“Book recommendations under Trump? It doesn’t exist. That’s why people are buying 1984,” says one political expert.
No one expected Trump would become president of the United States, that’s why there is no single literary work or academic book that can explain this new era in politics, according to one expert. Instead, book choices like dystopian literature, could instead be serving a different purpose: personal comfort.
“It’s kind of self-fulfilling,” says Dr. Jonathan Kirkup, a political lecturer at Cardiff University. “In other words, you feel bad. Your friends feel bad. You both read 1984 and feel better about yourselves. You aren’t actually doing anything.”
Sales of 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale have boosted after the British referendum to leave the EU and the US election. However, Dr. Kirkup says that this won’t actually affect Trump’s legitimacy, or reverse the Brexit vote, though it may reaffirm people’s beliefs.
When it comes to Brexit, there is only one UK academic who anticipated it, and wrote about it. Matthew Goodwin, a Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent, said again and again that Brexit was going to happen.
The most acknowledged book he wrote, Revolt on the Righ: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain came out in 2014, two years before Brexit. The book is about what UKIP was trying to do at the time to grow support. It set out to answer questions such as: “Where has this political revolt come from? Who is supporting them, and why? How are UKIP attempting to win over voters? And how far can their insurgency against the main parties go?”
Goodwin’s book could actually be one to read in order to understand the shift toward extreme right politics in the UK. As for understanding Trump…
“I have to believe that literature can and does change minds,” Ani Kokobobo, an assistant professor in literature at the University of Kansas says.
“I don’t think we need to keep reading dystopias because they only reaffirm our worst fears,” she says. “I think what we need is not literature that frightens us, but literature that sustains us, that helps us carry on.”
Books may not get people politically engaged or change their beliefs, but they may be key to inspire and encourage them.
“I love to read War and Peace, which reminds us that true power does not rest with individual powerful leaders, but rather with individuals and their ability to affect change locally.”