100 books like Humanitarian Reason

By Didier Fassin,

Here are 100 books that Humanitarian Reason fans have personally recommended if you like Humanitarian Reason. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of Life Beside Itself: Imagining Care in the Canadian Arctic

Kimberly Mair Author Of The Biopolitics of Care in Second World War Britain

From my list on showing how care isn’t always a good thing.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like everyone else, I have life-long experience of caring and not caring for things; being sometimes careful and other times careless. Communication has been my central interest as a historical sociologist, and I’ve been considering its relationship to care (attachment, affection, worry, and burden) and security. I have always liked the word care, employing it often in the sense of warm attachment, but I have been looking at how care can at times enact control, violence, or abandonment.

Kimberly's book list on showing how care isn’t always a good thing

Kimberly Mair Why did Kimberly love this book?

Life Beside Itself is a startling book not only because of what it reveals about the history of settler-colonial government care imposed upon Arctic communities during the tuberculosis crisis (1940-60s) and the suicide crisis (1980s onwards) but for the raw emotional proximity that it provides to the individuals whose lives were changed by policies that, ironically, were derived from care itself.

It is a well-researched book that unnerved me with the haunting emotional intimacies its ethnographic and imagistic approach brought through the pages. The intractable longing of a young man waiting each year at the harbour for the ship, the C.D. Howe, that took his grandmother away to a southern hospital is just one of the things in this book that wounds its readers by recounting different forms of care.

By Lisa Stevenson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Life Beside Itself, Lisa Stevenson takes us on a haunting ethnographic journey through two historical moments when life for the Canadian Inuit has hung in the balance: the tuberculosis epidemic (1940s to the early 1960s) and the subsequent suicide epidemic (1980s to the present). Along the way, Stevenson troubles our commonsense understanding of what life is and what it means to care for the life of another. Through close attention to the images in which we think and dream and through which we understand the world, Stevenson describes a world in which life is beside itself: the name-soul of…


Book cover of Security: Politics, Humanity, and the Philology of Care

Kimberly Mair Author Of The Biopolitics of Care in Second World War Britain

From my list on showing how care isn’t always a good thing.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like everyone else, I have life-long experience of caring and not caring for things; being sometimes careful and other times careless. Communication has been my central interest as a historical sociologist, and I’ve been considering its relationship to care (attachment, affection, worry, and burden) and security. I have always liked the word care, employing it often in the sense of warm attachment, but I have been looking at how care can at times enact control, violence, or abandonment.

Kimberly's book list on showing how care isn’t always a good thing

Kimberly Mair Why did Kimberly love this book?

I loved that Hamilton’s unpacking of the etymology of security led right to the notion of care.

This book had a shaping impact on how I think about care and its ties to security – a relation that continues to animate my interests. I learned that my cares (affections, attachments, worries) may mobilize me to enhance my security, which also may be done inadvertently at the expense of someone else’s. To put it another way, when we seek security, we are seeking to let go of our cares or to care less.

Security attends to the “inflated focus” on security as an instrument of control in contemporary cultural life and does so richly, drawing upon cultural forms such as fables, literature, and art in a beautiful and provocative text.

By John T. Hamilton,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From national security and social security to homeland and cyber-security, "security" has become one of the most overused words in culture and politics today. Yet it also remains one of the most undefined. What exactly are we talking about when we talk about security? In this original and timely book, John Hamilton examines the discursive versatility and semantic vagueness of security both in current and historical usage. Adopting a philological approach, he explores the fundamental ambiguity of this word, which denotes the removal of "concern" or "care" and therefore implies a condition that is either carefree or careless. Spanning texts…


Book cover of Invested Indifference: How Violence Persists in Settler Colonial Society

Kimberly Mair Author Of The Biopolitics of Care in Second World War Britain

From my list on showing how care isn’t always a good thing.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like everyone else, I have life-long experience of caring and not caring for things; being sometimes careful and other times careless. Communication has been my central interest as a historical sociologist, and I’ve been considering its relationship to care (attachment, affection, worry, and burden) and security. I have always liked the word care, employing it often in the sense of warm attachment, but I have been looking at how care can at times enact control, violence, or abandonment.

Kimberly's book list on showing how care isn’t always a good thing

Kimberly Mair Why did Kimberly love this book?

Starting with the public claim that Canadian society exhibits social indifference to the racialized and gendered violence connected to murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, Granzow interrogates the presumed absence suggested the word indifference, showing that it hides something present and active: a social investment and authorization of this violence as part of the maintenance of the settler-colonial state.

