In order to further social justice, it’s important to learn about it. Here are 45 nonfiction books that can help you do just that.
From personal accounts of discrimination and violence to theoretical examinations of social institutions, these books offer a diverse array of perspectives on social justice.
Whether you’re looking for something to read for your book club or want to add some new titles to your reading list, this list of books will introduce you to important concepts and ideas related to social justice.
Written by: Michelle Alexander
In this book, author Michelle Alexander explores America's prison system and how it disproportionately affects people of color. Through compelling data and personal stories, she shows how the system is rigged against minorities and how this has contributed to the mass incarceration crisis in our country.
She argues that the U.S. has effectively replaced Jim Crow laws with a system of mass incarceration that targets black people and other people of color, leading to devastating consequences for individuals and communities. Her book is a powerful call to action to dismantle this unjust system.
Written by: Howard Zinn
Are you looking for a different perspective on American history? One that focuses on the lives of everyday people instead of presidents and generals? Then you need to read A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn.
This groundbreaking book tells the true story of America from the bottom up, giving voice to the millions of ordinary Americans who have often been left out of the traditional history books. If you're interested in learning about what happened in America, this book is for you. Trust us; it will change how you think about our country's past – and present.
It was originally published in 1980.
Written by: James Baldwin
This compelling book is a searing indictment of institutionalized racism in America. Baldwin argues that the fires of violence and civil unrest that have scarred our nation's history will continue to rage until we face the systematic injustice that has permeated every level of society.
With eloquence and passion, Baldwin calls on Americans to confront the shameful legacy of bigotry and intolerance that continues to haunt our present. His words still ring true today, more than five decades after they were written.
The original version was published in 1963.
Written by: Robin DiAngelo with a foreword by Michael Eric Dyson
If you're white, it can be hard to talk about racism. You might feel like you don't know what to say or that you might say something wrong. You might feel like racism isn't your problem. Drawing on her own experience as a white person and extensive research, she argues that many whites are conditioned to react defensively when they are confronted with evidence of racism.
But if we want to create a truly equal society for everyone, we need to be able to talk about racism openly and honestly. Racism is still a reality in our world, and we must understand how it works and how we can fight against it.
Written by: Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
This book lays out a vision for disability justice that is deeply rooted in the realities of care work. Drawing on personal experiences as a queer disabled woman of color, Piepzna- Samarasinha offers a powerful critique of how care work is devalued and marginalized.
At the same time, she celebrates the resilience and creativity of caregivers across the globe who are fighting to create a more just world. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in understanding how we can build a better future for all people.
Written by: Ijeoma Oluo
Race is a touchy topic. We all know it and feel it, but most of us are too afraid to talk about it. Ijeoma Oluo's book makes it easier for everyone to have those conversations by giving readers the tools they need to understand and discuss race in America.
With candid stories and insightful advice, she helps readers explore the history of racism in America, examine their own biases and privilege, and start tough conversations with friends and family members.
It is the perfect place to start if you're ready to have frank and honest discussions about race - or just want to understand better what the issue is all about.
Written by: Edward Snowden
When former N.S.A. contractor Edward Snowden released classified information in 2013, he sparked a global debate on privacy and security. In his autobiography, Snowden tells his story for the first time. He offers an intimate look at his life, from his childhood in North America to his years working as a C.I.A. employee and then as a contractor for the N.S.A.
He also shares his vision for the future of cybersecurity and why he believes data privacy is essential to our democracy. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in privacy, security, and government transparency.
Written by: David W. Blight
In 1818, Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Maryland. He would become one of the most influential figures in American history, an abolitionist, a social reformer, and a statesman.
In his biography, Blight relates his journey from enslavement to freedom and, in doing so, gives voice to the experience of millions of African Americans.
This book is considered one of the most influential pieces of literature ever written about slavery. This book may have been written over a decade ago, but it reveals how Douglass's story is just as relevant today as it was during his lifetime.
This book won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 2019.
