On general U.S. history, environment, and understanding U.S. peculiarities:
Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America, by David Hackett Fischer. Traces the four main migrations from different parts of Great Britain to the original colonies that became the United States, and their lasting effect on the cultural, civic and legal landscapes.
Racial Matters (1989), by Kenneth O’Reilly. Traces the intersection of the fight for African-American civil and voting rights, long-time FBI director Herbert Hoover’s own obsessions (communism, an orderly society and prevention of anarchy), the agency itself, Southern politics and the restraints on the exercise of power in national politics. A lot of history that you weren’t taught in school, that wasn’t available until well after the events of the 1960s.
The Paranoid Style in American Politics, by Richard J. Hofstadter. In this essay, Hofstadter traces the history of the angry right wing (and sometimes left-wing) demagogue in American politics.
On world power and politics:
World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability (2004), by Amy Chua. Seeking answers to the Indonesian uprising that led to the death of close family members Amy Chua explores the dynamics of minority/majority power structures and their intersection with democracy in different societies and countries around the world. I found her lens to be enlightening and caused me to shift my understanding of the Rwandan and Indonesian massacres, and to look at North American politics differently (I’m looking at you, Quebec and the American South).