The best books about social justice (that you may not ever have heard about)

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve devoted my academic career and personal life to the limits and possibilities of white liberal approaches to civil rights reform. Trained in U.S. history and published in American Jewish history, I look closely at how ethnic groups and religious minorities interact with their racial and gender status to create a sometimes-surprising perspective on both history and our current day. At times powerful and at other times powerless, Jews (and other white ethnics) navigate a complex course in civil rights advocacy.


I wrote...

Book cover of Black Power, Jewish Politics: Reinventing the Alliance in the 1960s

What is my book about?

While many American Jews reflect on the civil rights movement as a time of unparalleled solidarity and blame the break-up of the alliance between white Jews and Blacks on the rise of Black militancy, this book offers a new, deeper, and more complex understanding of race relations in that era. During the 1950s, white male Jewish leaders actually supported the Nation of Islam, an antisemitic organization. In the mid-1960s, many Jews lauded the rise of Black Power, celebrating its successes. By the 1970s, Jewish organizations copied Black Power strategies to strengthen American Jewish identity.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Justice Delayed: The Record of the Japanese American Internment Cases

Marc Dollinger Why did I love this book?

Peter Irons, at attorney, investigated the incarceration of US citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. He became so upset that he devoted his own legal career to securing a rare Supreme Court reversal of its infamous Korematsu decision. This book tells that story.

By Peter Irons,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Justice Delayed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Details the case of Fred Koremsatsu, a Japanese American arrested in 1942 because of his Japanese ancestry, who in 1982 launched a legal battle to clear his record


Book cover of Flight and Rebellion: Slave Resistance in Eighteenth-Century Virginia

Marc Dollinger Why did I love this book?

A classic, this book was one of the first to challenge prevailing white attitudes about the assimilation and acculturation of Africans and African Americans to life under slavery. Mullin describes how greater levels of assimilation translated into more effective means of protest.

Book cover of Civilities and Civil Rights: Greensboro, North Carolina, and the Black Struggle for Freedom

Marc Dollinger Why did I love this book?

By investigating what white liberal Greensboro meant with the word “civility” against what black activists meant by “civil rights,” Chafe dives deep into the limits of white liberalism, undermining the claim that civil rights could be achieved by following a slow, southern, and civil, approach.

By William Henry Chafe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Civilities and Civil Rights as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Reveals how whites in Greensboro used the traditional Southern concept of civility as a means of keeping Black protest in check and how Black activists continually devised new ways of asserting their quest for freedom.


Book cover of The Ethnic Myth: Race, Ethnicity, and Class in America

Marc Dollinger Why did I love this book?

While many celebrated the ethnic revival of the 1960s and the social justice causes that grew from them, Steinberg offers a powerful and challenging thesis that argues the limits of ethnicity. A sense of ethnic re-birth, he argues, can only occur once ethnicity is gone. Rather than empowering a new generation of social justice youth, ethnicity proves a myth.

By Stephen Steinberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

You hold in your hand a dangerous book. Because it rejects as it clarifies most of the current wisdom on race, ethnicity, and immigration in the United States, The Ethnic Myth has the force of a scholarly bomb. --from the Introduction by Eric William Lott

In this classic work, sociologist Stephen Steinberg rejects the prevailing view that cultural values and ethnic traits are the primary determinants of the economic destiny of racial and ethnic groups in America. He argues that locality, class conflict, selective migration, and other historical and economic factors play a far larger role not only in producing…


Book cover of The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics

Marc Dollinger Why did I love this book?

Another classic, Lipsitz’s book turns so many white-centered social justice assumptions on their heads. In chapters that explore incidents well known in American popular culture, and a 20th-anniversary edition that brings his subject to the current day, Lipsitz offers a much-needed correction to well-meaning social justice advocates.

By George Lipsitz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Possessive Investment in Whiteness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

George Lipsitz's classic book The Possessive Investment in Whiteness argues that public policy and private prejudice work together to create a possessive investment in whiteness that is responsible for the racialized hierarchies of our society. Whiteness has a cash value: it accounts for advantages that come to individuals through profits made from housing secured in discriminatory markets, through the unequal educational opportunities available to children of different races, through insider networks that channel employment opportunities to the friends and relatives of those who have profited most from past and present discrimination, and especially through intergenerational transfers of inherited wealth that…


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Wrightsville Beach

By Suzanne Goodwyn,

Book cover of Wrightsville Beach

Suzanne Goodwyn Author Of Wrightsville Beach

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I have been writing all my life, but was never able to find my voice until I had my daughters. It was for them I wrote “Wrightsville Beach”. I wanted to show them what a good relationship should look like and how their decisions make a difference in where they will go. I want my readers to relive that feeling of falling in love and to be sent in unexpected directions, as life so often does to us. I want you to enjoy it so much, you don’t want to put the book down until it’s finished and once you do, to sit and reflect on it, savoring the feeling it has left behind.

Suzanne's book list on smart women trying to figure it all out

What is my book about?

Two years ago, devastated by the sudden death of his older brother, Hank Atwater went on a drinking rampage that ended in his being arrested. Since then, he has been working to rebuild his reputation in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, with little luck. But everything changes after a chance meeting with Jess Wade, a UNCW student studying to be a marine biologist. Hank and Jess feel connected to each other in a way neither has ever felt before.

But when Hank’s past leads to a frightful incident, it ends their relationship. Jess leaves to work on the beach…

Wrightsville Beach

By Suzanne Goodwyn,

What is this book about?

Two years ago, Hank Atwater made a terrible mistake. Devastated by the sudden death of his older brother, Rob, he went on a drinking rampage that ended in his being arrested for aggravated assault. Sober since then, he has been working to rebuild his reputation in his hometown of Wilmington, North Carolina, with little luck.

Working a dead-end delivery job, Hank uses surfing and running to deal with being ostracized as he waits for his probation to end. But everything changes after a chance meeting with Jess Wade, a UNCW student studying to be a marine biologist. Hank and Jess…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in social justice, Japanese Americans, and North Carolina?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about social justice, Japanese Americans, and North Carolina.

Social Justice Explore 77 books about social justice
Japanese Americans Explore 51 books about Japanese Americans
North Carolina Explore 127 books about North Carolina