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Democracy in One Book or Less
Cover of Democracy in One Book or Less
Democracy in One Book or Less
How It Works, Why It Doesn't, and Why Fixing It Is Easier Than You Think
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Bill Bryson meets Thomas Frank in the true story of how power-hungry politicians broke American democracy — and why fixing it is easier than you think —from the New York Times bestselling author of Thanks, Obama

Here's something true for almost every American. The democracy you live in today is different – completely different – than the democracy you were born into.

Since 1980, the number of Americans legally barred from voting has more than doubled. Since the 1990s, your odds of living in a competitive Congressional district have fallen by more than half. In the twenty-first century alone, the amount of money spent on Washington lobbying has increased by more than 100 percent. Meanwhile, new rules in Congress make passing new bills nearly impossible, no matter how popular or bipartisan they are.

No wonder it feels like our representatives have stopped representing us. Thanks to changes you never agreed to, and that you probably don't even know about, your slice of power – your say in how your country is run – is smaller than it's ever been.

How did this happen? And how can we fix it before it's too late? That's what former Obama speechwriter David Litt set out to answer.

Poking into forgotten corners of history, Litt tells the true story of how the world's greatest experiment in democracy went awry. Translating political science into plain English, he explains how our system of government really works. Searching for solutions, he speaks to experts, office-holders, and activists nationwide.

He also tries to crash a party at Mitch McConnell's former frat house. It goes poorly.

But Democracy in One Book or Less is more than just an engaging narrative. Litt provides a to-do list of meaningful, practical changes – a blueprint for restoring the balance of power in America before it's too late.

Bill Bryson meets Thomas Frank in the true story of how power-hungry politicians broke American democracy — and why fixing it is easier than you think —from the New York Times bestselling author of Thanks, Obama

Here's something true for almost every American. The democracy you live in today is different – completely different – than the democracy you were born into.

Since 1980, the number of Americans legally barred from voting has more than doubled. Since the 1990s, your odds of living in a competitive Congressional district have fallen by more than half. In the twenty-first century alone, the amount of money spent on Washington lobbying has increased by more than 100 percent. Meanwhile, new rules in Congress make passing new bills nearly impossible, no matter how popular or bipartisan they are.

No wonder it feels like our representatives have stopped representing us. Thanks to changes you never agreed to, and that you probably don't even know about, your slice of power – your say in how your country is run – is smaller than it's ever been.

How did this happen? And how can we fix it before it's too late? That's what former Obama speechwriter David Litt set out to answer.

Poking into forgotten corners of history, Litt tells the true story of how the world's greatest experiment in democracy went awry. Translating political science into plain English, he explains how our system of government really works. Searching for solutions, he speaks to experts, office-holders, and activists nationwide.

He also tries to crash a party at Mitch McConnell's former frat house. It goes poorly.

But Democracy in One Book or Less is more than just an engaging narrative. Litt provides a to-do list of meaningful, practical changes – a blueprint for restoring the balance of power in America before it's too late.

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About the Author-
  • David Litt is the New York Times best-selling author of Thanks, Obama: My Hopey Changey White House Years. From 2011-2016, David wrote speeches for President Obama, and was described as "the comic muse for the president" for his work on the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Since leaving the White House, he served as the head writer and producer for Funny Or Die's office in Washington, with a focus on improving youth turnout in the 2018 election, and is currently developing a sitcom based on his life in D.C. He frequently appears on CNN and MSNBC to discuss current events.

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    April 15, 2020
    Former White House speechwriter and humorist Litt digs in deep to discuss what's ailing us politically--and gets in a few laughs along the way. The author begins with an amusing guerrilla action that demands a John Belushi to play it onscreen: namely, trying to bust his way into Mitch McConnell's fraternity at the University of Kentucky. Why? Because somewhere in those roots lies the development of a political system that does not represent the people or reflect the consent of the governed in the slightest, giving rise to a polity most of whose members do not trust the government to act correctly, with those who do "roughly the number of Americans who believe in Bigfoot." The genius of the system McConnell authored, Litt rightly observes, is that thanks to gerrymandering and polarization, there are practically no political consequences inherent in ignoring the wishes of the electorate. The fixes are pretty simple, or at least some are. If you're not a voter, Litt suggests, then you don't really count, and if you don't vote, then you cede the field to the boomers who went for the current occupant of the White House. "Along nearly every dimension," Litt writes, "the average voter looks more like Donald Trump than the average American does." Only a mass turnout of the young--the author is in his 30s--will change that picture. Just so, because so many minority voters have been disenfranchised, voters are wealthier than nonvoters, acquiescent in congressional and presidential acts that benefit the rich. The irony is that we now have a tyranny of the minority--an easy fix if only the majority will act, in part by throwing out McConnell, for whom "our dysfunctional legislature is working just fine." A pleasure to read, even in its darkest moments, and refreshingly optimistic about the future of the republic.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 20, 2020
    In this snappy and well-informed dissection of the current state of American democracy, Obama administration speechwriter Litt (Thanks, Obama) claims that “our representative government may be representing someone, but it isn’t us.” Combining solid historical analysis, substantive political science, and wry humor, Litt examines myriad ways that “politics have changed for the worse” over the past 40 years and offers issue-by-issue suggestions for reform. He documents a 500% increase since the 1970s in the number of Americans disenfranchised because of a felony conviction, notes that “60 percent of U.S. senators are elected by just 24 percent of the voters,” and compares America’s low voter turnout to the rest of the world (“We’re slightly ahead of Latvia. So that’s nice.”). Litt also laments the “rightward lurch” of Republican lawmakers and their judicial appointments, the loosening of campaign finance restrictions, the influence of corporate lobbyists on policy making, and the obstructionism of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. The author’s ideas “to stop the decay of our republic” include automatic voter registration, ranked choice voting, and requiring a Supreme Court supermajority to overturn federal law. Both optimistic and clear-eyed, this quip-filled call to action will resonate strongly with young progressives. Agent: Daniel Greenberg, Levine Greenberg Rostan

