100 books like Dear America

By Jose Antonio Vargas,

Here are 100 books that Dear America fans have personally recommended if you like Dear America. 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 The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance, Citizenship and the State

Sarah E. Igo Author Of The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America

From my list on identity documents in the modern world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an American intellectual historian and professor at Vanderbilt University. I’ve long been fascinated by the history and politics of data: the question of how publicly available knowledge shapes societies as well as individual selves. It’s led me to research the effects of popular polls and statistics on mid-century U.S. culture and to write about how ever-advancing techniques for “knowing” citizens shaped modern privacy sensibilities. My current obsession is with official identity documents—how they infiltrate people’s lives in ways that are at once bureaucratic and curiously intimate. The books I’ve selected lay bare the promise and the peril of documentation in wonderfully vivid detail.

Sarah's book list on identity documents in the modern world

Sarah E. Igo Why did Sarah love this book?

Torpey’s book, first published in 2000, is now a classic. With it, he helped open up a whole field of inquiry into the history of official documents and identification techniques that both constrain—and make conceivable—modern society. Here, think of street addresses, fingerprints, birth certificates, credit records, driver’s licenses, tax forms, and visas. For Torpey, the passport, “that little paper booklet with the power to open international doors,” is a window into modern nation states’ interest in regulating movement. For his readers, it is a bracing reminder of how recent those controls are and how habituated we denizens of the 21st century have become to showing our papers.

By John C. Torpey,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book presents the first detailed history of the modern passport and why it became so important for controlling movement in the modern world. It explores the history of passport laws, the parliamentary debates about those laws, and the social responses to their implementation. The author argues that modern nation-states and the international state system have 'monopolized the 'legitimate means of movement',' rendering persons dependent on states' authority to move about - especially, though not exclusively, across international boundaries. This new edition reviews other scholarship, much of which was stimulated by the first edition, addressing the place of identification documents…


Book cover of The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork

Sarah E. Igo Author Of The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America

From my list on identity documents in the modern world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an American intellectual historian and professor at Vanderbilt University. I’ve long been fascinated by the history and politics of data: the question of how publicly available knowledge shapes societies as well as individual selves. It’s led me to research the effects of popular polls and statistics on mid-century U.S. culture and to write about how ever-advancing techniques for “knowing” citizens shaped modern privacy sensibilities. My current obsession is with official identity documents—how they infiltrate people’s lives in ways that are at once bureaucratic and curiously intimate. The books I’ve selected lay bare the promise and the peril of documentation in wonderfully vivid detail.

Sarah's book list on identity documents in the modern world

Sarah E. Igo Why did Sarah love this book?

What’s not to like about a book on “the psychic life of paperwork”? The Demon of Writing is a meditation on the rise of a modern “culture of paperwork” from the French Revolution onward. It brings to the foreground things we don’t tend to think about until we are caught up in some sort of bureaucratic morass: memos, forms, reports, and files. And it probes the ideologies buried under all that official paper. Linking the rise of paperwork to the rise of political representation, Kafka is interested in the way record-keeping promises uniformity or predictability but just as often produces an error, friction, and resistance. This is a witty and illuminating account of the rule of documents, packed with stories drawn from the bureaucratic archive.

By Ben Kafka,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Since the middle of the eighteenth century, political thinkers of all kinds — radical and reactionary, professional and amateur — have been complaining about “bureaucracy.” But what, exactly, is all this complaining about?

The Demon of Writing is a critical history and theory of one of the most ubiquitous, least understood forms of media: paperwork. States rely on records to tax and spend, protect and serve, discipline and punish. But time and again this paperwork proves to be unreliable. Examining episodes from the story of a clerk who lost his job and then his mind in the French Revolution to…


Book cover of Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness

Stephen Rush Author Of Free Jazz, Harmolodics, and Ornette Coleman

From my list on sound, living, and experience.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor of music at the University of Michigan, where I have taught theory, jazz, music composition, and music technology for 34 years. 