Looking at the city of Edmonton historically, ways that this investment – or commitment – has materialized are elaborated, including a policing initiative (Project Kare) that collects demographic information on individuals expected to be subject to (colonial) violence and the former Charles Camsell Hospital that incarcerated Indigenous peoples from where many disappeared. This impacted my thinking on the contradictions inherent to the notion of care and the place I call home.

By Kara Granzow,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In 2004, Amnesty International characterized Canadian society as "indifferent" to high rates of violence against Indigenous women and girls. When the Canadian government took another twelve years to launch a national inquiry, that indictment seemed true. Invested Indifference makes a startling counter-argument: that what we see as societal unresponsiveness doesn't come from an absence of feeling but from an affective investment in framing specific lives as disposable. Kara Granzow demonstrates that mechanisms such as the law, medicine, and control of land and space have been used to entrench violence against Indigenous people in the social construction of Canadian nationhood.


Book cover of As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance

Kimberly Mair Author Of The Biopolitics of Care in Second World War Britain

From my list on showing how care isn’t always a good thing.

Why am I passionate about this?

Like everyone else, I have life-long experience of caring and not caring for things; being sometimes careful and other times careless. Communication has been my central interest as a historical sociologist, and I’ve been considering its relationship to care (attachment, affection, worry, and burden) and security. I have always liked the word care, employing it often in the sense of warm attachment, but I have been looking at how care can at times enact control, violence, or abandonment.

Kimberly's book list on showing how care isn’t always a good thing

Kimberly Mair Why did Kimberly love this book?

With As We Have Always Done, I’m taking a bit of a different direction on my recommendation theme in that a negative and harmful form of care – the ongoing forms of dispossession exercised by the colonial Canadian state that has a profound attachment to an ever-encroaching extractive economy –  is a historically specific backdrop to a positive form of care.

Simpson, a Michi Saagig Nishnaabeg author, writes about Indigenous resistance and refusal intertwined with reciprocal and consensual forms of caregiving between peoples, non-human animals, rivers, forests, soil, air, and so forth. I have learned from this not only what gets left out of mainstream public discourse but, more so, the significance of shared values being grounded in profound interdependencies between many forms of life.

By Leanne Betasamosake Simpson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked As We Have Always Done as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner: Native American and Indigenous Studies Association's Best Subsequent Book 2017
Honorable Mention: Labriola Center American Indian National Book Award 2017


Across North America, Indigenous acts of resistance have in recent years opposed the removal of federal protections for forests and waterways in Indigenous lands, halted the expansion of tar sands extraction and the pipeline construction at Standing Rock, and demanded justice for murdered and missing Indigenous women. In As We Have Always Done, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson locates Indigenous political resurgence as a practice rooted in uniquely Indigenous theorizing, writing, organizing, and thinking.

Indigenous resistance is a radical rejection of…


Book cover of Tender is the Night

Freddie Gillies Author Of Because All Fades

From my list on love and friendship set in Europe.

Why am I passionate about this?

The best fiction explores complex relationships between friends and lovers. I’ve been fascinated by this for as long as I can remember because love and friendship are the cornerstones of human existence. As concepts, they give life meaning yet can also take it away. They bring us together but can also leave us estranged. The sun-soaked cities of Europe have for so long been playgrounds for young lovers and friends, enjoying both the best of life and the most melancholy. I love traveling Europe–the grandeur, the romance, the happy-sad sentiment of it all. It embodies the topic and makes for the most beautiful setting.

Freddie's book list on love and friendship set in Europe

Freddie Gillies Why did Freddie love this book?

Fitzgerald’s mastery of the English language is beautiful to behold. This book is one of the most eloquent expositions of the control of his prose while at the same time confronting his greatest weakness in life: an inability to find happiness and true love that loves him back. Set on the French Riviera, Tender is the Night is honest and painful. It’s an insight into Fitzgerald’s melancholy world of excess.

This is both fantastic to be a part of and tragic. The tragedy and the beauty are juxtaposed in the most fantastic way–this makes this book one of my favorite romances. I read this book for pure enjoyment. Each sentence makes me smile with its beauty and its profundity. 

By F. Scott Fitzgerald,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Tender is the Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in a friend's copy of Tender Is the Night, "If you liked The Great Gatsby, for God's sake read this. Gatsby was a tour de force but this is a confession of faith." Set in the South of France in the decade after World War I, Tender Is the Night is the story of a brilliant and magnetic psychiatrist named Dick Diver; the bewitching, wealthy, and dangerously unstable mental patient, Nicole, who becomes his wife; and the beautiful, harrowing ten-year pas de deux they act out along the border between sanity and madness.
In Tender Is…


Book cover of The Mark of Cain: Guilt and Denial in the Post-War Lives of Nazi Perpetrators

Thomas A. Kohut Author Of A German Generation: An Experiential History of the Twentieth Century

From my list on seeking to understand Nazi Perpetrators.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a historian of modern Germany. As a teacher and a writer, I seek to get my students and readers to empathize with the people of the past, to think and even feel their way inside those people’s experiences. Because empathy is not sympathy, one can and should empathize with people one finds unsympathetic. We need to empathize with Nazis in order to understand how they and other Germans—human beings not unlike ourselves—could have committed the worst crimes in modern European history, not least the Holocaust.

