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7 Political Novels That Aren’t Stupid (Like Politicians)

All The King’s Men is said by many critics to be the greatest political novel of all time.

I don’t know about that, but it is a really freakin’ good book. And since I thought I hadn’t tackled that many true political novels as part of reading the Time list, I started wondering what else is out there.

Here’s what I found–and well, it turns out, I have read a few political novels:

1984: Orwell’s classic was my book #11 from the list, and it’s currently in my top 10. Loved this novel. This is big brother, big government, and crappy politicians at their worst. Interestingly, it is currently a best-seller on Amazon after a huge spike in sales brought on by current news here in the U.S.–like the NSA scandal and the killer drones.

Lincoln: I would love to read Lincoln by Gore Vidal, but I never have. I’m not crazy about historical fiction, and it’s historical fiction. But by all accounts, it’s good historical fiction.

The Manchurian Candidate: Fascinating novel by Richard Condon. An American POW is brainwashed by the Chinese government and then reprogrammed to go home and kill the American president. Wow! What a great story setup.

Catch 22: Bureaucracy and politics go hand in hand. And Catch 22 by Joseph Heller is, in my opinion, one of the best satirical novels ever–it’s all about war, politics and bureaucracy. I just love Yossarian. Great character.

Atlas Shrugged: Read and adored by Tea Partiers everywhere, Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand’s classic. A Library of Congress survey called it the second most influential book for Americans. I don’t get the hype, but I haven’t read it either.

American Hero: This novel by Larry Beinhart was the basis for the movie Wag The Dog. It’s a satirical novel that basically says, “What if a president determined to get re-elected teamed up with a famous movie director to basically create a made-for-TV war?”

Animal Farm: Another Orwell classic novel. No, it’s not about barnyard animals. It’s about Joseph Stalin and leadership gone mad.

What’s your take on political novels? Any favorites?

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42 Comments Post a comment
  1. JC #

    You have ever to try “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel. It sucks you in from the first line… Superb stuff!

    Like

    June 19, 2013
    • I agree: “Wolf Hall” is a fabulous political (and historical) novel.

      Like

      June 19, 2013
  2. bba #

    Infinite Jest has a lot of politics in it. Certainly not a “political novel”, but it explores many political themes in an absurdest way (President Gentle’s ruler is a rather over the top example).

    And you should check out Ayn Rand. She’s America’s greatest children’s book author.

    Like

    June 19, 2013
    • A friend described her as a “second rate philosopher who wrote a crappy book to showcase her stupid opinions” or something like that.

      Like

      June 19, 2013
  3. Reblogged this on techbeautyblog.

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    June 19, 2013
  4. A Team of Rivals is a much better book about Lincoln in my opinion. I enjoyed it and gave it as a gift to several fans of that time period in our history.

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    June 19, 2013
  5. Reblogged this on techbeautyblog.

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    June 19, 2013
  6. deweydecimalsbutler #

    Ayn Rand’s Anthem is neat. Does Huxley’s Brave New World count as political? It covers so much that I can’t be sure. It seems to tie in politics and media.

    Like

    June 19, 2013
    • Good one. I saw it on some lists when I was researching for this post.

      Like

      June 19, 2013
    • I actually preferred The Fountain Head when I compared to Atlas Shrugged. Both novels can get rather preachy and become tiresome because of it. And though I do agree with some of Rand’s opinions, I don’t find them all appealing.

      Like

      June 19, 2013
      • deweydecimalsbutler #

        I agree completely. The whole philosophy of Objectivism has some merits, but there are some holes in it as well that I cannot overlook. I haven’t read Atlas Shrugged yet. It’s on my ever-growing list. I’ve read Anthem and The Fountain Head. Engaging, yes. Preachy, also yes.

        Like

        June 19, 2013
      • David #

        Exactly. I really liked The Fountainhead. Atlas Shrugged had some great parts, but overall it was too long, too preachy, and quite hard to get through.

        Like

        June 20, 2013
  7. Kangaroo by D.H. Lawrence has a lot of politics within it. It was written between the world wars and has many insights into the political turmoil that many returned serviceman encountered. I definitely believe it is the most under-rated of Lawrence’s novels.