Stephen's book list on sound, living, and experience

Stephen Rush Why did Stephen love this book?

She really gets at the heart of how Brown and Black bodies are seenand what is fascinating to me is the approach through current “technical art” and a good discussion of architecture. I had a class focus on her discussion—lengthy—about surveillance and race. It’s extremely poignant, and something whites especially just don’t think about. I will never again go through an airport without thinking about her book. 

By Simone Browne,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Dark Matters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Dark Matters Simone Browne locates the conditions of blackness as a key site through which surveillance is practiced, narrated, and resisted. She shows how contemporary surveillance technologies and practices are informed by the long history of racial formation and by the methods of policing black life under slavery, such as branding, runaway slave notices, and lantern laws. Placing surveillance studies into conversation with the archive of transatlantic slavery and its afterlife, Browne draws from black feminist theory, sociology, and cultural studies to analyze texts as diverse as the methods of surveilling blackness she discusses: from the design of the…


Book cover of The File: A Personal History

Sarah E. Igo Author Of The Known Citizen: A History of Privacy in Modern America

From my list on identity documents in the modern world.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an American intellectual historian and professor at Vanderbilt University. I’ve long been fascinated by the history and politics of data: the question of how publicly available knowledge shapes societies as well as individual selves. It’s led me to research the effects of popular polls and statistics on mid-century U.S. culture and to write about how ever-advancing techniques for “knowing” citizens shaped modern privacy sensibilities. My current obsession is with official identity documents—how they infiltrate people’s lives in ways that are at once bureaucratic and curiously intimate. The books I’ve selected lay bare the promise and the peril of documentation in wonderfully vivid detail.

Sarah's book list on identity documents in the modern world

Sarah E. Igo Why did Sarah love this book?

Although it reads like a spy novel, this is the real-life account of a noted English journalist’s encounter with his own Stasi surveillance file. The file in question was compiled in the early 1980s by the East German secret police on Garton Ash (code name “Romeo”), then a young man living in Berlin and writing about Central European communism. Garton Ash opened his file fifteen years later, after the former German Democratic Republic made Stasi records accessible. Tracking those who tailed him, the book explores the uneasy sensation of reading one’s past life through the photographs, informant reports, surveillance notes, and speculations of those tasked with observing a target of suspicion. It’s a compelling and often chilling chronicle of the costs both of watching and being watched.

By Timothy Garton Ash,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 1978 Timothy Garton Ash went to live in Berlin to see what that divided city could teach him about tyranny and freedom. Fifteen years later, by then internationally famous for his reportage of the downfall of communism in Central Europe, he returned to look at his Stasi file which bore the code-name 'Romeo'. Compiled by the East German secret police, with the assistance of both professional spies and ordinary people turned informer, it contained a meticulous record of his earlier life in Berlin.

In this memoir, he describes rediscovering his younger self through the eyes of the Stasi, and…


Book cover of No Friend but the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison

J. Alison Rosenblitt Author Of The Beauty of Living: E. E. Cummings in the Great War

From my list on that write about injustice in different ways.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a biographer, and my biography of E.E. Cummings centers on his unjust imprisonment in France during the Great War in dangerously brutal conditions—cold, underfed, and subject to the sadism of the prison guards. It is hard to imagine anything more imperative than writing about injustice. But perhaps for that very reason, it is difficult to write without the consciousness of a deep inadequacy to the task. I feel therefore an enormous gratitude towards those writers, five of whom I have chosen here, whose honesty and courage in writing about injustice serves as an inspiration and a beacon. 

J.'s book list on that write about injustice in different ways

J. Alison Rosenblitt Why did J. love this book?

Cummings and his friend William Slater Brown were imprisoned in a detention center for foreign ‘undesirables,’ and to this day we are guilty of locking people up because they are stateless or nationals of another country. Behrouz Boochani’s No Friend but the Mountains, translated by Omid Tofighian, recounts his imprisonment along with fellow refugees on Manus Island. It is a visceral and vivid account, and it speaks in an unrefusable voice. I think it is an act of true human generosity that someone who has suffered so much at our collective hands would still choose to reach out and tell his own story; simply choosing to speak is an act of great hope and belief.

