Here are 12 must-read books for Public Affairs professionals

If you’re looking for some books to read in the new year related to the field of Public Affairs, this is a list that has a little of everything. It has the topics of information warfare (Information Wars and War in 140 Characters), Political Communication (Network Propaganda and The Outrage Industry), Journalism (The Elements of Journalism), Reputation Management (Spin Sucks), understanding audiences and the echo chamber of the web (The Filter Bubble), some history (Science of Coercion and Total Cold War), and delivering messages to audiences, supervisors, and subordinates (Building a Storybrand, Words that Change Minds, and Radical Candor).

1. Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do About It

By Richard Stengel (2019). “In a narrative that is by turns dramatic and eye-opening, Information Wars walks readers through of this often frustrating battle. Stengel moves through Russia and Ukraine, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, and introduces characters from Putin to Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Mohamed bin Salman to show how disinformation is impacting our global society. He illustrates how ISIS terrorized the world using social media, and how the Russians launched a tsunami of disinformation around the annexation of Crimea – a scheme that became the model for their interference with the 2016 presidential election. An urgent book for our times, Information Wars stresses that we must find a way to combat this ever-growing threat to democracy.”

Goodreads link here.

2. War in 140 Characters: How Social Media Is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century

By David Patrikarakos (2017).A leading foreign correspondent looks at how social media has transformed the modern battlefield, and how wars are fought. Modern warfare is a war of narratives, where bullets are fired both physically and virtually. Whether you are a president or a terrorist, if you don’t understand how to deploy the power of social media effectively you may win the odd battle but you will lose a twenty-first-century war. Here, journalist David Patrikarakos draws on unprecedented access to key players to provide a new narrative for modern warfare. He travels thousands of miles across continents to meet a de-radicalized female member of ISIS recruited via Skype, a liberal Russian in Siberia who takes a job manufacturing “Ukrainian” news, and many others to explore the way social media has transformed the way we fight, win, and consume wars-and what this means for the world going forward.”

Goodreads link here.

3. Network Propaganda: Manipulation, Disinformation, and Radicalization in American Politics

By Yochai Benkler, Robert Faris, and Hal Roberts (2018).Network Propaganda challenges that received wisdom through the most comprehensive study yet published on media coverage of American presidential politics from the start of the election cycle in April 2015 to the one year anniversary of the Trump presidency. Analysing millions of news stories together with Twitter and Facebook shares, broadcast television and YouTube, the book provides a comprehensive overview of the architecture of contemporary American political communications.”


Goodreads link here.

4. The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility

By Jeffery M. Berry and Sarah Sobieraj (2016). “Berry and Sobieraj tackle the mechanics of outrage rhetoric, exploring its various forms such as mockery, emotional display, fear-mongering, audience flattery, and conspiracy theories. They then investigate the impact of outrage rhetoric-which stigmatizes cooperation and brand collaboration and compromise as weak-on a contemporary political landscape that features frequent straight-party voting in Congress. Outrage tactics have also facilitated the growth of the Tea Party, a movement that appeals to older, white conservatives and has dragged the GOP farther away from the demographically significant moderates whose favor it should be courting. Finally, The Outrage Industry examines how these shows sour our own political lives, exacerbating anxieties about political talk and collaboration in our own communities.”

Goodreads link here.

5. The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect

By Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel (2014). “Seventeen years ago, the Committee of Concerned Journalists gathered some of America’s most influential newspeople to ask the question, “What is journalism for?” Through exhaustive research, surveys, interviews, and public forums, they identified the essential elements that define journalism and its role in our society. The result is this, one of the most important books on the media ever written, and winner of the Goldsmith Book Award from Harvard, the Society of Professional Journalists award, and the Bart Richards Award from Penn State University.”

Goodreads link here.

6. Spin Sucks: Communication and Reputation Management in the Digital Age

By Gini Dietrich (2014). “Most PR books tell you how to “spin” your message. People are sick of that! “Spin Sucks “will teach you how to communicate honestly, responsibly, openly, and authentically…and truly “earn “the trust of your customers, stakeholders, investors, and communities. Top PR thought leader and blogger Gini Dietrich runs the number one PR blog in the world,, where she shares cutting-edge tips and tools for effective, ethical communications. Now, she’s integrated all she’s learned into a complete, actionable guide for every business leader who understands there are new rules to communications but don’t know what to do.”


