100 books like Britain's Gulag

By Caroline Elkins,

Here are 100 books that Britain's Gulag fans have personally recommended if you like Britain's Gulag. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Not so Black and White

From my list on insights into Kenya.

Why am I passionate about this?

EM Forster said, "Only Connect." That has inspired my life and work. The Oxford Times published my Oxtopian castaway series, and those life stories were turned into three books. The castaways, with links to Oxford, were from five continents. One of those castaways was Kenyan-born Nancy Mudenyo Hunt. Nancy founded the Nasio Trust, which has transformed the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged young people in West Kenya and Oxfordshire. With friends, I’m currently fundraising to build the first community library in West Kenya. Nancy asked if we could write a book together, and we did. We wrote a novel inspired by her life.

Sylvia's book list on insights into Kenya

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

Barack Obama’s father was part of the story of Kenya’s road to freedom, and yet his son, Barrack, hardly knew him. His father met Barack’s mother while on a scholarship to the USA but abandoned her and his son when he returned to Kenya in 1964 and became a senior economist in the Kenyan Ministry of Finance.

We researched his life when writing our book. My co-author, Nancy Mudenyo Hunt, is also of Luo ancestry. Her father attended Obama’s funeral. This memoir is a testimony to the struggle of children of mixed heritage to decide on their identity. I find it sad that the young Obama is identified by the father who left him and not by his mother who cherished him.

By Barack Obama,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Dreams from My Father as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • ONE OF ESSENCE’S 50 MOST IMPACTFUL BLACK BOOKS OF THE PAST 50 YEARS

In this iconic memoir of his early days, Barack Obama “guides us straight to the intersection of the most serious questions of identity, class, and race” (The Washington Post Book World).
 
“Quite extraordinary.”—Toni Morrison 
 
In this lyrical, unsentimental, and compelling memoir, the son of a black African father and a white American mother searches for a workable meaning to his life as a black American. It begins in New York, where Barack Obama learns that his father—a figure he knows more…


Book cover of Unbowed: A Memoir

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Not so Black and White

From my list on insights into Kenya.

Why am I passionate about this?

EM Forster said, "Only Connect." That has inspired my life and work. The Oxford Times published my Oxtopian castaway series, and those life stories were turned into three books. The castaways, with links to Oxford, were from five continents. One of those castaways was Kenyan-born Nancy Mudenyo Hunt. Nancy founded the Nasio Trust, which has transformed the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged young people in West Kenya and Oxfordshire. With friends, I’m currently fundraising to build the first community library in West Kenya. Nancy asked if we could write a book together, and we did. We wrote a novel inspired by her life.

Sylvia's book list on insights into Kenya

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

In the 1970s, Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental non-governmental organization focused on tree planting, environmental conservation, and women's rights. She became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy, and peace.”

That sounds straightforward if remarkable, but it doesn’t reflect the courage she needed to achieve it. Her work was often considered both unwelcome and subversive in her own country, where her outspokenness constituted stepping far outside traditional gender roles—a situation Nancy understands all too well, having grown up in West Kenya. Unbowed is Wangari’s story in her own words.

By Wangari Maathai,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NOBEL PRIZE WINNER • A remarkable memoir of courage, faith, and the power of persistence about one woman's extraodinary journey from her childhood in rural Kenya to the world stage.  

“[Maathai’s] story provides uplifting proof of the power of perseverance—and of the power of principled, passionate people to change their countries and inspire the world.”  —The Washington Post

In Unbowed, Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai recounts her extraordinary life. When Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, she began a vital poor people’s environmental movement, focused on the empowerment of women, that soon spread across Africa. Persevering through run-ins…


Book cover of Cosmic Cats

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Not so Black and White

From my list on insights into Kenya.

Why am I passionate about this?

EM Forster said, "Only Connect." That has inspired my life and work. The Oxford Times published my Oxtopian castaway series, and those life stories were turned into three books. The castaways, with links to Oxford, were from five continents. One of those castaways was Kenyan-born Nancy Mudenyo Hunt. Nancy founded the Nasio Trust, which has transformed the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged young people in West Kenya and Oxfordshire. With friends, I’m currently fundraising to build the first community library in West Kenya. Nancy asked if we could write a book together, and we did. We wrote a novel inspired by her life.

Sylvia's book list on insights into Kenya

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

Feel the force of fifty children’s voices and celebrate how art and story-telling unite young people who live continents apart. At age seven, I discovered libraries and a love of reading and writing, but the idea that a working-class girl from Luton could become an author was as crazy as eating the straw boater with which my birthplace was associated.

