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11 Best Books on Social Justice

You know how the old saying goes: “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” It’s considered to be The Golden Rule for all mankind. 

It’s not easy to talk to your family about race and social justice, but the push for justice and equality have long been issues in every facet of society, even before the internet and what we know of as books today. Whether it concern healthcare and wealth distribution, or systematic privilege and oppression, books on social justice present a comprehensive push for equal opportunity for all. 

Becoming well-versed and knowledgeable on issues surrounding social justice shouldn’t be seen as a forceful hand on your way of life, either. Social justice goes far beyond the fragmented constructs of race, ability, and class, which may seem complex but can be simplified as a means of education, empathy, and humility for the lives of the businessman making deals on top, the handyman busting his chops to put food on the table for his family, and everyone else grinding in between. 

It’s about recognizing the plight of our neighbors and respecting them for it. It may seem tough to jump into these kinds of conversations but it’s necessary for our growth as a community, and as a society. Here is our collection of books on social justice to help us down a forward path.

A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

'A People's History of the United States' by Howard Zinn
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A People’s History of the United States should be required reading for every American citizen. Instead of the cherry-picked stories of our founding fathers and great men in power, historian Howard Zinn looks at the history of the country through the eyes and tales of “the street, the home, and the workplace,” highlighting the structural struggles of poor and vulnerable communities from the day Christopher Columbus arrived and beyond.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

'The Underground Railroad' by Colson Whitehead
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Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel follows the life of a young woman named Cora, a slave on a cotton farm in Georgia, and her search for freedom. The poetic tale touches on many chilling narratives, including casual, violent communities, fear, and prejudice seen in times of slavery, juxtaposed with tales of hope and redemption. 

Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh

'Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family's Fight for Desegregation' by Duncan Tonatiuh
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Some of the best books on social justice make for great learning experiences for kids, too, because our youth are who will experience the changes we make today. Duncan Tonatiuh spells out a little-known story of the Mendez family’s fight to desegregate schools in California post World War II, illuminating the impact this had on relationships between children and its effect on the education system and racial tensions, as well as the power of youth and their ability to recognize fairness and equality as necessary.

Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World by Srdja Popovic and Matthew Miller

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Blueprint for Revolution might be the one of the most timely books on social justice, as it explores avenues for those facing injustice to create a movement and challenge “The Man” for a brighter future, whether that be a healthier global climate or the fight for democracy. It’s a true David vs. Goliath story, taking notes from uprisings around the world, but in a way that is both hilarious and captivating. Changing the world for the better should come with optimism and joy, and this book by Srdja Popovic and Matthew Miller provides both. 

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care by T.R. Reid

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The topic of healthcare has been front and center in American media for over a decade now, and specifically the debate between for-profit pharmaceuticals versus affordable universal healthcare. Author T.R. Reid provides anecdotal analysis on the various types of healthcare systems around the world — from single payer to private to universal — in order to dissect their effectiveness for the general population, or what he would call a cost-benefit ratio. Reid finds, in short, that compared to other industrialized, modern countries, America’s healthcare system is failing.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond 

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Named one of The New York Times “10 Best Non-Fiction Books of the Decade,” Evicted is a book focused on wealth inequality in America. Wealth inequality is one of those things that we all hear about but aren’t quite sure how to react to, but Desmond does a superb job in highlighting the breadth of the poverty issues constraining our citizens. It’s more of a illumination of the dire situation than a solution-based approach, but it’s a necessary conversation on how our current housing market is skewed against our most vulnerable populations.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates 

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In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes a letter to his 15-year-old son to explain and warn him of the cultural cringing and the perverse injustices he will face as a Black man in America. “You are growing into consciousness, and my wish for you is that you feel no need to constrict yourself to make other people comfortable,” writes Coates. It’s a grim revelation that looks at history in America for what it is and applies that knowledge to life in today’s social tensions.

Somos como las nubes / We Are Like the Clouds by Jorge Argueta

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In this book of poems, Jorge Argueta explores a topic of recent political turmoil — asylum seekers leaving their home countries for a breath of fresh air in America. Argueta, a refugee from El Salvador, shares these compelling stories as a way to give readers a glimpse into the struggles of the young men and women searching for safety, and most importantly, a place to call home. This is one of those books that lets you “take a walk in their shoes,” if you will.

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis

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You can’t talk about social justice without mentioning the renowned activist, philosopher, academic, and author, Angela Davis. In this book, Davis delves into topics of state-regulated violence and oppression, but this time from a worldwide perspective, putting as much highlight on race relations in Ferguson, Missouri as the turmoil between Palestine and Israel. It’s main mission is to illustrate that freedom is a fight that will continue for years to come but we should always strive for the liberation of all humans. 

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

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Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover as an unskilled worker in the U.S. making minimum wage to explore the dire and dark situation many of our citizens face in this country. After working a vast array of jobs, from waitressing to Walmart, Ehrenreich soon discovered that many of these minimum wage jobs are much more skilled and demanding than they seem on the sideline, along with the dire struggles some of the working class has to live with. Ehrenreich’s initial tone of privilege and disconnect only furthers the weight of her discoveries along the way.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

‘The Handmaid's Tale’ by Margaret Atwood
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Hulu’s hit television series The Handmaid’s Tale is a reiteration of Margaret Atwood’s best-selling book of the same name. It’s chilling how many of the themes in this book are relevant for today. The world gets hit by a pandemic, which throws the entirety of society into a dystopian world of oppression, fear, and war. The main objective is to question the direction we are headed as a society, and specifically how it relates to the government’s control of women’s bodies.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
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If you’ve ever wondered what life is like for our Native Americans on reservation land, Sherman Alexie brings you as close as you can get without actually being there. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian dives into the life of artist and cartoonist, Junior, during his upbringing on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

Social progress begins with us. Let’s continue to strive to be better. If you’re more of a movie buff, check out our collection of the best social justice movies on Netflix.

Editors' Recommendations

Bryan Holt
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Bryan Holt is a writer, editor, designer, and multimedia storyteller based in Portland, Oregon. He is a graduate from the…
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