    Like

    June 19, 2013
  8. I am not an Ayn Rand fan. Once I read the section in which she justified rape I lost all interest.

    Like

    June 19, 2013
    • David #

      No disrespect intended, but I think you’re either making that up or you didn’t read carefully. I’ve read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and I don’t recall any justification of rape. I know those aren’t her only works though, so please correct me if I’m wrong.

      Like

      June 20, 2013
      • It is in the one about the architect in which the man rapes the female critic somewhere in the middle and the woman reacts as if this is OK, that it was ok for him to ‘take’ her like that. I attempted to read the book in order to broaden my range. But I found that I liked few if any of the characters and wondered where it was going. Sometimes it is better to put a book down.

        Like

        June 20, 2013
        • David #

          I can see how many would find that part distasteful, but that was just one woman’s feelings about one rape. Hardly a justification of rape in general.

          Like

          June 20, 2013
          • I guess when a woman whose philosophy is about justifiable selfishness, somehow I got the sense that she was saying his actions were OKay because it met his needs and wants.

            Like

            June 20, 2013
    • Well just to clarify Ayn Rand does say that your selfishness cannot interfere with another’s. So yes her philosophy is about justifiable selfishness but more than that it is about the freedom to act selfishly. If in one’s act of selfishness you deny another his/her freedom then that would not be justifiable in Ayn Rand’s philosophy rather it would be morally abhorrent.

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      June 20, 2013
      • deweydecimalsbutler #

        I remember that scene. Somewhere in it, Rand comments how Howard knew that because she was fighting that she actually wanted him (consent?). If she didn’t consent, then she would have turned cold/stone like she did earlier in the book when someone she didn’t like kissed her. Not saying this is healthy or anything like it, but I would attribute it to that specific character (Dominic Francon) being weird, not justification of rape as a whole. I agree that it was disturbing, though, but it didn’t keep me from continuing on with the book.

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        June 20, 2013
        • I very seldom give up on a book. But that scene combined with not a single soul with whom I could relate made the book impossible. I remember most books I have read but this one gets murkier with each passing year. It must not have made the mark on me that it has on others.

          Like

          July 3, 2013
  9. desfischersseele #

    I find the books of Orwell also great. Especially the two that you mentioned. But one title missing one your list: king richard III, W. Shakespeare

    Like

    June 19, 2013
  10. desfischersseele #

    Hat dies auf Des Fischers Seele rebloggt und kommentierte:
    Add your thoughts here… (optional)

    Like

    June 19, 2013
  11. Reblogueó esto en Eclécticoy comentado:
    Novelas políticas. ¿Cuál es tu favorita?

    Like

    June 19, 2013
  12. Myaz_Nuggetz #

    Reblogged this on Myaz_Nuggetz.

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    June 19, 2013
  13. Not in the same league as Catch 22 or Animal Farm, but Primary Colors (Anonymous) is a good political romp. Gore Vidal’s books are usually pretty good, but I’ve never tried Lincoln.

    Like

    June 19, 2013
  14. Atlas Shrugged rocked my world when I was a late teen. Now that I’m older, I don’t buy into the Capilalist-all-will-be-ok-if-we-follow-this-philosophy with no regulation. And some of her rants are legendary. I skipped them after reading a few paragraphs.

    BTW, just finished “A Supposedly…” The man is brilliant. Thank you.

    Like

    June 19, 2013
  15. Reblogged this on .

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    June 20, 2013
  16. I struggled through Atlas Shrugged and althogh objectivism has some good points, the novel, as a novel, is just delirious.

    Like

    June 20, 2013
  17. For those who like their novels Victorian and three-decker, there’s a lot of parliamentary politics in Eliot’s Daniel Deronda. More recently the hugely under-rated Jonathan Coe has plenty to say about Westminster politics in The Closed Circle .James Robertson’s And the Land Lay Still is an epic novel about the politics of Scotland since the Second World War,, and is reviewed on my blog, I’m sure his new novel The Professor of Truth, which is inspired by the Lockerbie bombing (but which I haven’t yet had a chance to read), will have plenty to say about geopolitics, if not the parliamentary variety.