By Behrouz Boochani,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked No Friend but the Mountains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Award-winning International Bestselling Story of One Man's Six Year Detention in Australia

'A powerfully vivid account of the experiences of a refugee: desperation, brutality, suffering, and all observed with an eye that seems to see everything and told in a voice that's equal to the task.' - Phillip Pullman

In 2013, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani sought asylum in Australia but was instead illegally imprisoned in the country's most notorious detention centre on Manus Island. This book is the result.

Boochani spent nearly five years typing passages of this book one text at a time from a secret mobile phone…


Book cover of The Devil's Highway: A True Story

Louis Mendoza Author Of (Re)constructing Memory, Place, and Identity in Twentieth Century Houston: A Memoir on Family and Being Mexican American in Space City USA

From my list on Mexican migration to the United States.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a second-generation immigrant, I knew very little of my family’s migration story. My grandparents never really learned English despite living in the US sixty or more years. In my twenties when the country was undergoing turmoil about immigration reform once again, I began looking at the immigrants all around me (and in literature) and identifying what we had in common—how our lives intertwined and were mutually dependent on one another. In 2007 I traveled 8,500 miles around the perimeter of the US by bicycle on a research trip to collect stories from immigrants and those whose lives they impacted. I wrote two books based on that experience.

Louis' book list on Mexican migration to the United States

Louis Mendoza Why did Louis love this book?

The Devil’s Highway is the 2001 story of the tragedy that befell 26 men and boys from Veracruz who cross the Mexico/Arizona border led by human smugglers who get lost on a stretch of desert known as the Devil's Highway.

Urrea is known for his direct and clear reportage style of writing. As he depicts what happened to these men seeking a chance at the American Dream, Urrea does not lose sight of the broken system of immigration, the border patrol, the smugglers or the criminal enterprise of which they are part.

The actual walk and the deadly mistakes made by their “guide” are not shared until Part Three of the book. Through the recollections of walkers and creative non-fiction he recreates dialogue that captures the motives and dreams of these ill-fated men.

By Luis Alberto Urrea,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Devil's Highway as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A widely-praised piece of investigative reporting examining the journey of 26 men who in May 2001 attempted to cross the Mexican border into the desert of Southern Arizona through the region known as the Devil's Highway. So harsh and desolate that even the Border Patrol is afraid to travel through it, the Highway has claimed the lives of countless men and women - in May 2001 it claimed 14 more. History of high acclaim from the author of The Hummingbird's Daughter.


Book cover of Infinite Country

Roxana Arama Author Of Extreme Vetting

From my list on voices of immigrants.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Romanian American author who arrived in the US with a job in software development. In more than twenty years as an immigrant, I’ve struggled with the same problems these novels explore: how to build a home in a new land, away from my family; how to fit in or make my peace with not belonging; how to be the parent of American-born children whose culture is different from my native one. I’m familiar with the US immigration system from my yearslong citizenship application, and I also interviewed an immigration lawyer extensively for my thriller.

Roxana's book list on voices of immigrants

Roxana Arama Why did Roxana love this book?

This story spoke to my frustration with harsh immigration policies separating families. Talia is American-born, but her Columbian parents, Elena and Mauro, are undocumented. Her sister is also undocumented, while her brother is an American citizen who hopes to secure his family’s future—somehow—when he's 21. Mauro’s life was destroyed when he was deported away from Elena and the children. Talia, who lives with her grandmother in Colombia, ends up in a correctional facility. She escapes, hoping to return to the US. This family belongs together, but for now their dream is kept alive by Andean myths of condors flying free. A moving story of love and danger about parents and children struggling to build normal lives that are always just out of reach.

