THE BLOG
12/18/2013 10:41 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2014

Best Political Science Books in 2013

This year was a good year in political science publishing, and with just a few days left in the gift-buying season, here's my list of some of the best in 2013. These books address pressing issues of the day -- such as armed conflict in the Middle East and social media use during the Arab Spring -- policy change -- health care and school reform -- and familiar theoretical inquiries -- such as the formation of political beliefs and the American Dream. There were many more great reads in 2013, so here are just a few of the best.

As world attention was drawn to the Middle East, so were several excellent books. Benedetta Berti wrote, Armed Political Organizations: from Conflict to Integration (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). The book investigates the inner workings of three organizations: Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Irish Republican Army. Berti's intricate research reveals the history and institutional components of each group beyond what we have come to accept about each.

Staying in the region, Muzammil Hussain and Phillip Howard authored Democracy's Fourth Wave? Digital Media and the Arab Spring (Oxford University Press, 2013) which explores the role social media (Twitter, Facebook, and texting) have played in political activism in Tunisia, Egypt, and Lebanon. Through extensive data collection and fieldwork, the authors bring a multi-method and multi-disciplinary approach to their timely subject. They argue that digital activism typically travels through six steps of protest mobilization starting with capacity building and ends with post-protest information war.

Back in the U.S., commentators lauded Latino voters at the end of 2012, but it was Latino elected-officials that drew attention this year. Stella M. Rouse wrote Latinos in the Legislative Process (Cambridge University Press, 2013). In 2009, 242 Latino served in state legislatures and 27 Latinos were in the House. While these numbers are not proportionate to the size of the Latino population, they are record highs. Rouse finds that education, healthcare, and jobs were the top priorities for Latino legislators -- immigration was named by only 8 percent of respondents.

Not to be outdone for timeliness, Virginia Gray, David Lowery, and Jennifer Benz are the authors of Interest Group$ and Health Care Reform Across the United State$ (Georgetown University Press, 2013). With all of the attention paid to national health care reform, we may all have overlooked the plethora of policy making at the state level. Why is it that the ACA took over 50 years to pass, yet states have regularly changed their own health care regulations? This book investigates how states have reformed health care laws from 1988-2002 with a focus on: market controls; mandated employee coverage; coverage for needy families; and single-payer systems.

School reform is the focus of Sarah Reckhow's, Follow the Money: How Foundation Dollars Change Public School Politics (Oxford University Press, 2013). Her book probes significant questions about the role of philanthropic foundations in education reform. Through in-depth case studies of NYC and LA, Reckhow demonstrates how a particular view of school reform has been funded by major foundations such as Gates and Eli Broad. Emphasizing new types of schools, particularly charter schools, and reforms focused around a business-oriented view of school management, foundations have reshaped education in these two cities.

Kristin Goss takes the long view in her investigation of the women's movement in the U.S. In, The Paradox of Gender Equality: How American Women's Groups Gained and Lost Their Public Voice (University of Michigan Press, 2013) she unravels the common narrative about organizations that have advocated for a variety of women's issues. She shows that, after winning the fight for voting rights, women's groups gained significant national power; but after policy victories of '60s and '70s, their power declined dramatically.

Last year was also good for writing about political behavior. Natalie Masuoka and Jane Junn's,The Politics of Belonging (University of Chicago Press, 2013), and Christina Greer's, Black Ethnics (Oxford University Press, 2013), cover new ground on understanding the attitudes and political beliefs of communities that are often left out of national discussions of politics. Both books are important reads.

There were many interesting political theory books published in 2013. One I enjoyed was Cyril Ghosh's book, The Politics of the American Dream: Democratic Inclusion in Contemporary American Political Culture (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2013), that explores the meaning of this powerful national myth. Ghosh tracks the historical development of the American Dream and answers important questions about its conflicted meaning in contemporary politics. Candidates for public office often evoke the American dream, but Ghosh argues that these evocations are rarely consistent and the definitions often in conflict with each other. Ghosh is an enthusiastic author. His prose reflects an eagerness to share what he has learned, resulting in an enjoyable and accessible read.