Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky (1971, Random House)
Despite its popularity, I’ve never been particularly impressed by this book. Upon rereading, I still find it unimpressive. That said, it is widely followed for modern American political theory.
At its core, Rules for Radicals offers an analysis and a basic operational path for people who wish to push a political agenda without involving actual policy. It provides strategies for effective demonization of opponents and their arguments, and explains how to do so while avoiding deeper conversations.
Rules for Radicals is a helpful book for those who wish to avoid actual discussion of things like history, logic, and consequences. Instead it focuses on concepts like “A good tactic is one that your people enjoy” and “If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through to its counterside.”
In modern politics, that would mean things like “cause liberal tears” or “tell your followers it’s science and they’re smart”, and “he sleeps around on his multiple wives because he’s such an alpha male” or “he’s weak against foreign dictators because he’s got such an open, thoughtful policy.”
The only place for reason, in Rules for Radicals, is in the development of psychological tactics to win an agenda. That is the true danger in the book, which is otherwise a fairly unimpressive recitation of basic concepts in the style of most business self-help tomes. If reason, history, and consequences are set aside for the sake of a win, there is no mooring in principles and the doors to landscapes like fascism and totalitarianism are flung wide open.
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett (1990, Gollancz)
At the time this was published Gaiman was primarily known as a fledgling genius comic book writer, and Pratchett was already a successful humorous fantasy author on his way to becoming one of the most successful British authors of all time. The pair hashed out the basic concepts, each with his personal touches, and began work on it. Pratchett did the bulk of the writing due to the constant pressure of deadlines associated with monthly comic books.
The book is a sendup of apocalyptic fiction, and specifically works like The Omen. It involves the Antichrist being delivered to Earth, and the efforts of a semi-rogue demon and angel to stop the Final Battle from taking place.
Semi-rogue, because the two are still fundamentally true to their natures. The angel is only willing to perform good, the demon is still by nature a tempter with disregard for humanity. Each has grown to enjoy Earth, however, and has an interest in keeping the place around.
For a book which takes religious apocalypse as its primary conceit, it is surprisingly able to minimize journeys into the profane. The overarching concept that everything occurs due to God’s plan, and that not even the angels are privy to what that actual plan might be, is central to the workings of the book.
It’s not merely clever, though. It’s funny. The Antichrist, through an accident at the delivery hospital, grows up not as the son of a critically important Ambassador but in a very normal household in suburban Britain. He is, fundamentally, a “good kid”, with a handful of very normal friends. His slow discovery that he has inherited destructive and comprehensive powers is the driver for the story, with the angel and the demon striving to keep him from triggering the end of Creation.
And along the way they have to deal with a book of completely accurate prophecies. Knowing the future might seem like a great concept, but when you’re trying to get something done, it can be a little bit constricting.
It’s been turned into a miniseries scripted by Gaiman and cast with stars, available on Amazon, for anyone who doesn’t mind missing some great writing.