The best books on the intelligent person’s guide to human rights

Why am I passionate about this?

Following my PhD at King’s College, Cambridge I was invited by the School of History at Queen Mary, University of London to serve as an Honorary Research Fellow. This enabled me to focus fully on 15 years of research into previously untapped archives and interviews with more than twenty-five politicians and jurists active in the process of the African human rights charter. By coincidence, thirty-five years or so ago, in an earlier incarnation, I was also responsible for editing the first public debt prospectus for the African Development Bank in Abidjan.


I wrote...

The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights Volume 1: Political, Intellectual & Cultural Origins

By Nat Rubner,

Book cover of The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights Volume 1: Political, Intellectual & Cultural Origins

What is my book about?

Did you know that Africa has a human rights charter? What does this charter actually mean and what was the question to which it was the answer? My book presents, for the first time, a comprehensive account of the development of the African charter, the first non-Western declaration of human rights and first official statement of an African human rights perspective, and explains why and how it came to be and how it should be understood.

The result is a radical repositioning of the context of the charter as a pivotal document in Africa’s existential struggle of decolonisation against the commanding heights of Western political, economic, and cultural universalism, especially the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and not simply a step in the continuum of a so-called universal human rights tradition.  

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Conservative Human Rights Revolution: European Identity, Transnational Politics, and the Origins of the European Convention

Nat Rubner Why did I love this book?

An outstanding book that reinterprets the origins of the European human rights system.

His compelling analysis is supported, as one would hope, with an impressive range of archival research. It will surprise the modern reader as it stands in stark reproach to the widespread understanding of the European political project and human rights system as constructed on a liberal-minded ethical foundation. A real delight.

By Marco Duranti,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Conservative Human Rights Revolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The European Court of Human Rights has long held unparalleled sway over questions of human rights violations across continental Europe, Britain, and beyond. Both its supporters and detractors accept the common view that the European human rights system was originally devised as a means of containing communism and fascism after World War II.

In The Conservative Human Rights Revolution, Marco Duranti radically reinterprets the origins of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), arguing that conservatives conceived of the treaty not only as a Cold War measure, but also as a vehicle for pursuing a controversial domestic political agenda on…


Book cover of Bills of Rights and Decolonization: The Emergence of Domestic Human Rights Instruments in Britain's Overseas Territories

Nat Rubner Why did I love this book?

This is the first book, following the opening of the archives thirty years after independence, to examine how bills of rights came to be incorporated into the independence constitutions of Britain’s former colonial territories.

It shows why and how, after the unfortunate political experience of an independent Ghana under Nkrumah, the Colonial Office foisted bills of rights on the independence constitutions of its colonial territories. A case of British do as I say and not as I do.

By Charles Parkinson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Bills of Rights and Decolonization analyzes the British Government's radical change in policy during the late 1950s on the use of bills of rights in colonial territories nearing independence. More broadly it explores the political dimensions of securing the protection of human rights at independence and the peaceful transfer of power through constitutional means.

This book fills a major gap in the literature on British and Commonwealth law, history, and politics by documenting how bills of rights became commonplace in Britain's former overseas territories. It provides a detailed empirical account of the origins of the bills of rights in Britain's…


Book cover of Human Rights and the End of Empire: Britain and the Genesis of the European Convention

Nat Rubner Why did I love this book?

The most extensive narrative on the administrative and legal process that brought about the European Convention on Human Rights but with a primary focus on the perspective of the British Foreign Office and the Colonial Office. It therefore provides a useful complementary narrative to the essentially political and ideological narrative presented by Duranti. A tour de force.  

By A. W. Brian Simpson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Human Rights and the End of Empire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The European Convention on Human Rights, which came into force in 1953 after signature, in 1950, established the most effective system for the international protection of human rights which has yet conme into existence anywhere in the world. Since the collapse of communism it has come to be extended to the countries of central and eastern Europe, and some seven hundred million people now, at least in principle, live under its protection. It remains far and away the most significant achievement of the Council of Europe, which was established in 1949, and was the first product of the postwar movement…


Book cover of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, and Intent

Nat Rubner Why did I love this book?

The author’s perspective on human rights and the process would not be something I would endorse, but it is, nonetheless, to date, the best book on the details of the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as it wound its way through the United Nations. 

By Johannes Morsink,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Universal Declaration of Human Rights as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Book for 1999
Born of a shared revulsion against the horrors of the Holocaust, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become the single most important statement of international ethics. It was inspired by and reflects the full scope of President Franklin Roosevelt's famous four freedoms: "the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear." Written by a UN commission led by Eleanor Roosevelt and adopted in 1948, the Declaration has become the moral backbone of more than two hundred human rights…


Book cover of The American Language of Rights

Nat Rubner Why did I love this book?

A really interesting book that focuses on three periods in US history to demonstrate that conceptions of rights are determined by time and place.

That conceptions and uses of rights language are responses to specific political questions of the day, questions looking for a political answer, rather than, as human rights advocates are inclined to assume, a manifestation of a continuum of a single human rights tradition stretching back several thousand years.

By Richard A. Primus,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Richard A. Primus examines three crucial periods in American history (the late eighteenth century, the civil war and the 1950s and 1960s) in order to demonstrate how the conceptions of rights prevailing at each of these times grew out of reactions to contemporary social and political crises. His innovative approach sees rights language as grounded more in opposition to concrete social and political practices, than in the universalistic paradigms presented by many political philosophers. This study demonstrates the potency of the language of rights throughout American history, and looks for the first time at the impact of modern totalitarianism (in…


You might also like...

The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

By John Winn Miller,

Book cover of The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

John Winn Miller

New book alert!

What is my book about?

The Hunt for the Peggy C is best described as Casablanca meets Das Boot. It is about an American smuggler who struggles to rescue a Jewish family on his rusty cargo ship, outraging his mutinous crew of misfits and provoking a hair-raising chase by a brutal Nazi U-boat captain bent on revenge.

During the nerve-wracking 3,000-mile escape, Rogers falls in love with the family’s eldest daughter, Miriam, a sweet medical student with a militant streak. Everything seems hopeless when Jake is badly wounded, and Miriam must prove she’s as tough as her rhetoric to put down a mutiny by some of Jake’s fed-up crew–just as the U-boat closes in for the kill.

The Hunt for the Peggy C: A World War II Maritime Thriller

By John Winn Miller,

What is this book about?

John Winn Miller's THE HUNT FOR THE PEGGY C, a semifinalist in the Clive Cussler Adventure Writers Competition, captures the breathless suspense of early World War II in the North Atlantic. Captain Jake Rogers, experienced in running his tramp steamer through U-boat-infested waters to transport vital supplies and contraband to the highest bidder, takes on his most dangerous cargo yet after witnessing the oppression of Jews in Amsterdam: a Jewish family fleeing Nazi persecution.

The normally aloof Rogers finds himself drawn in by the family's warmth and faith, but he can't afford to let his guard down when Oberleutnant Viktor…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in human rights, colonies, and the Soviet Union?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about human rights, colonies, and the Soviet Union.

Human Rights Explore 67 books about human rights
Colonies Explore 71 books about colonies
The Soviet Union Explore 329 books about the Soviet Union