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The top political books of 2021

Stack of books, blurry background

Political readers were treated to a number of notable titles this year centering around some of the top news stories of 2021, including the early months of President Biden’s administration, the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and the imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

From Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s eye-opening reporting in “Peril” to Hillary Clinton’s political fiction debut, here are some of the most memorable political books of 2021.

“Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could” by Adam Schiff

Rep. Adam Schiff‘s (D-Calif.) book, which was first announced in April and published in October, details his perspective of former President Trump‘s first impeachment as the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and his view of where American democracy stands now.

In “Midnight in Washington,” Schiff writes about his front row seat to the probe that stemmed from a whistleblower report following a phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president and resulted in the House adopting two articles of impeachment against Trump. Schiff uses his experiences to argue that the Trump presidency left lasting damage on American institutions and the Republican Party that will take years to rebuild.

“For all his cynicism and shrewdness, Trump could not have come so close to succeeding if his party had stood up to him, if good people hadn’t been silent, or worse, allowed themselves to become complicit,” Schiff wrote in a statement announcing the book. “I wanted to relate the private struggles, the triumphs of courage, but more often, the slow surrender of people I worked with and admired to the shameful immorality of a president who could not be trusted.”

The congressman traces his inside account all the way to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, leaving readers with big questions about the status of democracy in America. 

Peril” by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa

In arguably the biggest political book of the year, The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa interviewed more than 200 people and crafted more than 6,000 transcript pages into a striking picture of the Trump administration, the 2020 election, the early months of President Biden‘s presidency, the Pentagon and Congress.

The book, which features many eyewitness accounts and transcripts of secret calls, emails, diaries and other personal documents, included revelations that set off fireworks in politics and the media this year. Woodward and Costa detailed claims that Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley called his counterpart in Beijing to offer assurances after the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) referred to Trump as a “fading brand,” and Biden ignored warnings from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, among others. 

“Peril” is the third book Woodward has written detailing insider accounts of the Trump presidency, following “Fear: Trump in the White House” and “Rage.”

“While Justice Sleeps” by Stacey Abrams

The first of two novels on this list, Stacey Abrams made her political fiction debut this year with a thriller that follows a clerk for a Supreme Court Justice who discovers evidence of a possible conspiracy involving some of Washington’s biggest power players.

“While Justice Sleeps” centers around Avery Keene, a law clerk for Justice Howard Wynn, who learns she is to serve as Wynn’s legal guardian and power of attorney after he slips into a coma. Keene learns that Wynn was secretly researching a very controversial case before the court and that Wynn had reason of suspecting a dangerous conspiracy unfolding in Washington.

“A decade ago, I wrote the first draft of a novel that explored an intriguing aspect of American democracy — the lifetime appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Abrams said in a statement announcing the book news in 2020, just after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and President Trump‘s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace her. “As an avid consumer of legal suspense novels and political thrillers, I am excited to add my voice into the mix.”

It was announced in May that an NBCUniversal unit acquired the rights for a small-screen adaptation of “While Justice Sleeps.”

Abrams, who has been a vocal advocate for federal voting rights legislation and announced her second bid for the Georgia governorship earlier this month, is no stranger to fiction — she penned three romance novels nearly two decades ago under a pseudonym that will hit bookshelves under her own name in 2022. She is also the author of two nonfiction books, “Minority Leader: How to Lead from the Outside and Make Real Change” and “Our Time Is Now: Power, Purpose, and the Fight for a Fair America.”

“Navalny: Putin’s Nemesis, Russia’s Future?” By Jan Matti Dollbaum, Morvan Lallouet and Ben Noble

In “Navalny,” the authors examine one of the most talked about world figures of 2021 and what his story says about modern Russia.

The book details the story of Alexei Navalny, whose return to Russia in January of this year and subsequent detention after being poisoned sparked massive protests calling for his release. The authors probe not only Navalny’s story — and his showdown with Russian President Vladimir Putin — but his complicated image as a political figure, which ranges from democratic hero to traitor of his country.

