House of Cards is an American political drama Netflix series. Many House of Cards fans have also read the original novel by Michael Dobbs and love the sexy, twisted, and controversial tale. If you love the book and the series and are craving something similar to indulge your love of the twisted American political drama genre, here is a list of books you will want to get your hands on.
House of Cards by Michael Dobbs
House of Cards is based on a BBC miniseries of the same name that was based on this novel. Michael Dobbs wrote House of Cards in 1989. He worked for the British Conservative party in many capacities over the last 30 years and got his inspiration for this twisted novel from his own experiences.
This novel is also part one of a three-part series. It was followed by two sequels: To Play the King and The Final Cut; both of those titles were also made into award-winning BBC miniseries. If you have only watched the House of Cards episodes on Netflix, you should definitely get into the whole book series!
Wag the Dog by Larry Beinhart
American Hero is a 1993 satirical conspiracy theory novel, reissued as Wag the Dog: A Novel in 2004. In it, it is speculated that Operation Desert Storm was scripted and choreographed as a ploy to get George H.W. Bush reelected to a second term.
Season 2 of House of Cards was pretty stunning — keeping in mind the powerful scene in which Robin Wright’s character breaks down crying, and stomps up the staircase with her gorgeous red Louboutin soles powerfully flashing with each step. Now that is memorable. And luckily, Larry Beinhart’s Wag the Dog is just as memorable. It uses an overt plot device to explore the melodrama of the political world; the novel tells the story of a presidential affair scandal cover-up by orchestrating a fake war with Albania.
The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince has inspired everyone from Thomas Cromwell to the American Mafia. The book essentially argues that a ruler needs to know three main things to be successful in power: how to lie, break the law, and kill. It is the only way for a ruler to get and maintain power. The book’s intent is up for debate.
In his other writings, Machiavelli favored republics. Many think The Prince is a satire to expose to the commoners to what the political rulers really think. Either way, the book’s advice has been widely followed by political leaders and criminal organizations with the most famous claim in the book being, “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” One of the most applicable concepts is that you must represent both “the fox” and “the lion” to be an effective rule: “A prince being thus obliged to know well how to act as a beast must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from snares, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize snares, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those that wish to be only lions do not understand this.”
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Curtis’ Sittenfeld’s third novel,American Wife, goes fishing for darkness in uncharted territory: the first ladyship of the United States. The protagonist, Alice Lingdren (based on Laura Bush), who has a completely clean background that includes a childhood in Wisconsin, a marriage to Republican scion, and rise to the White House, actually has a secret. With the exception of one incident that occurred when she was 17, which was a tragic car accident that was her fault and it left a classmate dead.
This case of manslaughter proves to have lasting reverberations for Alice, including her opposition to her husband’s decision to declare war on Iraq. These lingering thoughts and questions are familiar to anyHOCfan and sit front and center in Sittenfeld’s novel.
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
The Talented Mr. Ripley is a 1955 psychological thriller novel. This novel first introduced the character of Tom Ripley. Ripley returns in by Patricia Highsmith’s other novels Ripley Under Ground, Ripley’s Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripley, and Ripley Under Water. So if you enjoy the first novel, you have a total of five novels to devour.
These characters claw their way to power and wealth through wit, ambition, and ruthlessness. If that is your thing, then you will love Highsmith’s most famous creation. Ripley’s stylish brand of scamming would fit in well in the world of House of Cards.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Macbeth is a tragedy story by William Shakespeare from about 1606. It dramatizes the damaging physical and psychological effects of political ambition, which is definitely a relatable storyline for politics nowadays. Macbeth most clearly reflects the playwright’s relationship with his sovereign.
The Huffington Post recentlypointed out that Frank and Claire Underwood have much in common with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The sinister duo, at the center of Shakespeare’s famously dark tragedy, is a marriage of minds that highlights psychopathic tendencies. Read this line from Macbeth and judge for yourself: “Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full / Of direst cruelty!”