Thomas' book list on seeking to understand Nazi Perpetrators

Thomas A. Kohut Why did Thomas love this book?

This book is based on reports, reflections, and correspondence of prison chaplains who interacted with imprisoned Nazi perpetrators awaiting trial and, in some instances, execution.

What the prisoners confessed to the clergy and, even more, the criminal behavior they failed to acknowledge I find so revealing. The prisoners felt guilty for individual personal transgressions (like cheating on their wives). Here, they had chosen to sin. But they felt no guilt about their participation in genocide since they saw themselves as having acted perforce on behalf of the community of the “Volk.”

Kellenbach brings this astonishing fact home in a way that is simultaneously horrifying and empathic. After reading her book, I finally came to understand what Adolf Eichmann meant when he claimed that he was “the victim of a fallacy” at his trial in Jerusalem.

By Katharina von Kellenbach,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Mark of Cain fleshes out a history of conversations that contributed to Germany's coming to terms with a guilty past. Katharina von Kellenbach draws on letters exchanged between clergy and Nazi perpetrators, written notes of prison chaplains, memoirs, sermons, and prison publications to illuminate the moral and spiritual struggles of perpetrators after the war. These documents provide intimate insights into the self-reflection and self-perception of perpetrators. As Germany looks back on more than sixty years of passionate debate about political, personal and legal guilt, its ongoing engagement with the legacy of perpetration has transformed its culture and politics.

In…


Book cover of Between Samaritans and States: The Political Ethics of Humanitarian INGOs

Lucia M. Rafanelli Author Of Promoting Justice Across Borders: The Ethics of Reform Intervention

From my list on Political theory books on what makes a just world.

Why am I passionate about this?

To me, political and moral questions have always seemed intertwined. My career as a political theorist is dedicated to using philosophical argument to untangle the moral questions surrounding real-world politics. I am especially interested in ethics and international affairs, including the ethics of intervention, what a just world order would look like, and how our understandings of familiar ideals—like justice, democracy, and equality—would change if we thought they were not only meant to be pursued within each nation-state, but also globally, by humanity as a whole. As faculty in Political Science and International Affairs at The George Washington University, I explore these issues with colleagues and students alike.

Lucia's book list on Political theory books on what makes a just world

Lucia M. Rafanelli Why did Lucia love this book?

This book illuminates the wrenching moral problems humanitarian international NGOs (like Oxfam and Save the Children) face.

How should NGOs balance their responsibilities to aid those who depend on them with their responsibilities to avoid entrenching that dependency? How should they react when the resources they provide are siphoned off by malicious third parties and used to fuel conflict? Given that NGOs are not democratically elected, can their power over aid recipients be justified?

Rubenstein addresses questions like these, drawing on her expertise as an ethicist and several months of fieldwork. I left this book thinking there were no easy answers to the questions Rubenstein raised—but with a much clearer understanding of the moral considerations I would need to account for if I wanted to answer them for myself.

By Jennifer C. Rubenstein,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book provides the first book-length, English-language account of the political ethics of large-scale, Western-based humanitarian INGOs, such as Oxfam, CARE, and Doctors Without Borders. These INGOs are often either celebrated as 'do-gooding machines' or maligned as incompetents 'on the road to hell'. In contrast, this book suggests the picture is more complicated.

Drawing on political theory, philosophy, and ethics, along with original fieldwork, this book shows that while humanitarian INGOs are often perceived as non-governmental and apolitical, they are in fact sometimes somewhat governmental, highly political, and often 'second-best' actors. As a result, they face four central ethical predicaments:…


Book cover of As Gods: A Moral History of the Genetic Age

Kevin Davies Author Of Editing Humanity: The CRISPR Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing

From my list on CRISPR and genome editing.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a British science editor and author of a string of books on the scientific, medical, and social implications of advances in genetics research. I trained as a geneticist but found more personal satisfaction wielding a pen rather than a pipette. I’m especially drawn to science stories that have medical implications for the public and a strong narrative thread. Prior to writing Editing Humanity, I covered the race for the BRCA1 breast cancer gene (Breakthrough), the Human Genome Project (Cracking the Genome), and the rise of personal genomics (The $1,000 Genome). I’m currently writing a biography of sickle cell disease, arguably the most famous genetic mutation in human history.

