The best books on why liberals should fear “woke” culture

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been a liberal all my life: I went to my first protest march by myself when I was 13 and cast my first vote for George McGovern. I’ve also been an academic most of my life, studying and teaching at multiple colleges and universities. Over the last decade I’ve watched the animating principles of both academia and liberalism – the spirit of free inquiry and the willingness to debate ideas – descend into an authoritarian conformism that brooks no dissent. I hope that these books can persuade people to fight against these trends before it’s too late: “Do not go gentle into that good night; Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”

I wrote...

Beyond All Reason: The Radical Assault on Truth in American Law

By Suzanna Sherry, Daniel A. Farber,

Book cover of Beyond All Reason: The Radical Assault on Truth in American Law

What is my book about?

In the 1990s, critical race theory (CRT) was a fringe idea trendy in elite law schools. Over the decades, it grew and escaped the ivory tower. CRT and the related movements it has spawned – anti-racism, diversity-equity-and-inclusion (DEI), and the “woke” culture – are now pervasive in American society. Beyond All Reason was the first book to describe in detail the animating principles of CRT and warn readers of its dangerous implications and consequences. The twenty-first-century movements that CRT begat are animated by the same principles, and create the same dangers. Anyone worried about the “culture wars,” the divisiveness of identity politics, or the problems besetting universities (and now spreading to corporate America) must read this book.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America

Suzanna Sherry Why did I love this book?

This book persuaded me that the “woke” movement (which McWhorter calls “Third Wave antiracism”) is not a political movement but a religion in the fullest sense of the term.

It has articles of faith and a common language, and it goes after heretics with the vengeance of the Spanish Inquisition. Since it’s a religion we can’t defeat it with arguments or reason. It’s also dangerous; as McWhorter writes: “Make no mistake: these people are coming after your kids.”

But he isn’t fatalistic or pessimistic. He gives specific, sensible suggestions for defeating the new religion and for better ways of moving forward on racial equality. Two things make this book unique: McWhorter’s writing is a joy to read, and because he’s Black and politically liberal, he can’t be easily dismissed.

By John McWhorter,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

People of good will on both the left and the right are secretly asking themselves the same question: how has the conversation on race gone so crazy?

Bestselling author and acclaimed linguist John McWhorter argues that an illiberal neoracism, disguised as antiracism, is hurting black communities and weakening the social fabric.

We're told to read books and listen to music by people of colour but that wearing certain clothes is 'appropriation.' We hear that being white automatically gives you privilege and that being black makes you a victim. We want to speak up but fear we'll be seen as unwoke,…

Book cover of Woke Antisemitism: How a Progressive Ideology Harms Jews

Suzanna Sherry Why did I love this book?

If McWhorter focuses on how woke ideology harms Blacks, Bernstein shows how it harms Jews and inevitably fosters antisemitism.

Like McWhorter, Bernstein provides very specific examples of wokeness in action, both on and off campus. Jews were asked to leave an LGBT Pride event because their flag – a Pride flag with a Star of David on it – “made people feel unsafe”; a Jewish organization that issued a public statement condemning George Floyd’s murder was lambasted because the statement had not been drafted by a person of color; and more.

Bernstein and I are both liberal Jews, but we both fear the consequences of an ideology that divides the world into the non-privileged oppressed and the privileged oppressors – Jews, by virtue of their current success, are automatically considered privileged oppressors despite the long worldwide history of antisemitism.

By David L. Bernstein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Woke Antisemitism is a firsthand account from a top Jewish leader about how woke ideology shuts down discourse, corrupts Jewish values, and spawns a virulent new strain of antisemitism.

“David Bernstein has written an important book which deserves to be read widely and be thoroughly discussed in our community. This book is a powerful defense of liberal values….Bernstein’s treatment is nuanced and respectful, showing understanding for the goals even as he critiques the methods of woke culture and shows us cases where it leads to antisemitism.”

–Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, American scholar, author and rabbi

“In every age, hatred of Jews…

Book cover of The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

Suzanna Sherry Why did I love this book?

If you want to know how we got here – where college students and young adults consider speech and ideas they dislike to be “violence,” and use tools that include everything from getting people fired to actual violence to defeat those they disagree with – this is the book for you.

Things have only gotten worse since the book’s publication in 2018, but the authors convincingly show how overlapping trends in parenting, politics, and education have produced a generation that is fearful, quick to take offense, and unable to think critically and independently. That in turn created a perfect environment for wokeness to thrive.

Like both McWhorter and Bernstein, the authors don’t stop at description and criticism: they provide solutions, ways to “help parents and teachers to raise wiser, stronger, more independent children,” as well as suggestions for improving universities.

By Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Coddling of the American Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times Bestseller * Finalist for the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Nonfiction * A New York Times Notable Book * Bloomberg Best Book of 2018

"Their distinctive contribution to the higher-education debate is to meet safetyism on its own, psychological turf . . . Lukianoff and Haidt tell us that safetyism undermines the freedom of inquiry and speech that are indispensable to universities." -Jonathan Marks, Commentary

"The remedies the book outlines should be considered on college campuses, among parents of current and future students, and by anyone longing for a more sane society." -Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Book cover of Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime: From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism

Suzanna Sherry Why did I love this book?

This book is not actually about wokeness. Instead, it helps us see the dangers inherent in that ideology.

Perilous Times is a partial history of the American government’s censorship of speech and thought from the 1790s to the early 2000s. Stone is a fabulous storyteller. Even though I’ve studied – and taught – constitutional law and constitutional history for decades, some of what he recounts was new to me, and all of it was newly fascinating in its detail and its focus on people as well as events.

In a way, this is a “be careful what you wish for” warning to both the woke and the unwoke: once it becomes widely accepted that it’s OK to restrict harmful speech, anyone who disagrees with whatever the majority or the government happens to favor is at risk.

By Geoffrey R. Stone,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Geoffrey Stone's Perilous Times incisively investigates how the First Amendment and other civil liberties have been compromised in America during wartime. Stone delineates the consistent suppression of free speech in six historical periods from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the Vietnam War, and ends with a coda that examines the state of civil liberties in the Bush era. Full of fresh legal and historical insight, Perilous Times magisterially presents a dramatic cast of characters who influenced the course of history over a two-hundred-year period: from the presidents-Adams, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, and Nixon-to the Supreme Court justices-Taney, Holmes, Brandeis, Black,…

Book cover of Science, Jews, and Secular Culture: Studies in Mid-Twentieth-Century American Intellectual History

Suzanna Sherry Why did I love this book?

Like Stone’s book, this is a book about history, not wokeness. It’s not an easy read, but it’s worth the effort.

It recounts the triumph of scientific reasoning and liberal tolerance over several decades in the mid-twentieth century. That triumph was largely brought about by the “secularization” of American culture, spearheaded by Jewish intellectuals.

I read it long before wokeness was a thing – it was published in 1996 – and found it interesting but not particularly relevant to anything I was thinking about. But when wokeness came along, it suddenly hit me that this new religion was taking us backwards, back to the beginning of Hollinger’s story.

If that trend continues, we are in danger of losing the gains that science and tolerance have produced.

By David A. Hollinger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Science, Jews, and Secular Culture as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This remarkable group of essays described the "culture wars" that consolidated a new, secular ethos in mid-twentieth-century American academia and generated the fresh energies needed for a wide range of scientific and cultural enter-prises. Focusing on the decades from the 1930s through the 1960s, David Hollinger discusses the scientists, social scientists, philosophers, and historians who fought the Christian biases that had kept Jews from fully participating in American intellectual life. Today social critics take for granted the comparatively open outlook developed by these men (and men they were, mostly), and charge that their cosmopolitanism was not sufficiently multicultural. Yet Hollinger…

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Book cover of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

Ethan Chorin Author Of Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

Benghazi: A New History is a look back at the enigmatic 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, its long-tail causes, and devastating (and largely unexamined) consequences for US domestic politics and foreign policy. It contains information not found elsewhere, and is backed up by 40 pages of citations and interviews with more than 250 key protagonists, experts, and witnesses.

So far, the book is the main -- and only -- antidote to a slew of early partisan “Benghazi” polemics, and the first to put the attack in its longer term historical, political, and social context. If you want to understand some of the events that have shaped present-day America, from political polarization and the election of Donald Trump, to January 6, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Russian expansionism, and the current Israel-Hamas war, I argue, you need to understand some of the twists and turns of America's most infamous "non-scandal, scandal.”

I was in Benghazi well before, during, and after the attack as a US diplomat and co-director of a medical NGO. I have written three books, and have been a contributor to The NYT, Foreign Affairs, Forbes, Salon, The Financial Times, Newsweek, and others.

By Ethan Chorin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Benghazi! A New History of the Fiasco that Pushed America and its World to the Brink as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On September 11, 2012, Al Qaeda proxies attacked and set fire to the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, killing a US Ambassador and three other Americans.  The attack launched one of the longest and most consequential 'scandals' in US history, only to disappear from public view once its political value was spent. 

Written in a highly engaging narrative style by one of a few Western experts on Libya, and decidely non-partisan, Benghazi!: A New History is the first to provide the full context for an event that divided, incited, and baffled most of America for more than three years, while silently reshaping…

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