Just in time for the holidays: Your book recommendations

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Earlier this year, we published two articles about a reading list that two lawmakers ― state Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City) and Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery) ― assembled for their colleagues after consulting with a range of experts.

They were inspired by a retired Navy admiral and former NATO supreme commander, James G. Stavridis, who had written a book in 2017 called “The Leader’s Bookshelf,” which is essentially a recommended reading list of 50 books for aspiring leaders.

“Perhaps the single best way a leader can learn and grow is through reading,” Stavridis has said.

McCray and Korman essentially compiled an “A list” ― the true essentials ― divided into five distinct subject areas, and a “B list” of equally good reads over a broader set of topics.

After we published the recommendations of Korman, McCray and friends, we asked readers to provide their own lists of suggested reading for people in leadership positions. The response was overwhelming.

Now, with apologies for the delay, but just in time for late holiday gifts ― or pre-2021 General Assembly session gifts ― we finally present the readers’ recommendations, in their own words. They are listed in the order in which we received them:

Gus B. Bauman, attorney and former head of the Montgomery County Planning Board

The greatest, most profound non-fiction book ever written by an American is “The Education of Henry Adams” (1918), by Henry Adams. No American who purports to lead other human beings in either the governmental/political realm or the business realm should be permitted to do so without reading and reflecting upon this deeply thoughtful, fascinating so-called autobiography (really, an excursion into American philosophy: how should one think and act in a complex democracy and ever-changing world?).

Jim Rose, Maryland Alliance for Justice Reform

Senator Charles Sydnor (D-Baltimore County) mentioned he was reading “Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration,” by Emily Bazelon.

David Reel, Maryland director, Quantum Communications

“A Sense of Urgency,” by John P. Kotter

“Getting More,” by Stuart Diamond

“Churchill on Leadership,” by Steven Hayward

Therese M. Hessler, president & CEO, Ashlar Government Relations & Consulting

“Start with Why,” by Simon Sinek

This is a must read for anyone in a leadership role. “Start With Why” shows that the leaders who’ve had the greatest influence in the world all think, act, and communicate the same way — and it’s the opposite of what everyone else does. It provides a framework upon which organizations can be built, movements can be led, and people can be inspired. And it all starts with WHY.

Daniel Golombek, retired NASA scientist

I recommend “The Education of a Christian Prince” by Erasmus of Rotterdam and Immanuel Kant’s “Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch.”

Erasmus’ book, written in 1516, is as prescient as any current book about political leadership could be. The teachings he suggests be given to leaders are extremely un-Machiavellian, and probably the ones we need; e.g.:

“Follow the right, do violence to no one, plunder no one, sell no public office, be corrupted by no bribes.”

“The tyrant looks upon nothing with greater suspicion than the harmonious agreement of good men and of cities; good princes especially rejoice in this. A tyrant is happy to stir up factions and strife between his subjects and feeds and aids chance animosities. This means he basely uses for the safeguarding of his tyranny. A king has this one interest: to foster peaceful relations between his subjects and straightway to adjust such dissensions among them as chance to arise, for he believes that they are the worst menace to the state that can happen. When a tyrant sees that affairs of state are flourishing, he trumps up some pretext, or even invites in some enemy, so as to start a war and thereby weaken the powers.”

The second book is a short essay that complements Erasmus’. Kant wrote that countries should be republics and harmoniously work together. In fact he describes (in 1795!) a federation very similar to the current European Union.

Jamie Kendrick, senior project manager, Mead & Hunt

“The Truly Disadvantaged,” by William Julius Wilson.

I read this book in college 25 years ago. it shaped my worldview of what it means to be poor and living in inescapable poverty ― and just how miraculous it is when someone does.

Patricia Helfrich

“The American Crisis: What Went Wrong, How We Recover,” by writers from The Atlantic.

“Our Bodies, Their Battlefields: War Through the Lives of Women,” by Christina Lamb

“The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Ray Feldmann, Feldmann Communications Strategies

“Red Ball Express” and “Dorie Miller: Greatness Under Fire.” Written by Elkton High School history teacher Dante R. Brizill, these two books celebrate the achievements of Black Americans during World War II. “Red Ball Express” is the true story of unsung heroes from World War II who drove the trucks that supplied American armies in Europe. Three out of every four of these men were Black.

“Dorie Miller” tells the true story of Doris “Dorie” Miller, a Black cook on the USS West Virginia who became a hero when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. During the attack Miller manned anti-aircraft guns, for which he had no training, and tended to the wounded. He was recognized by the Navy for his actions and awarded the Navy Cross.

