100 books like Sources of the Self

By Charles Taylor,

Here are 100 books that Sources of the Self fans have personally recommended if you like Sources of the Self. 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 Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism

Naoíse Mac Sweeney Author Of The West: A New History in Fourteen Lives

From my list on why the past matters for the future.

Who am I?

I love stories, and as a child I found that some of the best and most powerful stories I ever heard were those that people told about the past. When I grew up, I pursued a career as an academic archaeologist and historian, and I am now Professor of Classical Archaeology at the University of Vienna. But while I am of course interested in the past, in recent years I have been increasingly thinking about the politics of the past as well. Why do we choose to celebrate some stories about the past and not others? I have found these books all useful in helping me to think through this.

Naoíse's book list on why the past matters for the future

Naoíse Mac Sweeney Why did Naoíse love this book?

I first read this book as a student, and found it both radical and exciting to think that national identities, traditions, and even the existence of nations themselves were all invented, and so were also flexible and open to reinvention in the future.

I also loved that the examples were taken from Southeast Asia, where I have family roots. For a while I kept a worn second-hand copy in my student room, thinking it was my special discovery. I was almost disappointed to find that it is a standard text and very widely read.

By Benedict Anderson,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Imagined Communities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What are the imagined communities that compel men to kill or to die for an idea of a nation? This notion of nationhood had its origins in the founding of the Americas, but was then adopted and transformed by populist movements in nineteenth-century Europe. It became the rallying cry for anti-Imperialism as well as the abiding explanation for colonialism. In this scintillating, groundbreaking work of intellectual history Anderson explores how ideas are formed and reformulated at every level, from high politics to popular culture, and the way that they can make people do extraordinary things. In the twenty-first century, these…


Book cover of The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African

Vincent Carretta Author Of Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man

From my list on recover early Black Atlantic lives.

Who am I?

When I decided to familiarize myself with eighteenth-century authors of African descent by editing their writings, I didn’t anticipate becoming their biographer. In annotating their writings, I quickly became intrigued and challenged by trying to complete the biographical equivalent of jigsaw puzzles, ones which often lack borders, as well as many pieces. How does one recover, or at least credibly speculate about, what’s missing? Even the pieces one has may be from unreliable sources. But the thrill of the hunt for, and the joy of discovering, as many pieces as possible make the challenge rewarding. My recommendations demonstrate ways others have also met the biographical challenge.

Vincent's book list on recover early Black Atlantic lives

Vincent Carretta Why did Vincent love this book?

Equiano’s autobiography fascinated me when I stumbled upon a paperback edition of it in a local bookstore nearly thirty years ago.

A bestseller during Equiano’s lifetime, his Interesting Narrative is appreciated as a work of enduring historical and literary value. The odyssey he recounts takes him from enslavement as a child in Africa to becoming a leading figure in the struggle to abolish the transatlantic slave trade.

Along the way, he serves in the British Royal Navy, gains his freedom, participates in a scientific expedition to the Arctic, has a religious conversion, observes various kinds of slavery in North and Central America, England, Europe, and the Middle East before agreeing to help administer settling in Africa formerly enslaved poor Blacks who had joined the British forces during the American Revolution.

By Olaudah Equiano,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African, first published in 1789, is the autobiography of Olaudah Equiano. The narrative is argued to be a variety of styles, such as a slavery narrative, travel narrative, and spiritual narrative. The book describes Equiano's time spent in enslavement, and documents his attempts at becoming an independent man through his study of the Bible, and his eventual success in gaining his own freedom and in business thereafter.

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano was one of the first widely read slave narratives. Eight editions…


Book cover of Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded

Lynn Hunt Author Of Inventing Human Rights: A History

From my list on why we care about human rights.

Who am I?

Having personally witnessed the great expansion of rights in my lifetime, I wanted to know how this belief in rights took root. Equality is not a natural idea; most societies have been shaped by hierarchies since the beginning of time. I was led to the late eighteenth century as a crucial period for the articulation of universal human rights. And that led to me the abolition of torture, the abolition of slavery, and the idea of “declaring” rights which gave them a surprising force. Once universal rights were declared, those still excluded (women, slaves) wanted to know why and much of modern times has been concerned with just that question.

