“I read these books in the course of figuring out two recent books I was writing,” says Kurt Andersen, who co-founded Spy magazine with AIR MAIL editor Graydon Carter. Andersen, who has been editor in chief of New York, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and host of the Peabody Award–winning public-radio program Studio 360, is the author of several books, including You Can’t Spell America Without Me, a mock Trump memoir he wrote with Alec Baldwin, and Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America, out now from Random House. “Each encounter excited and helped me, like being on a trek somewhere and meeting a generous, talkative companion who’d already traveled some of the same territory I was wandering,” says Andersen. “All four are intelligent, entertaining, and staggeringly resonant.”

The Stammering Century, by Gilbert Seldes

I discovered this book while writing Fantasyland, my history of America’s founding weakness for magical thinking and entertaining falsehoods, a book I finished just before we made an entertaining, magical-thinking liar our president. Seldes’s book is a serious and eccentric and witty history of the 1800s and early 1900s that no academic historian would’ve written, focused on Holy Roller Protestantism, pseudo-science, and other make-believe realities. He clearly thought he was memorializing a quaint past before it all disappeared in the new, modern America.