The Emerging Republican Majority by Kevin Phillips (Princeton, $31).
Arguably the most influential book on political science ever written. Published in 1969, Phillips' book perfectly forecast the Republican takeover of the South, which has shaped American politics for almost 50 years. Phillips later wished he could put the toothpaste back in the tube, but he couldn't.
Reagan in His Own Hand (Free Press, $35).
I have moved well to the left from where I was when I was younger, but I won't go all the way in part because I still think Ronald Reagan was a pretty good president. This book proves he was a smart one, too, through the many columns and radio scripts he wrote between his tenure as governor of California and his presidency.
Plutocrats by Chrystia Freeland (Penguin, $17).
Published in 2012, this book accurately predicted the growing political power of the ultrawealthy. Freeland, now Canada's minister of foreign affairs, was a journalist at the time she wrote Plutocrats. It's a book I really wish I had written.
Growing Public by Peter H. Lindert (Cambridge, $103).
Even progressives are wary of advocating an aggressive use of government spending to deal with social problems, because of the widespread belief in one idea: that redistribution is bad for the economy. In this two-volume work, Lindert, an economic historian at the University of California, Davis, draws from the historical record to show conclusively that this is nonsense.
The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David S. Landes (Norton, $20).
In another life I would have been an economic historian, because I have learned so much from that field. Landes, who died in 2013, was an economic historian at Harvard. This book sums up what he learned during the course of his long career about why some countries are rich and others poor.
Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy by Joseph A. Schumpeter (Harper Perennial, $17).
One of those classics that I return to time and again. Schumpeter was perhaps the most perfect social scientist who ever lived, a master of economics, history, and sociology. He brought all those skills together in this 1942 book, which is filled from beginning to end with insights that are still relevant today.
— Bruce Bartlett, a columnist, author, and early champion of supply-side economics, served in policymaking roles under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. His new book, The Truth Matters, is a citizens' guide to today's news-media landscape.