Goodreads link here.

7. The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web is Changing What We Read and How We Think

By Eli Pariser (2012).The Filter Bubble reveals how personalization could undermine the internet’s original purpose as an open platform for the spread of ideas, and leave us all in an isolated, echoing world. But it is not too late to change course. Pariser lays out a new vision for the web, one that embraces the benefits of technology without turning a blind eye to its negative consequences, and will ensure that the Internet lives up to its transformative promise.”



Goodreads link here.

8. Science of Coercion: Communication Research and Psychological Warfare 1945-1960

By Christopher Simpson (1994). “Science of Coercion provides the first thorough examination of the role of the CIA, the Pentagon, and other U.S. security agencies in the evolution of modern communication research, a field in the social sciences which crystallized into a distinct discipline in the early 1950s. Government-funded psychological warfare programs underwrote the academic triumph of preconceptions about communication that persist today in communication studies, advertising research, and in counterinsurgency operations. Christopher Simpson contends that it is unlikely that communication research could have emerged into its present form without regular transfusions of money from U.S military, intelligence, and propaganda agencies during the Cold War.”

Goodreads link here.

9. Total Cold War: Eisenhower’s Secret Propaganda Battle at Home and Abroad

By Kenneth Osgood (2006). “Kenneth Osgood now chronicles the secret psychological warfare programs America developed at the height of the Cold War. These programs–which were often indistinguishable from CIA covert operations–went well beyond campaigns to foment unrest behind the Iron Curtain. The effort was global: U.S. propaganda campaigns targeted virtually every country in the free world. Total Cold War also shows that Eisenhower waged his propaganda war not just abroad, but also at home. U.S. psychological warfare programs blurred the lines between foreign and domestic propaganda with campaigns that both targeted the American people and enlisted them as active participants in global contest for public opinion.”

Goodreads link here.

10. Building a Storybrand: Clarify Your Messages So Customers Will Listen

By Donald Miller (2017). “StoryBrand teaches readers the seven universal story points all humans respond to; the real reason customers make purchases; how to simplify a brand message so people understand it; and how to create the most effective messaging for websites, brochures, and social media. Whether you are the marketing director of a multibillion-dollar company, the owner of a small business, a politician running for office, or the lead singer of a rock band, Building a StoryBrand will forever transform the way you talk about who you are, what you do, and the unique value you bring to your customers.”

Goodreads link here.

11. Words That Change Minds: The 14 Patterns for Mastering the Language of Influence

By Shelle Rose Charvet (2019). “Shelle Rose Charvet, best-selling author of Words That Change Minds shows you how to match your language to people around you (in your work, with your colleagues, your boss and your clients, and at home, with your partner, family, and other relationships). Learn the persuasion psychology, spark interest and enthusiasm and get what you want. Words That Change Minds is based on the Language and Behavior Profile, (LAB Profile® for short) – a powerful tool that enables you to understand, predict and influence behavior by de-coding the language people use.”


Goodreads link here.

12. Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity

By Kim Malone Scott (2017). “Radical candor is the sweet spot between managers who are obnoxiously aggressive on one side and ruinously empathetic on the other. It’s about providing guidance, which involves a mix of praise as well as criticism—delivered to produce better results and help employees achieve. Great bosses have strong relationships with their employees, and Scott has identified three simple principles for building better relationships with your employees: make it personal, get (sh)it done, and understand why it matters. Radical Candor offers a guide to those bewildered or exhausted by management, written for bosses and those who manage bosses. Taken from years of the author’s experience, and distilled clearly giving actionable lessons to the reader; it shows managers how to be successful while retaining their humanity, finding meaning in their job, and creating an environment where people both love their work and their colleagues.”

Goodreads link here.

Mike Nicholson

I've spent my career working in a variety of Strategic Communications, Public Relations, Public Affairs, Information Operations, and Executive Outreach positions. With a history of planning, preparing, executing, and assessing communication strategies in the U.S. and abroad, I use this site to write, think and share lessons learned on organizational communications.

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