Written by: Malala Yousafzai & Christina Lamb
In October 2012, the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai on a bus in Pakistan's Swat Valley. They targeted her because she had campaigned for girls' education, which the extremists opposed. The attack sparked international outrage, and Malala quickly became a global symbol of strength and resilience.
This remarkable young woman’s journey is one of courage and perseverance in the face of adversity. It is a story that will inspire readers everywhere to fight for what they believe in, no matter how difficult the challenge may be.
Malala’s message is an important one, and it is one that we should all take to heart.
Written by: James I. Charlton
Disability oppression and empowerment is a hot topic in the disability community. There are many different perspectives on the best way to approach these topics. Still, one thing remains clear: Disability oppression can be incredibly damaging, and we need to work together to empower ourselves and each other.
This book brings together a variety of voices from the disability community to explore these critical topics. It also looks at the history of disability oppression, contemporary issues, and strategies for change.
Whether you're disabled or not, I encourage you to read it and learn more about how we can all work together to break down barriers and create a more inclusive world.
Written by: Ibram X. Kendi
In his book, Ibram X. Kendi asks readers to think about what it means to be racist and how they can work to become antiracists. He defines racism as a power dynamic in which one group is considered superior to another. He argues that the only way to upend this dynamic is through collective action and individual commitment.
Kendi's book has sparked meaningful conversations about race and racism in the United States, and it is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand these issues more deeply.
To become an antiracist, we must first understand how racism works. Then, we can start taking steps to dismantle it.
Kendi is also a National Book award winner for an earlier writing called Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racists Ideas in America. It's another great read about the social justice movement and civil rights.
Written by: Malcolm X and Alex Haley
Few figures in American history are as controversial and polarizing as Malcolm X. Born Malcolm Little in 1925; he rose to become one of the most influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, calling for black power and an end to white supremacy.
But his legacy is complex and contested – some see him as a hero, while others view him as a dangerous radical.
This book explores what made Malcolm such a compelling figure, delving into his childhood experiences, years as a street hustler and gangster, and his radical transformation after joining the Nation of Islam.
The original publication of this book was in 1965.
Written by: Matthew Desmond
Matthew Desmond provides an intimate look at the lives of eight families struggling to keep a roof over their heads. From Milwaukee to New Orleans, these families are forced to make difficult choices between food and shelter, often sacrificing one for the other.
Through their stories, we see how our nation's housing crisis has deepened poverty and created a cycle of evictions that is almost impossible to break.
Desmond's book is a powerful reminder that behind every statistic is a human story. And it is these stories that must be at the center of any effort to end homelessness in America.
Written by: Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
Indigenous resistance is nothing new. From the time of first contact, Indigenous peoples have fought for their human rights and freedom. Their resilience in the face of colonization and genocide is a testament to their strength as nations and peoples. The author explores contemporary Indigenous resistance movements and offers a fresh perspective on decolonization.
Drawing on case studies from across the U.S.A. and Canada, she argues that true liberation can only be achieved when Native People embrace autonomy and respect traditional ways of life.
This is one of the social justice books that is an eye-opening read and inspires anyone committed to justice and solidarity with Indigenous peoples.
Written by: Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel's Night is one of the most critical and powerful Holocaust memoirs ever written. Wiesel was just a teenager when he and his family were taken from their home in Hungary to Auschwitz and then the Buchenwald concentration camps.
We can understand the true horror and terror of what happened during this time through his memories.
This is an essential read for anyone who wants to understand the Holocaust and why we must do everything we are capable of to make sure it never happens again.
The original version was published in 1956.
Written by: Mikki Kendall
In this book, Mikki Kendall looks at how the feminist movement has failed to address the needs of women of color. She writes, "Feminism has largely been a middle-class, white woman's movement. And while it has done great things for white women, it has woefully neglected the needs of other women."
Kendall argues that feminism must be intersectional if it is to be indeed effective.
Kendall discusses how “hood feminism” can help fill this void and create a more inclusive social movement. Especially relevant in today’s world, it provides an essential perspective on the current state of feminism.