By Patricia Engel,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"A knockout of a novel...we predict [Infinite Country] will be viewed as one of 2021's best." --O, The Oprah Magazine

"An exquisitely told story of family, war, and migration, this is a novel our increasingly divided country wants and needs to read." --R.O. Kwon, Electric Literature

I often wonder if we are living the wrong life in the wrong country.

Talia is being held at a correctional facility for adolescent girls in the forested mountains of Colombia after committing an impulsive act of violence that may or may not have been warranted. She urgently needs to get out and get…


Book cover of The Sun Is Also a Star

Amanda Addison Author Of Boundless Sky

From my list on exploring being a stranger in a strange land.

Why am I passionate about this?

Stories of migration journeys and their knock-on impact through the generations are part of my family history. Like Jacques, the key protagonist in Austerlitz, I too wasn’t told the whole story of my family’s past. Stumbling on stories of colonialism, migration, and racism as an adult has opened up an understanding of a very different world to that of my childhood. The books I have recommended are all excellent examples of migration stories and through the use of beautiful prose pack a punch in a ‘velvet glove’.

Amanda's book list on exploring being a stranger in a strange land

Amanda Addison Why did Amanda love this book?

This is a book I have been recommending to teenagers and adults alike.

This is no ordinary romantic tale of girl meets boy; it is a very much contemporary take on the notion. Two very different protagonists, from two very different backgrounds are brought together in the immigrant ‘melting pot’ of New York City. In what could be seen as a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, the characters are much more self-aware than in Shakespeare’s original and thankfully this leads to a more enlightened outcome, for them, and the people they meet on their journey.

Using deceptively simple short chapters which chart the course of one day, it cleverly deals with so many of life's big issues (including migration) primarily through the two teenage narrators.

By Nicola Yoon,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Sun Is Also a Star as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

The internationally bestselling love story from Nicola Yoon, author of Everything, Everything - coming as a major film starring Yara Shahidi in 2019.

The internationally bestselling love story from Nicola Yoon, author of Everything, Everything. Now a major film starring Yara Shahidi and Charles Melton!

Natasha-
I'm a girl who believes in science and facts. Not fate. Not destiny.

Or dreams that will never come true. I'm definitely not the kind of girl who meets a cute boy on a crowded New York City street and falls in love with him.

Not when my family is twelve hours away from…


Book cover of The Ethics of Immigration

Ilya Somin Author Of Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom

From my list on migration rights and democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

Ilya Somin is a Professor of Law at George Mason University. He is the author of Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom, Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter, and The Grasping Hand: Kelo v. City of New London, and the Limits of Eminent Domain. Somin has also published articles in a variety of popular press outlets, including The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, CNN, The Atlantic, and USA Today. He is a regular contributor to the popular Volokh Conspiracy law and politics blog, affiliated with Reason.

Ilya's book list on migration rights and democracy

Ilya Somin Why did Ilya love this book?

This is the single best book on the political philosophy of immigration. Canadian political philosopher Joseph Carens makes a wide-ranging philosophical defense of  “open borders” migration rights – not just from the standpoint of some one particular political theory, but from that of many. Whether you are a free-market libertarian, an egalitarian liberal, or a moderate, Carens has a case to make to you. He also has compelling responses to a variety of objections. A key strength of the book is that Carens defends his seemingly radical conclusion based on relatively uncontroversial premises of liberty and equality that are widely accepted by supporters of liberal democracy around the world.

By Joseph H. Carens,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In The Ethics of Immigration, Joseph Carens synthesizes a lifetime of work to explore and illuminate one of the most pressing issues of our time. Immigration poses practical problems for western democracies and also challenges the ways in which people in democracies think about citizenship and belonging, about rights and responsibilities, and about freedom and equality.

Carens begins by focusing on current immigration controversies in North America and Europe about access to citizenship, the integration of immigrants, temporary workers, irregular migrants and the admission of family members and refugees. Working within the moral framework provided by liberal democratic values, he…


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…


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