The best books to read after Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States

Erik Loomis Author Of A History of America in Ten Strikes
By Erik Loomis

Who am I?

I am a history professor at the University of Rhode Island who specialized in the labor and environmental history of the United States. I have dedicated my life to writing histories that people can read for inspiration in the fight for justice. We cannot change the present and future if we do not understand the systems of oppression that have created how we live today. I hope to continue contributing to shattering myths, providing hope, and charting paths for change through my writing.


I wrote...

A History of America in Ten Strikes

By Erik Loomis,

Book cover of A History of America in Ten Strikes

What is my book about?

A Kirkus Reviews best book of 2018, A History of America in Ten Strikes--published in the wake of the teachers' strike that swept the country in 2018--challenges all of our contemporary assumptions around labor, unions, and American workers. Labor historian Erik Loomis recounts ten critical workers' strikes in American labor history in "chapters [that] are self-contained enough to be used on their own in union trainings or reading groups" (Labor Notes), and adds an appendix detailing the 150 most important strikes in American history. These labor uprisings do not just reflect the times in which they occurred, but speak directly to the present moment, where American workers are still fighting for basic rights like a livable minimum wage.

The books I picked & why

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The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America

By Ahmed White,

Book cover of The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America

Why this book?

Once you’ve read Zinn, you are going to want to know more about the workers’ struggle. Among recent books, you can’t do better than Ahmed White’s book on this iconic struggle of the 1930s, when the steel companies massacred strikers and even the Roosevelt administration did nothing about it. Powerful story and very well-written.

The Last Great Strike: Little Steel, the CIO, and the Struggle for Labor Rights in New Deal America

By Ahmed White,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Great Strike as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In May 1937, seventy thousand workers walked off their jobs at four large steel companies known collectively as "Little Steel." The strikers sought to make the companies retreat from decades of antiunion repression, abide by the newly enacted federal labor law, and recognize their union. For two months a grinding struggle unfolded, punctuated by bloody clashes in which police, company agents, and National Guardsmen ruthlessly beat and shot unionists. At least sixteen died and hundreds more were injured before the strike ended in failure. The violence and brutality of the Little Steel Strike became legendary. In many ways it was…


Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

By Heather Ann Thompson,

Book cover of Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

Why this book?

When Zinn published his book in 1980, the tumultuous events of the recent past were too soon for him to explore in much detail. One of the more horrifying events of the 1970s was the crushing of the Attica prison riot in 1971. Heather Thompson tells this story with great attention paid to the activists fighting for dignity behind bars and the indifference to the lives of prisoners from politicians, the police, and much of the public. With police violence and incarceration major political issues today, Thompson’s book is a must-read to gain historical context that will both inspire and outrage readers.

Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

By Heather Ann Thompson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Blood in the Water as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

PULITZER PRIZE WINNER • The definitive history of the infamous 1971 Attica Prison uprising, the state's violent response, and the victim's decades-long quest for justice. • Thompson served as the Historical Consultant on the Academy Award-nominated documentary feature ATTICA

“Gripping ... deals with racial conflict, mass incarceration, police brutality and dissembling politicians ... Makes us understand why this one group of prisoners [rebelled], and how many others shared the cost.” —The New York Times

On September 9, 1971, nearly 1,300 prisoners took over the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York to protest years of mistreatment. Holding guards and civilian…


Empire of Cotton: A Global History

By Sven Beckert,

Book cover of Empire of Cotton: A Global History

Why this book?

I have never read a book that so powerfully explores how capitalism has used racial violence, not only in the United States but around the world. Using cotton as a method to explore global history, Beckert will make you rethink everything you’ve heard about capitalism bringing peace and prosperity around the world.

Empire of Cotton: A Global History

By Sven Beckert,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Empire of Cotton as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE BANCROFT PRIZE • A Pulitzer Prize finalist that's as unsettling as it is enlightening: a book that brilliantly weaves together the story of cotton with how the present global world came to exist.

“Masterly … An astonishing achievement.” —The New York Times

The empire of cotton was, from the beginning, a fulcrum of constant global struggle between slaves and planters, merchants and statesmen, workers and factory owners. Sven Beckert makes clear how these forces ushered in the world of modern capitalism, including the vast wealth and disturbing inequalities that are with us today.

In a remarkably brief…


A Journey to Freedom: Richard Oakes, Alcatraz, and the Red Power Movement

By Kent Blansett,

Book cover of A Journey to Freedom: Richard Oakes, Alcatraz, and the Red Power Movement

Why this book?

One of Zinn’s great insights that still inspires readers today is that there are all these histories of struggle that do not get taught. Not even Zinn could explore all of them. In the last four decades, historians have uncovered amazing tales of struggle in the face of incredible oppression.

Today, even as we pay more attention to the history of American racism than ever before, we do not learn nearly enough about Native American history. What we do learn is often far in the past. But Native Americans continue to fight for their rights today. Blansett’s biography of Richard Oakes, who led the Alcatraz takeover in 1969, will open up an entirely new history for you, one that demonstrates that we cannot understand modern American history without placing the Native struggle for sovereignty and power at the center of it.

A Journey to Freedom: Richard Oakes, Alcatraz, and the Red Power Movement

By Kent Blansett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Journey to Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first book-length biography of Richard Oakes, a Red Power activist of the 1960s who was a leader in the Alcatraz takeover and the Indigenous rights movement

"A powerful contribution to our understanding of Native American sovereignty, community, human rights, and identity."-Sarah Eppler Janda, American Historical Review

"The nonfiction complement to Tommy Orange's best-selling novel There There. . . . An exemplary work that recovers an important period in modern California history and casts it in a new, richer light."-Randall A. Lake, California History

A revealing portrait of Richard Oakes, the brilliant, charismatic Native American leader who was instrumental in…


Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision

By Barbara Ransby,

Book cover of Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision

Why this book?

There are so many amazing leaders of the Black Freedom Struggle. But other than a very few (King, Malcolm, Rosa Parks, etc), we know very little about them. Ella Baker was an amazing organizer who made huge changes in the world, despite facing not only racism from the white world but also sexism from male civil rights leaders. Ransby is a superb biographer of Black women on the left who transformed the world. Arguably, no one in the civil rights movement was more important than Ella Baker. Moreover, this is a great book on how to organize. Anyone interested in organizing will learn a lot here.

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision

By Barbara Ransby,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the most important African American leaders of the twentieth century and perhaps the most influential woman in the civil rights movement, Ella Baker (1903-1986) was an activist whose remarkable career spanned fifty years and touched thousands of lives. In this deeply researched biography, Barbara Ransby chronicles Baker's long and rich political career as an organizer, an intellectual, and a teacher, from her early experiences in depression-era Harlem to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Ransby paints a vivid picture of the African American fight for justice and its intersections with other progressive struggles worldwide across…


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