“Lucky: How Joe Biden Barely Won the Presidency” by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes

“Lucky” traces Biden’s unlikely road to the White House that culminated in the 2020 election and examines how he pulled off a win that almost no one, including many members of his own party, believed he could achieve.

The Hill’s Amie Parnes and NBC’s Jonathan Allen include insight from both Democratic and Republican key players to unveil the full story of how the race unfolded. The book features detailed accounts of the race’s major turning points, from securing the endorsement of House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), to the Black voters in South Carolina who saved Biden’s campaign when it was on the verge of imploding, and how Biden managed to successfully steer his bid through the coronavirus lockdown in March 2020.

“Inside Biden’s campaign, there was a sense that, for the first time in ten months, the political winds had shifted away from his face,” reads an excerpt about Biden getting Clyburn’s endorsement. “For all of the breaks that had gone Biden’s way, there had been only sporadic interruptions in a firestorm of failure. He had survived getting in the race late, campaign infighting, pathetic fundraising, and finishing fourth, fifth, and a distant second in the first three states on the primary calendar. He had benefited from the spiking of the Iowa poll, the caucus debacle, debate-night drubbings of Buttigieg and Bloomberg in consecutive states, and so much more.

“And yet the Clyburn endorsement was different from the rest: Biden had worked for it over the course of years—developing a relationship with Clyburn and his late wife, tending to a Charleston dredging project as vice president, and visiting the state for as long as he could remember.”

Allen and Parnes are also the authors of “Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign.”

“State of Terror” by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny

Hillary Clinton’s fictional co-writing debut with novelist Louise Penny centers around a new U.S. presidential administration that is faced with an international conspiracy posing a serious terror threat following a tumultuous time in American politics. 

“The book started really out of a conversation that Louise and I had,” Clinton said in an interview just before the novel was released in October.

“I asked, ‘What’s your nightmare?’” Penny said.

“State of Terror” begins with a new administration whose president appoints one of his political enemies, former media conglomerate head Ellen Adams, to be secretary of state. When the U.S. is faced with a serious terror threat, Adams, her team and young foreign service officer Anahita Dahir have to work together to defeat the conspiracy planned out by an international cohort that has taken advantage of an out-of-touch American government.

“This is a wake-up call for anybody who cares about America, the world,” Clinton said.

“Chief of Staff: Notes from Downing Street” by Gavin Barwell

In “Chief of Staff,” Gavin Barwell provides a riveting inside account of his time as Downing Street chief of staff to former Prime Minister Theresa May. Barwell became May’s chief of staff just after the 2017 general election, when the former prime minister lost her overall majority in Britain’s Parliament, and became her righthand man for the next two years.

Barwell’s sheds light on the significant transformations within British politics during the last few years and on May as a leader during a time of political strife in the wake of the 2016 Brexit referendum. He writes about being with her during every moment ranging from meeting Trump to responding to the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy and being at the center of Brexit negotiations with leaders including Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn.

“The Long Game: China’s Grand Strategy to Displace American Order” by Rush Doshi

“The Long Game” focuses on China’s emergence as a power player on the world stage, how the country has achieved that status and what the U.S. should do about it. Doshi’s book comes at a pivotal time as China, the first American adversary in over a century to reach 60 percent of U.S. GDP, is quickly growing into a global superpower.

Doshi draws on Chinese government documents and leaked materials to reveal a modern history of China’s political prowess since the end of the Cold War. The author details the country’s carefully executed strategy to remove the U.S. from the global pecking order and explores how various major events, including the 2008 financial crisis, the 2016 election and the coronavirus pandemic, have altered China’s view of and response to American power.

Tags 2021 Adam Schiff Adam Schiff Amy Coney Barrett Antony Blinken Bob Woodward Boris Johnson Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Lloyd Austin Mark Milley Mitch McConnell Peril political books Robert Costa Ruth Bader Ginsburg Stacey Abrams Theresa May Vladimir Putin

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