Written by: Richard Rothstein
In the United States, de jure segregation-the separation of races by law-was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1954. But as Richard Rothstein demonstrates in his influential book, segregation in America is still very much a reality. It is deliberately created by federal, state, and local governments.
Rothstein shows how American cities were built to be segregated, with African Americans confined to smaller and poorer neighborhoods. This practice continues today, making it difficult for blacks and other minorities to escape poverty and achieve upward mobility.
Segregation is no accident: it results from government action at all levels. Understanding this history is essential to combating the lingering effects of racism in our society.
Written by: Caroline Criado Pérez
Invisible Women shines a light on the gender data bias in every aspect of our lives. Despite accounting for half the population, women are routinely ignored or misrepresented in data collection and analysis.
She delves into topics such as healthcare, transportation, urban design, and even our everyday language to show just how pervasive this data-driven bias can be.
With so many important implications, we must become aware of the invisible women lurking in the shadows of our societies.
Written by: Audra Simpson
This intriguing book examines how Mohawk people have navigated the multiple borders of settler states. Through an examination of political life in Kahnawà:ke, a Mohawk community just outside of Montreal, Canada, Thompson shows how Mohawk people have contended with settled notions of sovereignty and citizenship.
In doing so, they have challenged both Canadian and the U.S. attempts to control Indigenous land and peoples. As Simpson argues, the Mohawk has become a powerful symbol of Indigenous resistance to settler colonialism.
Given the current resurgence of Indigenous activism across Northern America, her book is timely and essential reading.
Written by: Martin Luther King Jr., Clayborne Carson
As one of the most influential and iconic figures of the twentieth century, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. left a legacy that continues to inspire today. King shares his story from childhood through his years as a Baptist minister and civil rights leader.
He discusses his philosophy of nonviolent protest, describes the joys and challenges of working for social change and reflects on the personal costs of leading a public life.
This book is an intimate portrait of a man who committed himself to make America a better place for all people. Even decades after his assassination, this book is just as relevant to the civil rights movements of today.
The first version was published in 1986.
Written by: Ken Wystema
Social injustice is a reality that most people would like to ignore. It exists in every corner of the world, and its effects can be seen in the way that people are treated on a daily basis. Ken Wytsma's book takes a look at how social injustice has been deeply rooted in our society for centuries.
He examines how privilege has played a role in perpetuating these injustices, and offers ways that we can begin to address them. Even though this is coming at this from the perspective of a white, male, Christian, it is not preachy. It is a worthwhile read for people not matter their belief system.
This is an important read for anyone who wants to understand how social injustice affects us all, and what we can do about it.
Written by: Judith Heumann, Kristen Joiner
In her new memoir, Being Heumann, disability rights activist Judith Heumann tells her story of growing up with a disability in an able-bodied world. Heumann chronicles her lifelong struggle to be treated as an equal, from fighting for the right to attend public school as a child to leading the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act sit-in at the Department of Health and Human Services in 1988.
Heumann shares her experiences as a disabled person living in a society designed for non-disabled people with humor and honesty. She also offers insights into the disability rights movement, which she has been a part of for over four decades.
Being Heumann is an inspiring and vital read for anyone who cares about social justice.
Written by: Glen Sean Coulthard
Professor Glen Sean Coulthard challenges today’s dominant theories of recognition and offers a decolonial framework that he argues is more in line with Indigenous worldviews. Coulthard urges us to reject "recognition-as-redemption" and instead embrace a politics of mutual respect in which both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples are equally empowered.
Drawing on examples from Turtle Island in Canada, Coulthard makes a compelling case for a radical rethinking of the relationship between Indigenous and settler societies.
This is an important read for anyone interested in Aboriginal Studies, Political Philosophy, or Decolonization Theory.
Written by: Patrisse Khan-Cullors & Asha Bandele, with a foreword by Angela Y. Davis
When they call you a terrorist, what do you do? For Black Lives Matter activists, the answer is to continue fighting for justice and equality, no matter the cost. And the price can sometimes include losing your life to help others.
