Reading List for Learning about Social Justice*****

The following listing of authors and current non-fiction books are great sources of research and inspiration for anyone interested in reading, writing, or simply learning about the struggle for social justice in the United States of America. This list represents just a sampling of important new books on the subject. Please feel free to share our list with others and make suggestions to add to our catalogue of essential reads.

Ratings are based upon the timeliness of the topics, the thoroughness of the research in the books, the writer’s skill in presentation and style, the persuasiveness of the arguments, and the magnitude of the book in context.
Rating: ***** = Must read
  ****       = Important read
       ***        = Great source for research and understanding the topic
           **          = Not for everyone but important for some

Carol Anderson, Ph.D.
**** White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide
New York, London: Bloomsbury, 2016
This non-fiction text (164 pages) makes a powerful argument against the hidden, racist agenda in politics, from the post-Reconstruction South era to present day. Chapters, including the riveting “How to Unelect a Black President” deconstruct the deep-rooted racism of the attacks on President Obama and his legacy. Anderson’s book grew out of an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson and situates that act of racism in historical context. In the sociological/ historical text White Rage, Anderson discusses the roots and damage of white thinking and white supremacy leading to the psychological as well as physical violence perpetrated by “white rage” in the larger culture of America.

Ta-Nehisi Coates
***** Between the World and Me
New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015
National Book Award winner and regular contributor to The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates changes the dynamics of conversation around race in this country with his lyrical letter-styled book-length essay to his son. This is American history, the record of slavery and its effects, and a riveting letter to a son all in one. It is a must read and is destined to become part of our cultural lexicon.

***** We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy
New York: One World Publishing, 2017
In Coates’ latest book of topic-related essays on race in America, he creates a lens through which to understand the backlash against former President Barack Obama. In a neat bit of irony, Coates alludes to the eight years of relative power held by blacks after the Civil War and before the Jim Crow laws, simultaneously suggesting the eight years of President Obama’s terms in office. These essays are some of the best on the subject of race in America and offer a unique perspective on how Donald J. Trump ascended to the presidency.

William Jelani Cobb
***** The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress
New York: Walker & Company, 2010
New Yorker writer and acclaimed historian Jelani Cobb explores a tale of two Americas under the first black president in the context of our history of slavery.

Mark Engler and Paul Engler
**** This is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt is Shaping the Twenty-First Century
New York, Nation Books, Perseus Books Group, 2016
Here’s a history of resistance movements and how they affect change that can give us heart. The Engler brothers show us the course of movements for change over decades to elucidate how they work and how even when they might be called “failures” by media, they are still impacting the way people think and act. Reading this history can only help us continue to work for change.

Chris Hayes
*** A Colony in a Nation
New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2017
Hayes’ book about the racial divide implicit in “law and order” is a must read for understanding how our racism has created separate and unequal societies or a colony inside the white nation.

George Lakoff
***** Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know your Values and Frame the Debate
White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2014
Progressives need to learn to speak from their values and develop their own language for our vision of a better world, Lakoff states. Otherwise, if we keep trying to present our arguments using Conservatives frames and language, we are just helping them, not ourselves. If you really want to know how to write that letter to the editor, read this book.

Lakoff and Elisabeth Wehling
**** The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic
New York: Free Press, 2012
Lakoff strikes again, with a further development of how the language and frames we use can work against us, unless we take the time to understand how people’s minds work. Progressives have to do the work Conservatives have been doing for decades: to speak from our values and build our own frames for what we believe. This book can help us do that.

Laurie Penney
**** Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults
New York: Bloomsbury, 2017
Penney is a smart young woman who articulates the need for a fierce feminist spirit in the fight for justice in the world. Whether talking about conservatives, gender, violence, or poverty, she succinctly shows the connections between poverty, injustice and the oppression of women and gives us hope for a younger generation who can better see the need to openly fight for women’s equality.

Srdja Popovic with Matthew Miller
*** Blueprint for Revolution
New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015
Want to put the zip back into the resistance fight? Read this account of Popovic’s work as a leader of the Serbian resistance group Otpor! Since the toppling of Serbian president Slobodan Milošević, Popovic has worked around the world assisting resistance movements. With an eye for using humor and performance, Popovic has a great deal to offer non-violent resistance movements.

Gene Sharp
**** From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework for Liberation
New York: The New Press, 2012
A figurative blueprint for non-violent resistance, Sharp’s powerhouse, little book has been used across the world for those seeking to speak truth to power. In addition to helpful, extensive (over 200 specific methodologies) listing of creative non-violent actions protesters may take, Sharp’s book also surprises. He writes: “Contrary to popular opinion, even totalitarian dictatorships are dependent on the population and the societies they rule” (31). Sharp reminds us that resisting tyranny requires non-compliance. A population may acquiesce without conscious effort to resist. While this may not be a book for everyone, it is an vital work for those preparing any form of non-violent protest to oppression and tyranny.

Nancy Avery Dafoe and Priscilla Berggren-Thomas

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