“Cover My Dreams In Ink,” a poignant memoir written by Annapolis author Jessie Dunleavy about her late son, Paul, who died in 2017 of an accidental opioid overdose. Jessie’s book shines a light on the human toll of the war on drugs and drives home the urgency for drug policy reform. It is a tremendous resource for families who are dealing with the horrors of drug addiction, especially opioid addiction.

Kelby Brick, director, Governor’s Coordinating Offices, Office of the Deaf & Hard of Hearing

I would like to suggest “War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race” by Edwin Black. A must read for any public leader interested in basic human rights as this outlines how “American corporate philanthropies launched a national campaign of ethnic cleansing in the United States, helped found and fund the Nazi eugenics of Hitler and Mengele — and then created the modern movement of ‘human genetics.’”

Patrick Roddy, partner, Rifkin Weiner Livingston LLC

“Role of a Lifetime,” by Lou Cannon.

I did not like Ronald Reagan and famously told a boss that America would never vote for an actor but this book explained to me his gifts as a politician including his ability to use fictional metaphor as if it were reality (the conversation with Charles McDowell about the VMI movie scene is worth the whole book)

Robyn Elliott, partner, Public Policy Partners

I wanted to recommend “March: Book One” by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. This graphic novel is hands-down one of the best books that I’ve ever read. With just over 100 pages to tell John Lewis’ story about student sit-ins at lunch counters in the 1960’s, every word and every pen stroke has to convey both the fact and meaning of this part of our history. I don’t think a stand-alone narrative could have captured this story as well. The illustrations and concise narrative are worth more than 1,000 words. This book is priceless in the truest meaning of the word.

M.Q. Riding, director of marketing and communications, Chesapeake Utilities

My recommendation for a book to read is “Atlas Shrugged,” by Ayn Rand It is a quintessential novel on the rebirth of independence with a woman as a strong protagonist.

Christopher Costello, Public Sector Consulting Group

“The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America,” by Philip Howard

Del. Jazz M. Lewis (D-Prince George’s)

Here are a list of good reads in no particular order:

“Between the World and Me,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. He discusses the struggles of growing up in Baltimore and generally forgotten about urban America.

“Hillbilly Elegy,” by J.D. Vance, provides similar takes on forgotten rural America from a more conservative perspective.

“Strangers in Their Own Land,” by Arlie Russell Hochschild, gives an in-depth view of conservatives from their own eyes. I think it is important to understand those you disagree with in order to make real progress on policy.

“Leadership,” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, examines the leadership lessons of four American presidents.

“Man of the House,” by former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill. A lesson on cultivating power and being effective.

“Saving Capitalism,” by Robert Reich, summarizes how income inequality has grown in America and provides a roadmap to doing something about it.

“You’re More More Powerful Than You Think,” by Eric Liu. This is about civic engagement and is officially non-partisan. I use lessons from this book whenever I talk to students.

“Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High,” by Kerry Patterson and others. If you are to lead, you will need to build consensus and negotiate. This is a great way to navigate difficult conversations without compromising your values.

“Rules for Radicals,” by Saul Alinsky ― a primer on community and labor organizing that has been used effectively over the years.

“The Breakthrough,” by Gwen Ifill ― a veteran journalist’s take on the impact of Barack Obama’s electoral victory and its creation of a pathway for other Black and relatively new political leaders.

Hassan Giordano, Mr. Politics, owner, DMV Daily Media Group

I would suggest “The Prince,” “Art of War,” “48 Laws of Power” and “33 Strategies of War,” which I believe were all mentioned, as well as a great read by John J. Pitney Jr., “The Art of Political Warfare,” and one that would make for a great read in this moment, “The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court” by Jeffrey Toobin.

Eric Sterling, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation

“Tribes on the Hill,” by Jack McIver Weatherford is an anthropological study of the U.S. Senate from the mid-1980s. What would be useful for Maryland legislators is to think about how the features, relationships and problems that were facing the U.S. Senate can be instructive now.

Weatherford was a professor of anthropology who was doing “field work” on the staff of Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio). He points out the site of the Capitol much earlier was a gathering place for trade and barter by the Native peoples from other areas along the Mid-Atlantic region. He notes the familial and kinship relationships that exist for generations. And he describes the interest-based tribes that exist on Capitol Hill, such as the tribe that supports military appropriations in Maine, Mississippi, Georgia, Virginia, California, Washington state, etc. He also identifies different kinds of ritual and performance roles played by different Senators and analogizes how they compare to roles played by leaders of Native peoples.

