The best novels about activism to inspire and mobilize

Who am I?

I began as an activist in high school, knocking on doors to enlist support for clean water and air, and more recently, for my favorite candidates for local, state, and federal office. Some of my most meaningful work was as a lawyer and volunteer on land conservation deals for an agricultural land trust. Fiction has an amazing power to recharge us and to shift our perspectives to imagine the world differently. My favorite books are always ones that teach me something interesting. My recent activism has been motivated by my frustration with our political process, including the 2010 Supreme Court case of Citizens United declaring corporations to be “persons” under the law.

I wrote...

The Third Way

By Aimee Hoben,

Book cover of The Third Way

What is my book about?

After losing her college scholarship, Arden Firth—with the help of Justin Kirish, a law student with a mysterious past—becomes the reluctant leader of a movement to ban corporations. South Dakota Ballot Initiative 99 is Arden’s last hope to save her grandmother’s farm from foreclosure; but as the movement grows, shadowy forces conspire to quash it, and Arden sees “99” begin to spiral out of her control. Charting the intersection between idealism, extremism, and forgiveness, The Third Way is the story of a young woman struggling with her own demons while trying to articulate a vision that could change the world.

The books I picked & why

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Prodigal Summer

By Barbara Kingsolver,

Book cover of Prodigal Summer

Why this book?

One of my all-time favorite books, Prodigal Summer is a compelling, gorgeous, and sometimes steamy story as well as a very thoughtful examination of our role as stewards of the land. Deanna Wolfe, a reclusive wildlife biologist, is studying a den of coyotes that have recently migrated into the Appalachian Mountains where she lives in an isolated cabin as a forest ranger. Her solitary life is disrupted by an intriguing and infuriating young hunter who invades her private spaces and her thoughts. I loved this book for the story and the characters. What I learned about coyotes and the importance of predators to the ecosystem, as well as about the American Chestnut, a fascinating tree lost to blight, stays with me and conveys deeper meaning about the natural world. 

Hot Season

By Susan DeFreitas,

Book cover of Hot Season

Why this book?

This story about three restless college students at a liberal arts enclave in the southwestern desert who become embroiled in a protest to stop a pipeline reminded me of my days as a malcontent at the University of Colorado Boulder. When the FBI comes to town in pursuit of an alum wanted for “politically motivated crimes of property,” rumor has it that undercover agents are enrolled in classes, making the college dating scene that much stranger. The characters variously discover a passion for activism, the seduction of the unknown, and their own voices. This book is fun, interesting, and evocative. 

The Monkey Wrench Gang

By Edward Abbey,

Book cover of The Monkey Wrench Gang

Why this book?

This was one of the first radical activist books I ever read, as a teen in the 1980s, and it remains one of the most influential environmental novels, so much a part of our culture that the term “monkeywrench” took on its popular meaning from this book. The book’s characters use sabotage to damage development machinery threatening their beloved southwestern landscape. While the tactics of eco-terrorists may have fallen out of fashion, the book is undoubtedly an important piece of the activist lit lexicon. 

A Civil Action

By Jonathan Harr,

Book cover of A Civil Action

Why this book?

This gripping true story of a water contamination lawsuit in Woburn, Massachusetts highlights the best our legal system can be. (Yes, I made an exception for non-fiction here, but only because it was assigned reading in law school. But it reads like a novel, I promise.) After her child is diagnosed with leukemia, Anne Anderson realizes the cancer cluster among her neighbors is caused by contamination of the town's water supply. She convinces a lawyer, Jan Schlichtmann, to take on the case when he discovers that several nearby factories are responsible for the pollution. In taking on the case against the deep pockets of the corporate defendants, Schlichtmann is nearly destroyed seeking justice for the town. (John Travolta stars in a great film adaptation of this book playing Schlichtmann.)

Dress Coded

By Carrie Firestone,

Book cover of Dress Coded

Why this book?

For the budding middle-grade activist on your list, this book is my 11-year-old daughter’s favorite, and I loved it too. The eighth-grade main character, Molly, starts a podcast to protest unfair dress code enforcement in her school, and her small rebellion starts a revolution. A great introduction for kids to activism, with a deft treatment of body differences, girl power, and friendships. 

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Boston, farms, and middle school?

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