  • Booklist

    Starred review from May 15, 2020
    Litt's (Thanks, Obama, 2017) comprehensive study of what a democracy actually consists of casts a welcome, cleansing beam of light on a subject that has become increasingly murky and frustratingly confusing. Although the process of deciding who shall govern and how has never been particularly transparent, history shows that this opacity has often been as much by constitutional construct as by political expediency. From voting rights disenfranchisement to the labyrinthine logic behind the Electoral College, Litt covers every aspect of American governance and politics at perspectives both granular and big-picture, analyzing what's right and wrong with our democracy through historical and contemporary lenses. Power gaps matter as much as political geography in conducting elections and drafting legislation; influence peddling has become a megalithic industry; and the era of bipartisan handshake agreements is but a quaint memory. A senior presidential speechwriter in the Obama administration, Litt has a breezy, often conversational tone, but that in no way diminishes the force of his argument. Politics has changed, and not in a good way. But there are ways American democracy can be fixed, and it is to Litt's credit that he offers practical albeit challenging solutions to the problems confronting our system of governance.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

  • Library Journal

    January 1, 2020

    It's not your mother's democracy anymore, and not even yours. Since 1980, the number of Americans legally barred from voting has more than doubled. Since the 1990s, the chance of your living in a competitive congressional district has plummeted by more than half. Since 2000, the money spent on lobbying has increased by more than 100 percent. How to bring back democracy? New York Times best-selling author Litt talks to activists and politicians nationwide. With a 300,000-copy first printing.

    Copyright 2020 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • The Atlantic "Wry, quickly readable, yet informed and edgy . . . whimsy and pop culture, enlisted toward the end of knowledge."
  • Washington Post "Brings Dave Barry-style humor to an illuminating book on what is wrong with American democracy — and how to put it right. . . . Litt's playful stories and fun facts explode common wisdom. . . . In the book's strongest contribution, Litt shows how radically our democracy has been altered in recent decades [, making] the case that nearly all of these negative trends are occurring by design."
  • The Guardian "Strikingly timely. . . . [Litt] offers ways to fix governmental ills that stymie all Americans and does so with a breezy and accessible wit."
  • Elle, “23 Books That Will Put You in a Good Mood, Guaranteed”  "Remarkably prescient and applicable. It's rare to feel good about the way things are going, but Litt's book will get you there."
  • Time, “45 New Books You Need to Read This Summer” "Litt's book laces his signature humor into his exploration of American Democracy and how it has transformed over the years."
  • Booklist (starred review) "Casts a welcome, cleansing beam of light on a subject that has become increasingly murky and frustratingly confusing . . . Litt has a breezy, often conversational tone, but that in no way diminishes the force of his argument. Politics has changed, and not in a good way. But there are ways American democracy can be fixed, and it is to Litt's credit that he offers practical albeit challenging solutions to the problems confronting our system of governance."
  • Publishers Weekly "[A] snappy and well-informed dissection of the current state of American democracy. . . Both optimistic and clear-eyed, this quip-filled call to action will resonate strongly with young progressives."
  • Kirkus Reviews "A pleasure to read, even in its darkest moments, and refreshingly optimistic about the future of the republic."
  • David Axelrod, former senior advisor to Barack Obama and author of Believer: My Forty Years in Politics "Hilarious and incisive. If you want to understand what happened to America and how to change it, Democracy in One Book or Less will make you laugh and think, all at the same time."
  • Amie Parnes, co-author of Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign "You think you know about politics and the motivations and machinations of Washington—and then you read this book. A wildly entertaining and informative journey that peels back the curtain on how the Beltway functions, David Litt's latest is a must-read for anyone who can't look away from the 'what' of the news and wants to understand the 'why.'"
  • Ilana Glazer, co-creator and co-star of Broad City "If you want to understand how our government really works without having a panic attack or a migraine, read this book. The way David tells stories about politics is funny, informative, and, most important, hopeful. David Litt dares to remain inspired, and that is what the conversation around politics needs most."
  • Abbi Jacobson, co-creator and co-star of Broad City and author of I Might Regret This "I'm so relieved to have this book at this moment in our political climate, a guide to our democracy when we so desperately need one."
  • Keegan-Michael Key "David Litt's book is equal parts how-to, historical, and hilarious as he takes us through the trials and travails of how the electorate and democracy in general works—and sometimes doesn't—yet still lovingly shows us that it's worth it all the same. A warm, pithy, and inspiring read."
  • Billy Eichner "I always look forward to David Litt's fiercely intelligent and funny take on the current state of things. If ever there was a time we needed a hilarious and thought-provoking look at how our democracy got to this point—and how we can save it—it's now!"
  • Brian Klaas, assistant professor of global politics at University College London and columnist for the Washington Post "Democracy in One Book or Less is by turns funny and illuminating. Litt combines his trademark humor and witty writing with an urgent call to fix American democracy. It's a tragicomedy that makes you a better citizen while you laugh and shake your head in disbelief at our broken system."
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How It Works, Why It Doesn't, and Why Fixing It Is Easier Than You Think
David Litt
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