Kevin's book list on CRISPR and genome editing

Kevin Davies Why did Kevin love this book?

British author, broadcaster and zoologist Matthew Cobb has written several books about the history of DNA research.

As Gods (the book’s original UK title is The Genetic Age) is a fast-paced analysis of “the thrilling and terrifying” 50-year history of genetic engineering and the rise of the biotechnology complex. But Cobb also asks tough questions regarding our propensity to meddle with nature, including the 2018 CRISPR babies scandal, reaching the unsettling conclusion that “dreams and nightmares must go hand in hand”.

By Matthew Cobb,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The thrilling and terrifying history of genetic engineering  

In 2018, scientists manipulated the DNA of human babies for the first time. As biologist and historian Matthew Cobb shows in As Gods, this achievement was one many scientists have feared from the start of the genetic age. Four times in the last fifty years, geneticists, frightened by their own technology, have called a temporary halt to their experiments. They ought to be frightened: Now we have powers that can target the extinction of pests, change our own genes, or create dangerous new versions of diseases in an attempt to prevent future…


Book cover of CRISPR People: The Science and Ethics of Editing Humans

Kevin Davies Author Of Editing Humanity: The CRISPR Revolution and the New Era of Genome Editing

From my list on CRISPR and genome editing.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a British science editor and author of a string of books on the scientific, medical, and social implications of advances in genetics research. I trained as a geneticist but found more personal satisfaction wielding a pen rather than a pipette. I’m especially drawn to science stories that have medical implications for the public and a strong narrative thread. Prior to writing Editing Humanity, I covered the race for the BRCA1 breast cancer gene (Breakthrough), the Human Genome Project (Cracking the Genome), and the rise of personal genomics (The $1,000 Genome). I’m currently writing a biography of sickle cell disease, arguably the most famous genetic mutation in human history.

Kevin's book list on CRISPR and genome editing

Kevin Davies Why did Kevin love this book?

The CRISPR story took a shocking turn in 2018 when a Chinese scientist attempted the unthinkable – overseeing the birth of twin girls with edited DNA.

I devoted multiple chapters to this saga in my book (resulting in the book’s ban in China); meanwhile, Stanford law professor Hank Greely produced an excellent account of the entire story in CRISPR People. Greely eloquently guides the reader beyond the headlines, offering valuable context and shrewd legal analysis, before asking whether this scandal could happen again.

By Henry T. Greely,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

What does the birth of babies whose embryos had gone through genome editing mean--for science and for all of us?

In November 2018, the world was shocked to learn that two babies had been born in China with DNA edited while they were embryos--as dramatic a development in genetics as the cloning of Dolly the sheep was in 1996. In this book, Hank Greely, a leading authority on law and genetics, tells the fascinating story of this human experiment and its consequences. Greely explains what Chinese scientist He Jiankui did, how he did it, and how the public and other…


Book cover of Wonder Drug: The Hidden Victims of America's Secret Thalidomide Scandal

Brian Elliott Author Of White Coat Ways: A History of Medical Traditions and Their Battle with Progress

From my list on medical history that changes medical perspective.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a physician, medicine is my job. But along the way, I wondered how medicine got to where it is now–like really wondered. I wondered to the point that I was reading the original treatises written by 18th-century physicians. I started publishing research on medical history and giving presentations at medical conferences. I’d like to think this helps me be a better doctor by broadening my perspective on the healthcare industry. But at the very least, I’ve found these books enjoyable and compelling. I hope you enjoy them, too!

Brian's book list on medical history that changes medical perspective

Brian Elliott Why did Brian love this book?

This remarkable story illustrates that if something in healthcare sounds too good to be true, it probably is. I had to stop listening to it before going to sleep because the compelling narrative was keeping me up at night.

The author seamlessly combined this compelling narrative with exceptional research behind the Food and Drug Administration, the heroine who prevented thalidomide approval in the United States, and the catastrophic effects of a pharmaceutical company using loopholes.

By Jennifer Vanderbes,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Longlisted for the Andrew 2024 Carnegie Medal for Non-Fiction

The shocking, never-before-told story of America's thalidomide victims

In Germany on Christmas Day 1956 a baby girl was born without ears. She was the first victim of the notorious thalidomide epidemic. There would be over 10,000 more across 46 countries.

For years the world believed the United States had avoided the catastrophe. After Frances Kelsey at the Food and Drug Administration became suspicious of the dangers of thalidomide in 1960, she led a successful fight to block its commercial approval.

But now, having probed government and corporate archives and interviewed hundreds…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in South Africa, Africa, and apartheid?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about South Africa, Africa, and apartheid.

South Africa Explore 125 books about South Africa
Africa Explore 259 books about Africa
Apartheid Explore 44 books about apartheid