What to Read for Debate Season

We are in the midst of debate season for schools and for some of you, the first tournament is probably right around the corner. Since debate is a knowledge game, what should you read? Debate is a difficult challenge, one that requires an extensive comprehension on a wonderfully diverse set of disciplines when at the highest level. You have probably been told that you should “read for debate”, but what does that actually mean? What sorts of materials should you read? What is it exactly that you should take from them? “Reading for debate” is about learning as much as you can about as many different ideas, viewpoints, theories, and historical events as possible. The term is, of course, short-hand. You can learn by watching YouTube, by listening to podcasts, or by having conversations with smart and knowledgeable people. Remember that the core idea is learning.

Informational News Sources

You should attempt to take in some form of news at least daily. It doesn’t need to be a ton – a few minutes well-spent will put you far ahead of most of the pack. When you are deciding which news sources to frequent, choose national or international organizations. Local news is difficult to use outside of the region in which it is produced and tends to have a lower impact on judges.

Television – BBC, CNN, CBC News, Al-Jazeera
Newspapers – Globe & Mail, National Post, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal
Magazine – The Economist, Newsweek, Time
Podcasts – The Economist Podcast, BBC Documentaries, CBC’s The Current
The Monash Debating Review – A regularly published periodical that examines world issues from the perspective of competitive debate.

Maybe like myself, your parents always say “read more non-fiction, it helps your brain”. Although that may be true, reading for your enjoyment is important as well, be it fiction or non-fiction. However, in the case that you do want to be more knowledgeable by reading non-fiction, here are some suggestions based on some different topics.

Psychology – Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely); Blink, The Tipping Point, Outliers and What the Dog Saw (Malcolm Gladwell); The Moral Animal (Robert Wright); The Social Animal (David Brooks); The Righteous Mind and The Happiness Hypothesis (Jonathan Haidt)

Economics – Freakonomics, Superfreakonomics, and Think Like a Freak (Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner); The Ascent of Money (Niall Ferguson);  Boomerang, The Big Short, and Flash Boys (Michael Lewis);  The Worldly Philosophers (Robert Heilbroner); Shock Doctrine (Naomi Klein)

Political Science/History –  Descent into Chaos (Ahmed Rashid); Colossus (Niall Ferguson); How Soccer Explains the World (Franklin Foer); Dead Aid (Dambisa Moyo); The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander); World on Fire (Amy Chua); The Great War for Civilization (Robert Fisk); The Better Angels of Our Nature (Steven Pinker); Who Owns the Arctic (Michael Byers)

Science –  The Selfish Gene (Richard Dawkins); A Short History of Nearly Everything (Bill Bryson); Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (E.O. Wilson); The New Digital Age (Jared Cohen & Eric Schmidt)

Philosophy – Justice (Michael Sandel); On Liberty (J S Mill); What it Means to Be Human (Joanna Burke); Breaking the Spell and Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking (Daniel Dennett); The Moral Landscape (Sam Harris); Ideas that Matter (A.C. Grayling)

I hope this list helps you with debating and hopefully you will succeed in the future. Special thanks to my awesome debate mentor Keenan Macneal for teaching me and telling me about these books 🙂

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