Skip to content

DC Denizens, Don’t Throw Out the Manual Just Yet

A few things are in flames. This reading list can help

Chaos got you down? Try a little light reading. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Chaos got you down? Try a little light reading. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

A Supreme Court nomination is running aground, a president is hurling shutdown threats at his own party, and the midterms are 44 days away.

Let’s get back to the basics, shall we?

A guide to life on Capitol Hill, a classic procedure manual and tips for navigating D.C. — even the most seasoned congressional observers can benefit from this reading list.

We asked the authors why they wanted to write about Washington — especially now.

  1. Inside Congress: A Guide for Navigating the Politics of the House and Senate Floors

By Trevor Corning, Reema Dodin and Kyle NevinsRoll Call: What’s one big thing that staffers should take away from reading this book?

Trevor Corning: Can we have three? That the minutia in Congress counts and can have broad implications for policy and politics. That the rules never operate in a vacuum; they are in a dance with the human reality of Congress. … And it usually takes a year — one full round of legislative deadlines — to start to feel you know the place.

[Staffer Book List: Read About How to Do Your Job]

RC: Why did you decide to write it?

TC: It seems simple, but we saw a gap in the educational resources available. While there are many great works on Congress, we found few options of works that detail the complexities of congressional procedure and translate it into plain English for both everyday and occasional observers of Congress. 

We wanted to help bridge that gap from an academic source, with a practical, easily read — and affordable — book on the basics. On the whimsical side, we also each appreciate Congress and it’s workings, and wanted to help others understand it (and appreciate it) better as well.

2. Surviving Inside Congress, Fifth Edition

By Mark Strand, Michael S. Johnson and Jerome F. ClinerRoll Call: What’s one big thing that staffers should take away from reading this book?

Mark Strand: The most successful people on Capitol Hill are those who understand the institution from the inside out. They know their roles and know how they fit into the bigger picture of their office. 

RC: What goes into writing and creating a book of this length and detail? [Ed. note — It’s 464 pages and weighs approximately 2 pounds.]

MS: Learning on the Hill is often compared to trial by fire, as there are few orientation sessions that help staffers and even new members understand how Congress as an institution runs. … My co-authors and I all worked on Capitol Hill in various roles. … The book is full of the lessons we learned after more than 50 years of combined experience on the Hill.

“Surviving Inside Congress” is also valuable for citizens who want to better understand how Hill offices work and the interplay among staff, representatives and the media.

3. Moon Washington DC

By Samantha SaultRoll Call: What’s something political junkies can learn from this book?

Samantha Sault: It’s easy to get cynical about D.C. and the state of politics. … But even the most jaded Washingtonian will flip through the book and be reminded of why they came here in the first place.

In addition to including juicy tidbits about where the capital’s most famous residents eat and work and play, the book explores the context beyond the politics: the drama surrounding the construction of some of the iconic monuments and memorials; the residents of the historic homes … the jazz and go-go tradition … the city’s disturbing dependence on slavery before the Civil War.

RC: Why did you decide to write it?

SS: There’s so much interest in Washington, D.C., especially in Hollywood and in travel media — and there’s a lot of hype about how much the city has evolved. … I wanted to cut through the hype — the shiny new restaurants and developments, the real scandals and the fake news — and help visitors uncover the best of [the city], and more importantly, leave feeling positive about the capital and the people who live and work here, who are trying to make the country better. 

Recent Stories

Biden touts veterans care in state he can’t afford to lose

Pentagon pursuing Russian use of Musk’s Starlink terminals

Capitol Ink | MAGA spinoff

Senate AI ‘road map’ potentially a dangerous detour, critics say

‘I’m totally devastated’: Hill cafeteria worker recalls carjacking

Spared angry protests at Morehouse, Biden pushes post-war Gaza plan