    My favourite political novel, however, is Winifred Holtby’s South Riding. It’s about corruption on a local council in Yorkshire in the 1930s. It was dramatized (badly and at a ridiculous pace) by the BBC in 2011, and majestically by Yorkshire Television, in 13 hour-long episodes in 1974. The latter is utterly faithful and proceeds at a pace unthinkable today, but the dramatization by highly-regarded novelist (and proud Yorkshireman) Stan Barstow, is reverential and magnificent. It’s the finest novel ever written about local government – at least in the UK.

    Will also put my head above the parapet and say I don’t accept the premis about politicians – as a class – being stupid. I work closely with them as my day job, and have concluded that some are lightweight, some are venal and corrupt, a lot are dull but worthy plodders – a few are brilliant and inspirational. Most (of all parties) are just decent people trying to serve their communities as best they can within a mad system and a hostile world. Certainly when it comes to UK Parliamentary politics I wouldn’t do their job – with all the attendant abuse and intrusion into your private life – for the money on offer.

    Like

    June 20, 2013
    • Fair point. It’s a generalization. I know there are some good politicians who mean well, but the game of politics itself is so dirty it’s hard to see how they ever get anything done.

      Like

      June 20, 2013
      • I don’t mean to be snarky – this is a great blog, and I’m so pleased to have discovered it. The media love to create the idea that all politicians are rogues – and then wonder why people are increasingly reluctant to get involved, and have their families subjected to all sorts of hostility, Some of the kindest, most thoughtful and inspiring people I know are politicians – and some of them are my ideological opponents. But – whatever we think – we can be glad that the attendant drama (and occasional sleaze) that surrounds politics has brought us some great fiction to read!

        BTW – for a Scottish reader – you have one of the greatest of all names!

        Like

        June 20, 2013
  18. I always thought Island by Aldous Huxley was a great one – political AND philosophical at the same time. As a Canadian, I have to mention The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis – hilarious political satire set in (polite) Canada. Maybe not in such an absurdist vein as Catch 22, but a great read!

    Like

    June 20, 2013
  19. J.R.Barker #

    I have just nominated your for the Super Sweet Blog Award!
    http://jrbarker101.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/super-sweet-blogging-award/

    Like

    June 20, 2013
  20. For me, politics is too important to be left to the politicians. The Dispossessed, by Ursula LeGuin, uses a science fiction lens to look at three different ways or organizing societies. Her book The Left Hand of Darkness was a groundbreaking book about gender and power. She’s also a fabulous writer: I would spend time with anything she has ever written.

    Like

    June 20, 2013
  21. I’m thinking about this a bit more today. After recently finishing Kent Haruf’s “Benediction,” I’m considering the word “political” in a broad sense. “Benediction” makes its point without hitting the reader over the head. It’s not perfect, but it’s a great read.

    Like

    June 20, 2013
  22. My favorite has to be “Seeing” Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago–it’s the lesser-known (but in my opinion superior) sequel to “Blindness” which was turned into a movie that didn’t quite do it justice. It begins with a failed election where most ballots turn up blank–individuals protesting the lack of good options in political candidates. Saramago pushes the country to breaking point through the course of his novel. It’s an excellent exploration of the nature of democracy.

    Like

    June 20, 2013
  23. Animal Farm and 1984, two of my favorite novels.1984 is especially poignant considering the whole issue internet surveillance nowadays. May i suggest the Machiavelli’s the Prince as a shortlisted option?

    Like

    June 22, 2013
  24. Having read 1984 and Animal Farm I can say they are two of my favourite novels. It is scary how relevant 1984 is since it was written all them years ago. Catch 22 was one of the funniest books I read and I agree, Yossarian is a brilliant character. Funniest point for me was when he was naked at the drill and the extreme situations he went to avoid flying again.

    Like

    June 24, 2013
  25. I’ve read and enjoyed all of these. Though, I love the minimalism of 1984 the best.

    Like

    June 25, 2013
  26. Catch 22 was a little more difficult to get into.

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    June 25, 2013
  27. … Still ;D

    Like

    December 18, 2014

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