside the impossibility of a religion having human emotions, his proposal reveals a willed ignorance about both the religion of Islam and the people who practice it. In this introduction to the faith by religious scholar Aslan, the writer traces the development of Islam, explains the historical and symbolic significance of the prophet Muhammad, and corrects many of the myths continuing to be propagated by anti-Muslim factions both in the US and around the world.