Othello by William Shakespeare
No writer has more famous than Williams Shakespeare, especially with his devious character list. With characters like Richard III, Lady Macbeth, Edmund, and so on, a dozen Shakespeare plays could make this list. But for now, we will leave it at two excellent Shakespeare plays to itch the HOC scratch.
So Othello takes the crown of most brilliant and villainous of Shakespeare’s plays. Like Frank Underwood from HOC, he is fine with ruining even the very person who gave him his position in the first place. To top it all off, he cares little about the careers and lives ruined by his plots.
I, Claudius by Robert Graves
I, Claudius is a fantastic novel. It has ranked 14th on Modern Library’s list of the greatest 20th century English-language novels so you are sure to not be disappointed by reading it. This title is fashioned as an autobiography and describes the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius and the various power struggles. It should be noted that some are going on behind and in front of the throne, making this a juicy story.
Claudius himself is more sympathetic than Underwood but Graves’ version of Livia, Claudius’ grandmother, is one of the great Machiavellian schemers and behind-the-throne power players in literary history. You won’t be disappointed.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is a 2009 historical novel that has racked up tons of praise and accolades. Set in the period from 1500 to 1535, Wolf Hall is a sympathetic fictionalized biography documenting the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell. It occurs in the court of Henry VIII through to the death of Sir Thomas More. The novel won both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Man Booker Prize. In 2012, The Observer named it as one of “The 10 best historical novels.”
The book is the first in a trilogy. If you want to see the political machinations of House of Cards transposed onto 16th century England, this is your cup of tea. The second novel, Bring Up the Bodies, was released in 2012.
After the Banquet by Yukio Mishima
After the Banquet follows Kazu, a middle-age proprietress of an upscale Japanese restaurant. This specific location caters to politicians and she meets a semi-retired ambassador, Noguchi, and eventually marries him. The novel explores the conflicts that rise up between the couple, as the tensions between the political world rise and integrity are questioned.
The book is written in a distinctly Japanese style. A large part of the appeal of House of Cards is the idea that we are peering behind the facades that politicians, which is why this book fits into this list. After the Banquet was so close to life that Mishima was successfully sued by Japanese politician Hachiro Arita for invasion of privacy.
Eighteen Acres by Nicole Wallace
Eighteen Acres by Nicole Wallace poses the ultimate HOC question: What if Claire were president? Charlotte Kramer, the protagonist of Nicole Wallace’s political thriller, isn’t quite as cold-hearted and manipulative as Claire. But, in this story, Kramer is the first female president.
Her story is about her encounters the same frustrations and inequities that Claire struggles with in Capitol Hill. Nicole Wallace developed an interesting twist on the Clinton’s story — an adultery scandal involving that first gentleman of the United States. This betrayal undoes Kramer’s White House.
The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion
The Last Thing He Wanted centers around Elena McMahon. She is a reporter for the Washington Post who quits her job covering the 1984 Presidential primaries. She needs to care for her father after her mother’s death and in an unusual turn of events, she inherits his position as an arms dealer for the U.S. Government in Central America.
In this sparsely written, quick-paced narrative, Elena struggles to cope. If you are intrigued by Zoe Barnes and her journalist peers who get sucked into a world of conspiracy and political retribution in HOC, this is the book for you. The Last Thing He Wanted is an engrossing and brilliantly written novel about the entanglements with Central American arms dealers, spies, and the American military.
A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R. R. Martin
A Song of Ice and Fire is a series of epic fantasy novels. The American novelist and screenwriter George R. R. Martin began the first volume of the series, A Game of Thrones, in 1991 and had it published in 1996. Martin, who initially envisioned the series as a trilogy, actually published five out of a planned seven volumes. A Dance with Dragons, the fifth part of the series, took Martin five years to write. He is still writing the sixth novel titled The Winds of Winter.
If you are a fan of great TV shows, then you already know Game of Thrones on HBO. The show features tons of Machiavellian schemers in a fantasy world. In House of Cards, Frank Underwood gathers wiling and unwilling pawns before putting his plans in motion. This series plays with a lot of the same tactics.
Watergate by Thomas Mallon
Watergate by Thomas Mallon is a stealth political novel that invests the Watergate affair with all the intense moments you remember from the scandal. It also includes some very interesting twists and turns that you don’t often get from a history book.