This powerful memoir depicts the rise of the B.L.M. movement through the eyes of one of its co-founders, providing an intimate look at the personal sacrifices made in the name of justice.
Despite opposition from all sides, Khan-Cullors remains committed to the cause, even when it puts her life at risk. When They Call You a Terrorist is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what it means to be black in America today.
Written by: Judith Butler
Initially released in the 1990s, Judith Butler argued that traditional understandings of gender are not as stable or fixed as they might seem. Drawing on post-structuralist theory, Butler contended that gender is performatively enacted rather than reflecting some essential truth about a person.
This book has been hugely influential in feminist and queer circles, and it remains one of the essential texts in contemporary gender studies. In it, Butler asks provocative questions about the nature of identity and its relation to power.
Her arguments are both insightful and challenging, and they have had a significant impact on how we think about gender today.
Written by: Mark Engler & Paul Engler
The Arab Spring. Me too. Black Lives Matter. Occupy Wall Street. These are just a few examples of nonviolent protests that have swept the globe in recent years. But what exactly is nonviolent resistance, and why is it so effective?
This book attempts to provide some answers to these questions. Drawing on historical and contemporary examples, the book shows how unarmed civilians can triumph against oppressive regimes, even when those regimes are heavily armed.
If you're interested in learning more about this phenomenon, this book might inspire you to take nonviolent action!
Written by: James H. Cone
Cone asks whether the dream of America as a truly democratic society, as embodied in the lives and thoughts of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, has been realized or not.
While both King and Malcolm were fighting for equality during their lifetime, they had different visions of how to achieve it. King's dream was slower to manifest but relied on Gandhian principles of nonviolent civil disobedience. Meanwhile, Malcolm's vision wanted blacks to move swiftly and advocate for militancy.
In the end, both men paid with their lives for their beliefs. Although many decades have passed since their deaths, America is still grappling with many of the same problems.
Written by: Cathy Park Hong
Cathy Park Hong's book, Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning is a searing and fiercely honest look at what it means to be Asian American. Through a series of essays exploring her upbringing and experiences, Hong gives voice to the often unspoken feelings of anxiety, shame, and confusion that exist in a racial category.
She challenges us to reckon with the complicated legacy of race in America and exposes the deep divide between our country's ideals and reality.
With humor and candor, Hong invites us on a journey of self-discovery as she confronts some of the most difficult truths about our nation's history. This is required reading for anyone who wants to understand race in America today.
Written by: Steve Silberman
Neurodiversity is a term gaining traction in recent years as society becomes more aware of the different ways people think and learn. The neurodiverse include those on the autism spectrum, dyslexics, ADHD sufferers, and others whose brains function differently from the mainstream.
NeuroTribes tells the story of autism from its earliest descriptions to modern-day science and activism, highlighting how society's perception of autism has changed over time and what this means for the future of neurodiversity.
He also offers a hope-filled vision for the future of neurodiversity in which people with autism and other neurological conditions are fully integrated into society.
Written by: Angela Y. Davis with a foreword by Cornel West
Angela Y. Davis, a professor, author, and political activist discusses freedom's importance in her book Freedom Is a Constant Struggle. She argues that freedom is not something we can take for granted but must constantly work for.
In this book, Davis provides an in-depth look at how freedom has been denied to marginalized groups throughout history. She also offers strategies for fighting back against oppression and achieving true liberation.
This book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the struggle for freedom and equality for all in the modern world.
Written by: Cornel West & Christa Buschendorf
This book is a timely and vital work that should be required reading for anyone interested in the state of black America. West and Buschendorf trace the lineage of African American thought from slavery to the present day.
They achieve this goal by highlighting the work of key figures such as Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ella Baker, and others. This book looks at how icons such as Martin Luther King Jr. have been seen as a saint while Malcolm X has been demonized. Meanwhile, other civil rights pioneers, such as Ida B. Wells, who was just as influential as Malcolm X, have been forgotten since she was a female.
This is a searing and necessary book that belongs on every bookshelf.