Weatherford identifies a critical problem arising from “open meeting” rules and “government in the sunshine” pressures. Real deliberation is often tentative, and bargaining can look sordid when done in public — and thus the unflattering work is not done in public, leaving the primary activity in the meetings of the committees to be ritualistic. The pressure to take a position on the record and to make sure that one’s opinion is counted means that more and more of the activity is performative. The senators become consumed with issuing statements “for the record” on this bill and that, in this committee and that.

The ability of the senators to spend time with each for the purpose of finding common ground and compromise to pass legislation becomes reduced, and the necessary work gets delegated to staff, to “parasenators,” who operate in the corners. The senators stop talking with each other, other than with a handful of allies, or in a very stilted way.

The need to exchange information about what other senators are actually thinking and want from one another is met in a way that I did not expect and thought was quite insightful. It is the lobbyists. Weatherford compares lobbyists, going from office to office, gathering intelligence, to the way bees incidentally gather and spread pollen as they seek nectar, and that the lobbyist intelligence sharing is as essential to the production of legislation as bees are to the pollination of fruit. With no bees, there is no harvest; with no lobbyists there is no legislation.

Weatherford ends with a warning that the ritual demands of appearing at every subcommittee meeting, and making a statement on every issue leads to a kind of non-productive frenzy. He dramatically compares the ritual behavior of appeasing the need to be “on the record” to the need of Aztec priests for prisoners to make the ritual human sacrifices demanded by their gods. The demand for sacrificial victims leads the Aztec nation to ever-more extensive and expensive wars to find the necessary prisoners to sacrifice. Thus, Weatherford argues, the consequential wars weakened the Aztec nation making it vulnerable to conquest by the relatively weak forces of that Spain could place on the ground in Mexico.

Patrick H. Murray, chief of staff to Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (D)

“The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made” and “The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III.” These books are reminders that relationships and reputations are the currency of our realm and, leveraged properly, are invaluable in shaping public policy.

“Identity Crisis: The 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Battle for the Meaning of America,” “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker,” and “Steadfast Democrats: How Social Forces Shape Black Political Behavior.”

These books were required reading for the students in my Campaigns & Elections class this fall. They examine the role of group identity in political behavior. “Identity Crisis” and “Steadfast Democrats” rely heavily on data. All three books will burst your partisan bubble and challenge your assumptions.

Last, but certainly not least: William F. Zorzi, senior contributor to Maryland Matters

For years, philosophers and historians have warned us with some variation of Edmund Burke’s admonishment, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” But the truth of the matter is that we as a race have been repeating the same moronic mistakes for years with little to no thought of the experience and fallout.

Those mistakes don’t really need to be detailed. You know what they are; you don’t have to look too far into the distance or past to find them. Nevertheless, history can be instructive as we peer blankly into the future.

I was intrigued ― and heartened a bit ― by the list of books assembled by Sen. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore City), Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery) and their associates, and published by Maryland Matters, as volumes that should be found on the bookshelf of any state legislator aspiring to understand and master the political game.

McCray and Korman came up with the idea from a 2017 book by retired U.S. Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis and R. Manning Ancell, “The Leader’s Bookshelf,” published by the Naval Institute Press in Annapolis.

It makes perfect sense that good legislators would want to school themselves on government, politics and leadership through the experiences of the best and worst in those areas. But I never realized how broad a collection that might be until I stared down the expansive lists of suggested books, ranging from Lucille Clifton’s collected poems to The Bible.

Despite how all-encompassing those lists aspired to be, I thought there were a few holes in them that needed plugging, notably, but not exclusively, in the category of “Maryland-specific Politics and Government History.” What follows is a list of some of the books I would include, with some comment. Naturally.

― “Thimbleriggers: The Law v. Governor Marvin Mandel,” by Brad Jacobs of The Evening Sun, published in 1984 by Johns Hopkins University Press.

This is the part of the Marvin Mandel story that seemed to slip the former governor’s mind in his 2010 memoir, “I’ll Never Forget It” ― that is, the federal government’s racketeering and mail fraud case against him and five members of his cabal in the little matter of a racetrack bill (and more).

Among the Baltimore Democrat’s five codefendants was one Irving Kovens, the bankrolling political padrone whose stable included William Donald Schaefer as city councilman, mayor and governor.

Time somehow seems to heal most reputations, and the stain on the Mandel name has just about been remediated. But for a while, the Mandel political corruption case, with all its tentacles, seemed to be Maryland’s Scandal of the Century.

There is no intention here to tarnish Mandel’s wings in the centenary of his birth, but the State House antics and alleged graft (including a double-secret-reverse veto override on legislation transferring racing days for fun and profit) involving this gang are quite educational and make for entertaining reading — for all the wrong reasons.

