The best books for understanding borders in a globalized world

Who am I?

For over a decade I’ve been writing about the lines that define us. Whether it’s the work we do or the communities we live in, we all create “borders” in our everyday lives. I’ve interviewed thousands of people from all walks of life to gain a better understanding of the lines we use to carve out our identities and our place in this world, whether it’s on the individual level, within a small community, or on a national scale. My work is always getting at how these lines of separation function, practically speaking, particularly in an increasingly globalized, interconnected world. 

I wrote...

14 Miles: Building the Border Wall

By D.W. Gibson,

Book cover of 14 Miles: Building the Border Wall

What is my book about?

In August of 2019, Donald Trump finished building his border wall—at least a portion of it. In San Diego, the Army Corps of engineers completed two years of construction on a 14-mile steel beamed barrier that extends eighteen feet high and costs a staggering $147 million. As one border patrol agent told reporters visiting the site, “It was funded and approved and it was built under his administration. It is Trump’s wall.” 14 Miles is a definitive account of all the dramatic construction, showing readers what it feels like to stand on both sides of the border looking up at the imposing and controversial barrier.

14 Miles explains not only how the wall has reshaped our landscape and countless lives but also how its shadow looms over our identity as a nation.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security

Why did I love this book?

Miller makes the case that border security is an issue that applies to nearly every American—even if they don’t realize it. He paints a vivid picture of how pervasive Border Patrol has become in our national culture and economy, as the largest law enforcement agency in the country with jurisdiction over two-thirds of Americans and biometric data on 250 million citizens already stored away in the agency’s surveillance database. 

By Todd Miller,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Border Patrol Nation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In his scathing and deeply reported examination of the U.S. Border Patrol, Todd Miller argues that the agency has gone rogue since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, trampling on the dignity and rights of the undocumented with military-style tactics...Miller's book arrives at a moment when it appears that part of the Homeland Security apparatus is backpedaling by promising to tone down its tactics, maybe prodded by investigative journalism, maybe by the revelations of NSA leaker Edward Snowden...Border Patrol is quite possibly the right book at the right time ..."--Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times "At the start of his unsettling and…

Book cover of Wall Disease: The Psychological Toll of Living Up Against a Border

Why did I love this book?

We know a lot about the hot-button issues surrounding borders – family separations, deportation, smuggling but borders also have wildly underestimated psychological effects on individuals. Wapner impressively synthesizes data and research collected on the effects of border barriers from some of the most volatile regions in the world including India and Pakistan, Mexico and the U.S., and both sides of the peace lines of Northern Ireland. The mental health issues caused by militarized borders are alarming and almost entirely unrecognized in today’s world; Wapner brings these shocking and revelatory dynamics to light.

By Jessica Wapner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A groundbreaking investigation into the hidden mental health effects of border walls, revealing the harm they bring to all who live near them.

Today, there are at least seventy border walls: from the US-Mexico border to the seventeen thousand miles of barbed wire that wall off Bangladesh from India, as well as the five-layer fence between Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Border walls protect us, the argument goes, because they keep danger out. But what if the walls themselves endanger everyone who lives near them - on both sides?

In this thoroughly reported, eye opening work, science journalist Jessica Wapner reveals…

Book cover of The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border

Why did I love this book?

Melding his time as a Border Patrol agent with memories of exploring the Mexico-U.S. border region as a child with his mother, Cantú provides a dynamic mash-up of a book: one part insider account from within the agency, detailing his encounters with violent criminals as well as desperate migrants, and one part personal meditation on the border region, searching for meaning and understanding when it comes to the landscape and complicated histories of the U.S. southern border region. 

By Francisco Cantú,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Line Becomes a River as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for Political Writing 2019, an electrifying memoir from a Mexican-American US Border Patrol guard

'Stunningly good... The best thing I've read for ages'
James Rebanks, author of The Shepherd's Life

Francisco Cantu was a US Border Patrol agent from 2008 to 2012.

In this extraordinary account, he describes his work in the desert along the Mexican border. He tracks humans through blistering days and frigid nights. He detains the exhausted and hauls in the dead. The line he is sworn to defend, however, begins to dissolve. Haunted by nightmares, Cantu abandons the Patrol for civilian…

Book cover of Border Hacker: A Tale of Treachery, Trafficking, and Two Friends on the Run

Why did I love this book?

Vonk and Kirschner tell their riveting story of meeting on a Viacrucis Migrante – known to most as a “caravan” of migrants traveling from Central America, up through Mexico. Kirschner is a world-class hacker and his skills lead him and Vonk on an absolutely fascinating journey into the world of human traffickers, anti-government guerillas, and corrupt government officials not to mention corrupt priests. This book will disrupt everything you thought you knew about the migrant caravans, why people decide to join these journeys, and the realities they face along the way.

By Levi Vonk,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An unlikely friendship, a four-thousand-mile voyage, and an impenetrable frontier—this dramatic odyssey reveals the chaos and cruelty US immigration policies have unleashed beyond our borders.

Axel Kirschner was a lifelong New Yorker, all Queens hustle and bravado. But he was also undocumented. After a minor traffic violation while driving his son to kindergarten, Axel was deported to Guatemala, a country he swore he had not lived in since he was a baby. While fighting his way back through Mexico on a migrant caravan, Axel met Levi Vonk, a young anthropologist and journalist from the US. That chance encounter would change…

Book cover of The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America

Why did I love this book?

Grandin makes a masterful argument that “frontier” is the defining American obsession, from Manifest Destiny to 21st Century capitalist imperialism. According to Grandin, it is America’s sense of an ever-expanding frontier that guides so much of our decision-making on an individualistic and national scale. His thesis gives clarity to all of the energy and enthusiasm that has gone into the idea of building an impractical, impossible 2,000-mile-long barrier along the U.S. southern border. 

By Greg Grandin,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The End of the Myth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A new and eye-opening interpretation of the meaning of the frontier, from early westward expansion to Trump’s border wall.

Ever since this nation’s inception, the idea of an open and ever-expanding frontier has been central to American identity. Symbolizing a future of endless promise, it was the foundation of the United States’ belief in itself as an exceptional nation – democratic, individualistic, forward-looking. Today, though, America hasa new symbol: the border wall.

In The End of the Myth, acclaimed historian Greg Grandin explores the meaning of the frontier throughout the full sweep of U.S. history…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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