Written by: Elie Mystal
As an MSNBC commentator and lawyer, Elie Mystal has pretty much seen it all. And he's seen the right-wing and Republicans try to destroy civil liberties by misconstruing the Constitution. Instead of just accepting the dominant paradigm, he sees how the underlying racism so many issues in the U.S.A.
He examines issues as diverse as how the Second Amendment allowed Southern states to ensure slavery. How the First Amendment allows supporting bigotry and religious discrimination. He also looks at how other Amendments have been used to subjugate and murder Black people.
We love that he explains these subjects in very down-to-Earth ways that anyone can understand. His sense of humor comes through during it, even with the reality of the horrors. It is an eye-opening and extensive expose of what is wrong with the right-wing in the US and how we can work to fix it.
Written by: Rebecca Solnit
Feeling alone and lost, Solnit decided to give up her dull suburban life and move to the magical city of San Francisco in the 1980s. As she grew up there, she realized that this was the place that would let her learn about herself and humanity.
As she grew, she became part of the punk rock scene, saw how women were treated as objects in society, and hung out with LGBTQI people who helped her realize that everything she was taught was a lie. She realized that friends could be more than just friends; they are family.
Instead of just hiding alone and becoming nonexistent as a woman in society, she found her voice and became a profound power for equality.
Written by: W.E.B. Du Bois with an Introduction by Donald B. Gibson
It has been said that W.E.B. Du Bois' seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, is required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the African American experience in America. Originally published in 1903, this book is a collection of essays that explore everything from racism and segregation to education and religion.
While some of the topics discussed may be outdated, the insights offered by Du Bois are still relevant today.
If you're interested in gaining a deeper understanding of African American history and culture, this is a perfect primer.
Written by: Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, & Kay Whitlock
Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States is a book that explores the often-overlooked problem of how LGBTQI people are targeted and unfairly treated by the criminal justice system.
Written by legal scholars and young activists, this book shines a light on the many ways in which LGBTQI people are mistreated both in and out of prison. From wrongful convictions to police brutality, this book offers a comprehensive look at an often ignored issue.
With its intersectional approach, Queer (In)Justice challenges readers to think about how race, gender, sexuality, and class all play a role in who gets targeted by the criminal justice system.
Written by: Booker T. Washington with an introduction by Ishmael Reed
Up from Slavery is an inspiring and uplifting story of one man's journey from a life of slavery to becoming one of the most prominent African American leaders of his time.
Booker T. Washington's autobiography chronicles his rise from humble beginnings to becoming the head of Tuskegee University. It provides valuable insights into race relations in America during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Despite its age, Up from Slavery remains an essential read for anyone interested in understanding American history and the struggle for civil rights.
It was originally published in 1900.
Written by: Ta-Nehisi Coates
In this book, Ta-Nehisi Coates reflects on the Obama years and how they contributed to the current state of America.
The book is a series of essays that explore the impact of racism on both individuals and society. Coates provides a unique perspective on the Obama administration, offering essential insights into how race relations had changed (or not changed) in America during the eight years of his presidency.
America has always been a place of great promise, but Coates shows us just how far we still must go to live up to that promise truly.
Written by: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
In this illuminating book, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers a compelling argument for why feminism is not only necessary but should be embraced by everyone. She makes a convincing case that feminism is essential for achieving equality between men and women and outlines practical steps that we can all take to help dismantle the patriarchy.
Adichie's experience as a Nigerian woman gives her a unique perspective on the issue, and her straightforward writing style makes complex concepts understandable for readers of all backgrounds.
No matter what gender or sex you are, and whether you're new to feminism or an experienced ally, this book is a must-read nonfiction book about women's rights.
Written by: Frank Bardacke
In the history of the United States, there have been few figures as influential and controversial as Cesar Chavez. Chavez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association, a champion of farm workers' rights, which later became the United Farm Workers Union (U.F.W.).
For over two decades, he led countless strikes and boycotts against some of the biggest agricultural companies in the country. Chavez was inspired by the principles of nonviolence advocated by Martin Luther King Jr., and his work helped improve the lives of many workers.
