19 Novels About Politics for Election Day (and the Revolution, Too)


Has Election Day brought out your inner pundit, organizer, or revolutionary — or, after tonight’s news, depressed person who wants to escape reality via reading? If so, here’s a starter list of novels about politics that will feed the flames. We’re lucky so many of our greatest writers of the 20th century were disaffected communists.

The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing

The feminist postmodern classic contains memorable sections about protests, contentious meetings, and going door to door in Britain on behalf of the Communist Party. One of the best descriptions of political canvassing you’ll find in literature.

Primary Colors, Anonymous/Joe Klein

A snark-filled, stir-causing fictionalized account of the 1992 Clinton campaign, its anonymous author was later revealed to be Klein — and, honestly, that made the whole thing a lot more boring.

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Novelists really love tackling their disaffection with communism! In the final third of the classic novel about race in America and its institutions, the narrator’s relationship with The Brotherhood goes sour because of intractable racism, which leads him to finally go underground. Literally.

Middlemarch, George Eliot

Speeches, stumping, and local newspaper editorials are the vehicle that enable lovelorn Will Ladislaw to hang around Middlemarch and pine for Dorothea. He’s supporting the inept but idealistic campaign of her uncle, Mr. Brooke, against the backdrop of Britain’s Reform Bill.

Election, Tom Perotta

Vicious, unforgettable, and profoundly symbolic electioneering with bonus gender politics. And it all takes place in that perfect laboratory of life: high school.

Barchester Towers, Anthony Trollope

You thought the appointment and selection of deans, deacons, and bishops wasn’t political in the 19th century? Think again, after reading Trollope’s scathing satire of clerical politics.

Tuff, Paul Beatty

Flavorwire’s own Elisabeth Donnelly describes Tuff like this: “A character who evokes the Notorious B.I.G. runs for city council.” An East Harlem election tale that I now I want to read immediately.

All The King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren

A classic 20th-century American novel that’s about the rise and fall of Governor Willie Stark — but also about family, destiny, and the nation itself.

The Manchurian Candidate, Richard Condon

Tackling communism from a slightly different perspective, this thriller features brainwashing, assassinations, and all kinds of Cold War political excitement-slash-fearmongering.

The Princess Casamassima, Henry James

James’ lesser-known foray into radical terrorist assassination politics.

Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak

Russian revolutionary politics intertwine themselves into Pasternak’s famously complex and intricate plot that is also, as the many movie and stage adaptations remind us, an epic love story.

The Aesthetics of Resistance, Peter Weiss

“This is probably the greatest novel about political organization that I know of,” says Flavorwire Literary Editor Jonathon Sturgeon of the three-volume novel about, among other things, young Germans resisting Naziism through art.

In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck

A worker for “The Party” tries to organize a fruit-pickers’ strike. Said Steinbeck himself, “I have used a small strike in an orchard valley as the symbol of man’s eternal, bitter warfare with himself.”

What is to Be Done?, Nikolai Chernyshevsky

Get off your butt and form socialist workers’ cooperatives, that’s what’s to be done, obvs. Chernyshevsky’s masterpiece is just one of many fascinating Russian political novels that could easily form their own list.

Thank You for Smoking, Christopher Buckley

So many of Buckley’s novels are ace political satires, but this take on “spin” and Washington, DC politicking is particularly beloved.

Fools, Joan Silber

Silber’s interconnected series of short stories loops famous anarchist radicals like Sacco and Vanzetti and Emma Goldman into its pages.

Day and Night, Virginia Woolf

Woolf’s novel about the suffrage movement is a must-read for prose-loving politicos and feminists alike.

The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner

It begins in the New York City art world, but ends with militant Italian workers and their bloody protests in the streets of Rome.

GB84, David Peace

Out this month for first time in America, GB84 dramatizes Britain’s era-defining 1984 miners’ strike. Needless to say, perhaps, this is not a pro-Thatcher tome.