Jacobs, a lifelong political writer for The Evening Sun who took leave from his position as the paper’s editorial page editor to write the book, also spends time comparing Mandel & Co. to “The Ring,” featuring Maryland bossism’s greatest characters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, former U.S. Sen. Arthur Pue Gorman and I. Freeman Rasin, who could easily keep up with Tammany Hall’s best.

Honestly, even at a presumably digestible 250 pages, “Thimbleriggers” can, at times, be a tough read. It covers a lot of ground and touches on a lot of characters. It traces the intricacies of the Mandel conspiracy and the dizzying back-and-forth of the case, and still manages to offer a short course on the state’s political history of the preceding century – along with a dash of high-minded moralizing (as editorialists are wont to do).

But it’s worth it.

Acclaimed author William Manchester, another Evening Sun alum, who wrote the foreword, called the book “a fascinating political autopsy of Maryland’s Marvin Mandel.”


After his 1977 conviction, Mandel did 19 months of a three-year term (reduced from four) at the federal prison camp on Elgin Air Force Base near Pensacola, Fla., before President Ronald Reagan commuted his sentence ― at the request of defense attorney, Arnold M. Wiener, and the persistent urging of lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano ― thus freeing him in 1981.

The book ends there, in 1981 ― but the Mandel tale did not.

A few years later, attorneys for Mandel et al petitioned the U.S. District Court in Baltimore to reconsider the convictions, based on a Kentucky case that the Supreme Court tossed out in 1987, finding that the federal government had overreached in prosecuting certain alleged violations of the mail fraud statute.

A federal judge in turn vacated the earlier guilty findings, and Mandel declared victory and vindication.

The 4th Circuit affirmed the decision on appeal, but not everyone ― least of all, the government ― was convinced that eliminating the convictions on what many saw as arguably a technicality absolved Mandel and his cronies of wrongdoing, especially after Congress the following year amended the law to close the loophole created by the Supreme Court action. (The government appealed the 4th Circuit’s Mandel decision to the Supreme Court, but the justices refused to take up the case.)

In the end, Mandel got his law license back, returned to Annapolis as a lobbyist and even eventually was embraced by the GOP, which made sure his memoir, “I’ll Never Forget It,” was published by its thinly disguised “non-partisan” think tank, the Maryland Public Policy Institute.

― “The Great Game of Maryland Politics,” by Barry Rascovar, former deputy editorial page editor of The Sun of Baltimore, published in 1998 by The Baltimore Sun Co.

In a collection of his Sunday columns on State House politics, Rascovar covers the political history of The Free State for the two decades preceding the millennium. Love him or hate him, Rascovar’s insights ― which continue today on his politicalmaryland.com website ― are spot on and invaluable in tracing how Maryland got to be where it is now.

Plus, spread throughout, the book features the editorial cartoons by the late, great Mike Lane, formerly of The Evening Sun. What’s not to like?

― “The Great Game of Politics,” by Frank R. Kent, also formerly of The Sun, published in 1923 by Doubleday, Page & Co., is what today would be called “a deep dive” into precisely how a political machine works, from top to bottom, with all the ugly barely cosmeticized, as well as an examination of the other finer points of, uh, governance. Its chapters were serialized in The Sun.

This could be the granddaddy of all political books by a reporter who went on to cover the goings-on in Washington and became the nation’s first syndicated political columnist ― before all the pundits and prognosticators and the television talking-head class with dime-a-dozen opinions.

In a sense it is dated ― the world does not operate the way it did 100 years ago ― but there are still some revealing seemingly germane explanations. The book’s subtitle probably says it best: An Effort to Present the Elementary Human Facts About Politics, Politicians, and Political Machines, Candidates and Their Ways, for the Benefit of the Average Citizen.

For most of his career, Kent wrote a political column under the standing head of “The Great Game of Politics” for The Sun, first focusing on local and state politics and then turning his attention to Washington and what later became known as “inside the Beltway” ― meaning Interstate 495, not I-695. The older he got, the more conservative he grew.

His other books include “The Story of Maryland Politics” (1911) and “The Democratic Party: A History” (1928). He was a friend of H.L. Mencken and joined him and colleagues Gerald W. Johnson and Hamilton Owens in writing “A History of the Sunpapers of Baltimore for its 1937 centennial anniversary, an enlightening volume itself that discusses more than just the nuts and bolts of the first 100 years of publishing The Sun, The Evening Sun and The Sunday Sun.