Lynn's book list on why we care about human rights

Lynn Hunt Why did Lynn love this book?

The novel that started the mania for novel reading that is, in some ways, still with us. Pamela is a lowly servant and yet a heroine with gumption. She made readers aware that anyone could be an individual with choices and will. We take it for granted now; it wasn’t then. Try to imagine yourself as an eighteenth-century reader.

By Samuel Richardson, Tom Keymer (editor), Alice Wakely (editor)

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Pamela under the Notion of being a Virtuous Modest Girl will be introduced into all Familes,and when she gets there, what Scenes does she represent? Why a fine young Gentleman endeavouring to debauch a beautiful young Girl of Sixteen.' (Pamela Censured, 1741)

One of the most spectacular successes of the burgeoning literary marketplace of eighteeent-century London, Pamela also marked a defining moment in the emergence of the modern novel. In the words of one contemporary, it divided the world 'into two different Parties, Pamelists and Antipamelists', even eclipsing the sensational factional politics of the day. Preached up for its morality,…


Book cover of The Social Contract

Lynn Hunt Author Of Inventing Human Rights: A History

From my list on why we care about human rights.

Who am I?

Having personally witnessed the great expansion of rights in my lifetime, I wanted to know how this belief in rights took root. Equality is not a natural idea; most societies have been shaped by hierarchies since the beginning of time. I was led to the late eighteenth century as a crucial period for the articulation of universal human rights. And that led to me the abolition of torture, the abolition of slavery, and the idea of “declaring” rights which gave them a surprising force. Once universal rights were declared, those still excluded (women, slaves) wanted to know why and much of modern times has been concerned with just that question.

Lynn's book list on why we care about human rights

Lynn Hunt Why did Lynn love this book?

You always knew you should read Rousseau, but you didn’t. His novel Julie is too long, though eighteenth-century readers did not think so. This book is abstract but if you get beyond that first impression and think like an eighteenth-century person your mind will be blown. At a time when most people listened to the authorities (in church and state), Rousseau started from the simple proposition that anyone could think through the basic issues of social and political life. He takes everything down to first principles and changes everything by making democracy seem thinkable.

By Jean-Jacques Rousseau,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Jean-Jacques Rousseau writes, "Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains." This statement exemplifies the main idea behind "The Social Contract", in other words that man is essentially free if it weren't for the oppression of political organizations such as government. Rousseau goes on to lay forth the principles that he deems most important for achieving political right amongst people.


Book cover of Human Rights for Pragmatists: Social Power in Modern Times

Mark G. Pomar Author Of Cold War Radio: The Russian Broadcasts of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

From my list on critical world events from a new angle.

Who am I?

Since I read George Kennan’s award-winning memoirs when I was still in high school, I have been fascinated by world history in general and specifically by the Soviet Union (Russia) and Central/Eastern Europe. I have a PhD in Russian studies and my 40+ year career has included academia, government, non-profit organizations, and the foundation sector. My professional experience has reinforced my belief that to understand today’s world and to formulate effective national security strategy one must study the roots of political, economic, or social events.   

Mark's book list on critical world events from a new angle

Mark G. Pomar Why did Mark love this book?

Jack Snyder addresses one of the most important issues of our times: how to protect human rights.

Based on thorough research, Snyder develops an innovative roadmap for dealing with a broad agenda of human rights issues: impunity from atrocities, dilemmas of free speech in the age of social media, and the entrenched abuses of women and children.

The brutal Russian war on Ukraine further underscores the need for the international community to protect human rights and to punish those who violate them.  