Middle-class parents can afford to buy books for their children. Lack of access to books for children without them is a handicap for upward mobility. That is why the Nasio Trust wants to build the first community library in West Kenya, and Cosmic Cats will be the first book in the library to show the children that they belong there. In our imaginations, we are all equal. BBC South recorded the launch, bringing together the two schools.

By Various,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Cosmic Cats as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

Feel the force of fifty children's voices. Recognise the bravery of turning an empty page into a living story and celebrate how art and story-telling brings together young people who live continents apart.


Cosmic Cats connects Mumias Township Primary School (Kenya) and St Swithuns CE Primary School (England).


Book cover of The White Masai

Sylvia Vetta Author Of Not so Black and White

From my list on insights into Kenya.

Why am I passionate about this?

EM Forster said, "Only Connect." That has inspired my life and work. The Oxford Times published my Oxtopian castaway series, and those life stories were turned into three books. The castaways, with links to Oxford, were from five continents. One of those castaways was Kenyan-born Nancy Mudenyo Hunt. Nancy founded the Nasio Trust, which has transformed the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged young people in West Kenya and Oxfordshire. With friends, I’m currently fundraising to build the first community library in West Kenya. Nancy asked if we could write a book together, and we did. We wrote a novel inspired by her life.

Sylvia's book list on insights into Kenya

Sylvia Vetta Why did Sylvia love this book?

On a trip through Africa, Nancy stumbled upon this captivating book by Corinne Hofmann in a Tanzanian airport shop. Intrigued, she bought it and couldn’t put it down! It's an autobiographical story of Hofmann's life in Kenya, where she fell in love with and married a Maasai warrior.

This book resonated deeply with Nancy and me because we are both in mixed relationships. Nancy once followed a Maasai friend to their village, a land unlike any other. Living in a traditional hut and being the only educated person, especially a girl, was inspiring. Those were truly unforgettable moments. The right to education is one many African girls have to fight for. 

By Corinne Hofmann,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The runaway international bestseller is now an American must-read for lovers of adventure, travel writing, and romance. Corinne Hofmann tells how she falls in love with an African warrior while on holiday in Kenya. After overcoming severe obstacles, she moves into a tiny hut with him and his mother, and spends four years in his Kenyan village. Slowly but surely, the dream starts to crumble, and she hatches a plan to return home with her daughter, a baby born of the seemingly indestructible love between a white European woman and a Masai. Compulsively readable, The White Masai is at once…


Book cover of The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State

Alesa Lightbourne Author Of The Kurdish Bike

From my list on the Kurds and their world.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like the main character in my book, I went to Kurdish Iraq as a well-meaning (but admittedly naive) teacher, and fell in love with the Kurdish people and their culture. To be more specific, it was village women I really bonded with. Listening to their stories, and watching them try to cope with so many practical restrictions, tore at my heart. Part of me wanted to “liberate” them from the seemingly outdated traditions that held them back. Simultaneously, I couldn’t help but envy them for the solaces their tight community offered them -- and which Western society denied me. Rather than claiming to be an expert on Kurds, I am now someone who studies them with the greatest respect. The humble Kurdish villagers gave me moral examples that I wish every Westerner could be fortunate enough to have.

Alesa's book list on the Kurds and their world

Alesa Lightbourne Why did Alesa love this book?

I read newspaper reports about ISIS capturing and enslaving Yazidi women in Iraq, but had a hard time imagining day-to-day life within the Caliphate. Murad gives us an insider’s view. She was just 21 when ISIS overran her village. She survived repeated beatings, rapes, and other forms of degradation until risking a dare-devil escape. Although Yazidis are ethnically distinct from Kurds, they have lived surrounded and protected by Kurds for centuries. Murad’s story helps us understand why Kurds fought so valiantly against ISIS, and illustrates the tolerance for diversity in the Autonomous Region of Kurdistan.

By Nadia Murad,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

`Telling my story of first, surviving genocide and then, as a captive of ISIS is not easy, but people must know.' The remarkable and courageous story of Nadia Murad, a twenty-three-year-old Yazidi woman who is working with Amal Clooney to challenge the world to fight ISIS on behalf on her people.