No American president has a more Machiavellian reputation than Nixon. After his presidency ended by the Watergate scandal, the American people moved on, but the scandal lived on in infamy. Mallon’s 2013 novel turns that infamous scandal into page turning fiction. The New York Times said, “In this stealth bull’s-eye of a political novel, Thomas Mallon invests the Watergate affair with all the glitter, glamour, suave grace and subtlety that it doesn’t often get.”
All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
The book All the President’s Men chronicles the investigative reporting of Woodward and Bernstein from the Watergate break-in. The story relates the events behind the major stories the duo wrote for the Post; it also gives detailed accounts of Woodward’s secret meetings with his source Deep Throat whose identity was kept hidden for over 30 years.
Gene Roberts, the former managing editor of The New York Times, has called the work of Woodward and Bernstein “maybe the single greatest reporting effort of all time.” Anyone interested in Nixon’s Underwood-like tactics and the corresponding scandals should read the firsthand nonfiction account of the journalists.
The Selling of the President 1968 by Joe McGinniss
The Selling of the President 1968 describes the marketing of Richard Nixon during the 1968 presidential campaign and has been described as “classic of campaign reporting that first introduced many readers to the stage-managed world of political theater.” McGinniss became an overnight success when the book became a bestseller. McGinniss was 26 years old, and was the youngest living writer with that achievement.
Sticking to Nixon nonfiction, McGinniss’ book chronicles how politicians are rolled out like focus-grouped products, which is simply a fact of life now. But back in 1968, it was fairly shocking when exposed by McGinniss in 1969. In Season two, the Underwood’s hire Seth Grayson to spin the media and control their public appearance and offers an interesting angle like this book.
Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar
Memoirs of Hadrian is a novel by the Belgian-born French Writer Marguerite Yourcenar. It chronicles the life and death of Roman Emperor Hadrian; the book was an immediate success, meeting with enormous critical acclaim.
In yet another historical novel in the form of a memoir, Yourcenar’s Hadrian is quite a different ruler than the Frank Underwood. For many people who want to divulge into the mind of Underwood, Memoirs may be your alternative glimpse. Perhaps being in power will change him; either way, this is a great novel that meditates on what it means to rule and to live in power.
The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez
The Autumn of the Patriarch is a novel that was released in 1975. According to the author, it is a “poem on the solitude of power.” The novel is a flowing tract on the life of an eternal dictator and is divided into six sections. Each section retells the same story of the infinite power held by the archetypical tyrant.
Márquez’s self-described “poem on the solitude of power” is a fascinating look at a seemingly immortal Latin American dictator. Although the book might be classified as dreamlike realism, much of the text is inspired by the lives of modern tyrants, like Underwood or other politicians that shall remain unnamed (you can fill in the blank).
Reasons of State by Alejo Carpentier
In the early 1970s, friends made a pact. Gabriel García Márquez, Augusto Roa Bastos and Alejo Carpentier decided they would each write a novel about the dictatorships then wreaking misery in Latin America to expose the political controversies.
Carpentier’s Reasons of State also employs an unnamed dictator. This is unlike Márquez’s magical realism, Carpentier draws more directly from real life. Carpentier believed that the state of Latin American politics and life at the time was so bizarre that it was marvelous in it of itself. Reasons of State was republished in America in 2013 by Melville House. It was “hailed as the most significant novel ever to come out of Cuba.”
Forty-Four Stories About Our Forty-Four Presidents curated by Melville House
If you love HOC, you’ll love Forty-Four Stories About Our Forty-Four Presidents. During the 2012 election, Melville House published an online anthology of 44 stories by 44 writers on the 44 U.S. presidents. So if you have a favorite president, or there is a specific scandal you want to dive into, this compilation is perfect for you.
The anthology is free online. It includes a lot of great up-and-coming writers including Matt Bell, Ben Loory, Lindsay Hunter, Roxane Gay, and many others. It’s a fun and interesting collection of political-inspired fiction that any House of Cards fan will completely enjoy.