― “The Inevitable Success: Herbert R. O’Conor,” by Harry W. Kirwin, a professor at what is now Loyola University Maryland, published in 1962 by the Newman Press, with an introduction by then-Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

In piecing together Maryland’s political history of the 20th Century, you have to include this biography of O’Conor, a Democratic product of East Baltimore’s politically rough-and-tumble ― and very Irish ― 10th Ward, who remarkably was elected the city’s state’s attorney, the state’s attorney general, governor and U.S. senator.

While not a “boss” in the strict sense of the term, the reform-minded O’Conor was a power to be reckoned with, particularly in the first half of the 20th Century, as he guided the state through the end of the Depression and World War II.

During his time as U.S. senator, he sat on and then chaired the Senate’s Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce, which notably examined organized crime in the first-ever televised congressional hearings. The committee was known popularly as the “Kefauver Committee” for Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-Tenn.), who initially chaired the panel, from January 1950 to April 1951. O’Conor, who chaired the committee in its last four months, until September 1951, focused the panel’s investigation on gambling and narcotics, the latter of which was then in its infancy as a crime and public health problem.

At his unexpected death at 63, The Sun editorial page opined: “He was an affable, kindly, helpful man at all stages of a fortunate career. Success seemed never to turn his head.”

The Evening Sun, which had employed him as a police reporter while in law school, did their older, wealthier stepsister one further, praising O’Conor’s “gleaming official record” and political intuition, which was legendary (he never lost an election). “Herbert O’Conor was the rare example of a politician boy wonder who not only lived up to his boyish promise, but far overran it,” the editorial read.

“He was not a noisy man, nor did he indulge in the jolly exhibitionism commonly associated with the political breed,” The Evening Sun editorial read.

Difficult now to imagine.

― “Power and Money: Writing About Politics, 1971-1987,” by Thomas Byrne Edsall. A collection of newspaper and magazine reporting – including pieces from his time at The Evening SunThe Sun and The Washington Post ― by one of the top political writers in the nation, now a weekly columnist for The New York Times. The book’s first section, titled “Baltimore and Maryland: Power, Money, Race and Class ― American Politics Writ Small,” alone is worth getting the book. The rest, as Edsall turns his sights to the national stage, is none too shabby, either.

― “My Unexpected Journey: The Autobiography of Harry Roe Hughes,” The History Press, 2006, by former Governor Hughes and John W. Frece, another former Sun reporter, has already been mentioned in a previous list of must-read books. But what was not noted, and should be, is another Frece book, “My Life in Progressive Politics: Against the Grain,” a volume he wrote with former U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings, published in 2018 by Texas A&M University Press and featuring a foreward by former Vice President Joe Biden.

― Lest we forget the BIG histories (in addition to Bob Brugger’s “Maryland: A Middle Temperament,” mentioned in an earlier dispatch), consider “Maryland: A Political History,” by Matthew A. Crenson, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2017.

Also worth a look:

― “Maryland: A Guide to the Old Line State,” compiled by Workers of the Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration in the State of Maryland, Oxford University Press, New York, 1941.

― “Maryland Main and the Eastern Shore,” by Hulbert Footner, D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc., New York, 1942.

― There are a host of books dealing specifically with race, particularly in Baltimore, that have gone unmentioned, and perhaps should be saved for another day devoted entirely to the subject.

But almost impossible not to mention would be a few key books dealing with the civil rights movement, especially the “America in the King Years” series by Baltimore’s own Taylor Branch ― “Parting the Waters”; “Pillar of Fire”; and “At Canaan’s Edge” ― as well as “Walking With the Wind,” by the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, with Michael D’Orso.

― I feel compelled to correct one minor technical mistake published earlier regarding the authorship of “Plunkitt of Tammany Hall: A Series of Very Plain Talks on Very Practical Politics,” the brilliant account of the b’hoys and muldoons in the glory days of bossism as told by one of the era’s top political practitioners.

The book was “recorded” by William L. Riordan, a reporter with the now-defunct New York Evening Post, based on his rather candid conversations with New York State Sen. George Washington Plunkitt from his “rostrum” at the New York County Court House bootblack stand. So, Riordan, not Plunkitt, is the author, which may make searching for it easier, if one is so inclined.

Senator Plunkitt, a Democrat who rose from poor street urchin to millionaire, is famously remembered for reflecting in the book, “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em,” as well as explaining the sophisticated points of difference between “honest graft” and “dishonest graft.”

The book was first published in 1905 by McClure, Phillips & Co. of New York, but has been republished many times over. It should be required reading of all members of the Maryland General Assembly, as well as the executive and judicial branches.

― Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention “Guilty, Guilty, Guilty!” by G.B. Trudeau, published in 1974 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston. On some level, it brings readers full circle to the place we find ourselves today.

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