With a foreword by Amal Clooney

A Nobel Peace Prize nominee and the first Goodwill Ambassador the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking of the United Nations and winner of the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, Nadia Murad is a courageous young woman who has endured unimaginable tragedy (losing…


Book cover of Red Roulette: An Insider's Story of Wealth, Power, Corruption, and Vengeance in Today's China

Kimberly Kay Hoang Author Of Spiderweb Capitalism: How Global Elites Exploit Frontier Markets

From my list on global financial elites.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, and I am interested in global capitalism, financial elites, and all aspects of how people broker capital deals. I am a scholar of anti-heroes who studies all of the ways that people play in the gray. My first book, Dealing in Desire, is an ethnography where I embedded myself in several different hostess bars to study the relationship between sex work and financial deal-making. I grew up in California but have lived most of my adult life in Ho Chi Minh City, Houston, Boston, and Chicago. 

Kimberly's book list on global financial elites

Kimberly Kay Hoang Why did Kimberly love this book?

I found this book to be a raw act of bravery. Desmond Shum describes his and his ex-wife Whitney Duan’s economic ascendancy in China as they climbed to become part of a billionaire class. Shum describes all of the ways they had to play in the gray in order to successfully execute massive real estate and airport projects. On a personal level, he takes you inside his life as an elite, purchasing expensive homes, vehicles, and art. But just as quickly as they rose, his wife vanished as part of the party’s use of extralegal kidnappings to facilitate investigations into corruption.

This book is one man’s act of bravery in risking everything to tell his story while also implicating himself in corrupt activity. He shows us that charges of corruption must be understood through a political lens with the objective of consolidating power and preserving the legitimacy of the Communist…

By Desmond Shum,

Why should I read it?

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


Book cover of To Catch a Dictator: The Pursuit and Trial of Hissène Habré

Naomi Roht-Arriaza Author Of The Pinochet Effect: Transnational Justice in the Age of Human Rights

From my list on bringing dictators and evil men to justice.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in part in Chile, and when the Pinochet dictatorship started killing and torturing people, I wanted to do something about it. Years later, as a professor of international law, I helped countries figure out what to do after mass atrocities. Seeing how trials in other countries – or in international criminal courts – could break through barriers and make it possible to bring those who killed, tortured, or disappeared thousands of people to justice gave me hope. I wanted to tell the stories of the brave people who overcame the odds to do justice, in a readable and exciting way that also explained the legal and political issues involved. 

Naomi's book list on bringing dictators and evil men to justice

Naomi Roht-Arriaza Why did Naomi love this book?

Reed Brody, a lawyer for Human Rights Watch, was one of the key actors in bringing former Chadian dictator Hissene Habré to justice for torture, rape, and mass murder he committed during the 1980s. The book chronicles the twists and turns, over almost two decades, of efforts to bring Habré to trial. That finally happened in 2018, in a specially-created African Union-backed court based in Senegal. The book celebrates the central role of victims in bringing Habré to justice, and tells an engaging and readable story from an insider’s perspective. It shows the creativity of the victims and lawyers in combining different legal forums and political and media pressure, but also the limits, and personal sacrifices, that victory required. 

By Reed Brody,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To Catch a Dictator as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What does it take to make a dictator answer for his crimes? Hissene Habre, the former despot of Chad, had terrorized, tortured, and killed on a horrific scale over eight bloody years in power-all while enjoying full American and Western support. After Habre's overthrow, his victims and their supporters were determined to see him held responsible for his atrocities. Their quest for justice would be long, tense, and unnerving, but they would not back down.

To Catch a Dictator is a dramatic insider's account of the hunt for Habre and his momentous trial. The human rights lawyer Reed Brody recounts…


Book cover of Omar Khadr, Oh Canada

Valentina Capurri Author Of Not Good Enough for Canada: Canadian Public Discourse Around Issues of Inadmissibility for Potential Immigrants with Diseases And/Or Disabilities

From my list on belonging and exclusion in Canada.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a historian and a social geographer whose main interest is in examining why some of us are embraced (legally, politically, economically, culturally) by the society we live in while some others are excluded. Probably due to my status as someone who is an immigrant to Canada and also a person with a disability, the topic of belonging and exclusion fascinates me. 

Valentina's book list on belonging and exclusion in Canada

Valentina Capurri Why did Valentina love this book?

Omar Khadr is a personal friend of mine, the gentlest soul I have met since setting foot on Canadian soil. This collection has been essential to my understanding of Canada’s unwillingness to stand up for one of its own citizens. It highlights how belonging in the nation is not necessarily a right all citizens enjoy, and invites a serious reflection on what citizenship means in this country.  