Sadly, the union started to fall apart and lose its way because of infighting and other issues. This is an essential read to understand what the farmer workers had to go through to gain any type of equality in the U.S.A.
Written by: Dean Spade
In Normal Life: Administrative Violence, Critical Trans Politics and the Limits of Law, Spade argues that violence isn't just something that happens in extraordinary moments or rare instances - it's an everyday reality for many people who experience marginalization and oppression. As a lawyer, he knows that this is especially true in how the legal system treats trans and gender-fluid people in the U.S.A.
Spade provides a critical perspective on how power operates in our society by shining a light on how violence is perpetrated through administrators and institutions.
This book will give you an insider's view of what it is like to deal with these issues every second of your life.
Written by: Elton John
Most people know Elton John as a celebrated singer and songwriter. However, not many are aware of his passion for writing. Since he wanted the world to learn more about his life, John decided to write an autobiography.
The book provides an intimate look at the musician's life, from his childhood to his rise to fame. John reflects on his struggles, including addiction, grief, having to deal with being a gay man, and as well as his triumphs.
It is a candid and powerful memoir that offers readers a unique glimpse into the life of one of the world's most iconic performers.
Written by: Srdja Popovic, Matthew Miller
One of the most intriguing books on this list is a practical guide to starting your nonviolent revolution. By looking at peaceful revolutions worldwide, the authors have figured out the safest and most loving ways to help others.
Some of these include listening deeply to what others want and not thinking you know it all, how to change your enemies into allies, and how to use humor to defuse what could be a potentially perilous situation.
Even if you don't plan to start a demonstration, this is still an excellent read because it gives you a primer on how to view protests that will work or fail.
Written by: Mariame Kaba with a foreword by Naomi Murakawa
What does it mean to be an abolitionist? For many, it is a moniker adopted after years of fighting for systemic change and being rooted in the belief that all forms of oppression must be dismantled.
This book dives into the theory and praxis of abolitionist organizing, written by folk who embody this political philosophy. The authors explore what abolition looks like in various aspects of their lives - from work to family to self-care - and lay out a roadmap for how we can all become abolitionists in our communities.
This book provides critical analysis on transformative justice and offers tools for those committed to dismantling oppressive systems.
Written by: Valeria Luiselli
In her book, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions, Valeria Luiselli gives a voice to the children of undocumented immigrants who are facing deportation. She weaves together their stories with her personal experience as an interpreter during their court cases.
The result is a powerful and eye-opening look at a population often relegated to the margins. While the book is sure to provoke discussion, it also provides an essential context for understanding these children's complex reality.
Whether you're looking to understand the immigrant experience better or simply want to be challenged and moved by a great work of literature, this book is for you.
Written by: Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy is a compelling story of justice and redemption. He tells the real-life stories of many of the people he has represented as a lawyer, including Walter McMillian, a man who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he did not commit.
From death row inmates to young children caught up in the juvenile justice system, Stevenson has seen firsthand the effects of a broken justice system. Through his work with the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson has fought for the rights of the poor, the oppressed, and those who have been denied justice.
But he has also seen the power of mercy and redemption, so he continues to fight for justice even when all hope seems lost.
His book is a moving account of his experiences and an inspiring call to action. The book has received critical acclaim, with NPR hailing it as "one of the most important books of this era."
Written by: Jane Little Botkin
Frank Little was born in 1879 to a family of abolitionists. Growing up, he was heavily influenced by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a radical labor union that advocated for worker's rights. In 1914, Little joined the IWW and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming one of its most outspoken leaders. In 1917, he was sent to Butte, Montana to help organize a strike among copper miners.
Unfortunately, his efforts were met with violence and Little was eventually assassinated. His death marked a turning point for the IWW and galvanized support for labor unions nationwide for a short time until World War I broke out and the Sedition Act of 1918 was passed by Congress. This law allowed the government to silence members of the IWW and other groups that were seen as a threat to it.