1. MEMOIRS FOUND IN A BATHTUB
No-one captures modernity like Stanislaw Lem. This book is set in a future where all paper has been destroyed by a bacterial plague, but its real subject is the impossible and impenetrable workings of bureaucracy. It distills perfectly the feeling the word “cloture” inspires.
2. THE DIAMOND AGE
Neal Stephenson’s nanotech masterpiece contains as a major theme the ups and downs of radical political decentralization. Neo-Victorians live cheek-by-jowl with revolutionary Maoists in microstates. Humor and hope tint Stephenson’s view of the most peculiar institution. He’s the kind of libertarian it’s possible to respect.
3. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATES
Richard Condon offers a powerful take on postwar American political fears in this 1959 novel of Communist infiltration and murder. Except there the McCarthy analogue turns out to be the patsy of the North Koreans. Has Ted Cruz ever been to Pyongyang?
4. RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH
You have to assume the NSA is still listening despite the federal government being mostly inoperative. So dive into this glorious dose of American paranoia from Philip K. Dick. Nixon-analogue Ferris Freemont keeps the U.S. whipped up into an anti-spy fervor by touting the danger of the (wholly fictional) ARAMCHEK organization.
5. THE NORM
Vladimir Sorokin’s 1979 fable has Soviet citizens required by law to consume a set amount of a certain brown, odorous waste product every day. Funny — Congress makes us feel the same way.