By Janice Williamson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Omar Khadr, Oh Canada as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 2002 a fifteen-year-old Canadian citizen was captured in Afghanistan for allegedly killing an American soldier. A badly wounded Omar Khadr was transferred to the US Bagram Air Force base and then Guantanamo Bay detention camp. He would remain there without trial until October 2010, when a military commission admitted evidence considered tainted by Canadian courts. A plea bargain and guilty plea initiated his promised return to Canada a year later. Some Canadians see Khadr as a symbol of terrorism in action. For others he is the victim of a jihadist father and Canadian complicity in the unjust excesses, including…


Book cover of Migrating to Prison: America's Obsession with Locking Up Immigrants

Nancy Hiemstra Author Of Detain and Deport: The Chaotic U.S. Immigration Enforcement Regime

From my list on why the U.S. has the biggest immigration detention system.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first became aware of harms of immigration enforcement policies while volunteering to tutor kids of undocumented migrant farmworkers in the 1990s. Through a variety of jobs in the U.S. and Latin America, my eyes were opened to reasons driving people to migrate and challenges immigrants face. I eventually went to graduate school in Geography to study local to transnational reverberations of immigration policies. A project in Ecuador where I helped families of people detained in the U.S. led me to realize how huge, cruel, and ineffective U.S. immigration detention is. I hope these books help you break through myths about detention and make sense of the chaos.

Nancy's book list on why the U.S. has the biggest immigration detention system

Nancy Hiemstra Why did Nancy love this book?

This book explicitly ties the explosion in immigration detention to goals of political gain and corporate profit, pairing careful historical and legal analysis with piercing personal stories of detention.

After laying out how U.S. foreign policy has triggered the migration patterns that now send lawmakers and the public into a nativist frenzy, legal scholar García Hernández breaks down how laws have been warped to make more people detainable.

He zeroes in on the role of private prison companies, and he explains how Latino immigrants have been turned into fodder for the detention system through lobbying and manipulation of the public narrative. The book finishes by laying out a framework for curbing this corrupt and abusive system.

By César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

A powerful, in-depth look at the imprisonment of immigrants, addressing the intersection of immigration and the criminal justice system, with a new epilogue by the author

"Argues compellingly that immigrant advocates shouldn't content themselves with debates about how many thousands of immigrants to lock up, or other minor tweaks." -Gus Bova, Texas Observer

For most of America's history, we simply did not lock people up for migrating here. Yet over the last thirty years, the federal and state governments have increasingly tapped their powers to incarcerate people accused of violating immigration laws.

Migrating to Prison takes a hard…


Book cover of Boats, Borders, and Bases: Race, the Cold War, and the Rise of Migration Detention in the United States

Nancy Hiemstra Author Of Detain and Deport: The Chaotic U.S. Immigration Enforcement Regime

From my list on why the U.S. has the biggest immigration detention system.

Why am I passionate about this?

I first became aware of harms of immigration enforcement policies while volunteering to tutor kids of undocumented migrant farmworkers in the 1990s. Through a variety of jobs in the U.S. and Latin America, my eyes were opened to reasons driving people to migrate and challenges immigrants face. I eventually went to graduate school in Geography to study local to transnational reverberations of immigration policies. A project in Ecuador where I helped families of people detained in the U.S. led me to realize how huge, cruel, and ineffective U.S. immigration detention is. I hope these books help you break through myths about detention and make sense of the chaos.

Nancy's book list on why the U.S. has the biggest immigration detention system

Nancy Hiemstra Why did Nancy love this book?

While most academic work on detention focuses on immigration enforcement on the U.S.-Mexico border or in the U.S. interior, this book traces the origin of detention to U.S. efforts to deter the Cuban and Haitian migration that occurred as part of U.S. Cold War dealings.

With fascinating, painstaking historical research, Loyd and Mountz argue that the legal and infrastructural foundations of the contemporary detention system were established through the U.S. response to Caribbean migration in the 1990s and the goal of preventing migrants from claiming the international right to asylum.

The book also shows how racism—especially anti-Black racism—has been at the core of immigration detention since the beginning, as have abhorrent, shocking conditions of detention facilities.

By Jenna M. Loyd, Alison Mountz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Boats, Borders, and Bases as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discussions on U.S. border enforcement have traditionally focused on the highly charged U.S.-Mexico boundary, inadvertently obscuring U.S.-Caribbean relations and the concerning asylum and detention policies unfolding there. Boats, Borders, and Bases offers the missing, racialized histories of the U.S. detention system and its relationship to the interception and detention of Haitian and Cuban migrants. It argues that the U.S. response to Cold War Caribbean migrations actually established the legal and institutional basis for contemporary migration and detention and border deterrent practices in the U.S. This book promises to make a significant contribution to a truer understanding of the history and…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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