By Jack Snyder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Human Rights for Pragmatists as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An innovative framework for advancing human rights

Human rights are among our most pressing issues today, yet rights promoters have reached an impasse in their effort to achieve rights for all. Human Rights for Pragmatists explains why: activists prioritize universal legal and moral norms, backed by the public shaming of violators, but in fact rights prevail only when they serve the interests of powerful local constituencies. Jack Snyder demonstrates that where local power and politics lead, rights follow. He presents an innovative roadmap for addressing a broad agenda of human rights concerns: impunity for atrocities, dilemmas of free speech in…


Book cover of The American Language of Rights

Nat Rubner Author Of The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights Volume 1: Political, Intellectual & Cultural Origins

From my list on the intelligent person’s guide to human rights.

Who am I?

Following my PhD at King’s College, Cambridge I was invited by the School of History at Queen Mary, University of London to serve as an Honorary Research Fellow. This enabled me to focus fully on 15 years of research into previously untapped archives and interviews with more than twenty-five politicians and jurists active in the process of the African human rights charter. By coincidence, thirty-five years or so ago, in an earlier incarnation, I was also responsible for editing the first public debt prospectus for the African Development Bank in Abidjan.

Nat's book list on the intelligent person’s guide to human rights

Nat Rubner Why did Nat love this book?

A really interesting book that focuses on three periods in US history to demonstrate that conceptions of rights are determined by time and place.

That conceptions and uses of rights language are responses to specific political questions of the day, questions looking for a political answer, rather than, as human rights advocates are inclined to assume, a manifestation of a continuum of a single human rights tradition stretching back several thousand years.

By Richard A. Primus,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Richard A. Primus examines three crucial periods in American history (the late eighteenth century, the civil war and the 1950s and 1960s) in order to demonstrate how the conceptions of rights prevailing at each of these times grew out of reactions to contemporary social and political crises. His innovative approach sees rights language as grounded more in opposition to concrete social and political practices, than in the universalistic paradigms presented by many political philosophers. This study demonstrates the potency of the language of rights throughout American history, and looks for the first time at the impact of modern totalitarianism (in…


Book cover of Human Rights and Their Limits

Michael Freeman Author Of Human Rights

From my list on the power and the limits of human rights.

Who am I?

I am an emeritus professor in the Department of Government, University of Essex. I taught political theory for many years with a speciality in the theory and practice of human rights. I'm the author of Edmund Burke and the Critique of Political Radicalism and Human Rights. I've published many articles in political theory, philosophy of social science, and human rights. I've directed academic programmes in political theory, The Enlightenment, and human rights. I've lectured on human rights in some 25 countries. I was a founder-member of my local branch of Amnesty International and served on the board of Amnesty’s British Section for five years, for two years as its Chairperson.

Michael's book list on the power and the limits of human rights

Michael Freeman Why did Michael love this book?

Wiktor Osiatyński was a distinguished Polish constitutional and human rights lawyer who died in 2017 and who, among many other achievements, contributed to the drafting of the post-Communist constitution of Poland. He was a member of the board of the Open Society Foundation and a greatly admired teacher of human rights. Human Rights and Their Limits is one of the most carefully balanced accounts of human rights available in English. Osiatyński argues against human rights absolutism, pointing out that excessive respect for rights can undermine the democracy that is the precondition of rights protection, and that rights have to be balanced against other social and personal values.

He vividly illustrates the hypocrisy of states that talk the talk of human rights when it suits their interests but refuse to walk the walk when it does not. The hope for human rights, therefore, lies primarily not in the institutions of the…

By Wiktor Osiatyński,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Human Rights and Their Limits as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Human Rights and their Limits shows that the concept of human rights has developed in waves: each call for rights served the purpose of social groups that tried to stop further proliferation of rights once their own goals were reached. While defending the universality of human rights as norms of behavior, Osiatynski admits that the philosophy on human rights does not need to be universal. Instead he suggests that the enjoyment of social rights should be contingent upon the recipient's contribution to society. He calls for a 'soft universalism' that will not impose rights on others but will share the…


Book cover of A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of Burma's Karen People

Zoya Phan Author Of Little Daughter: A Memoir of Survival in Burma and the West

From my list on the Karen and human rights that inspire me.

Who am I?

I'm a human rights activist from Burma. When I was 14, I was forced to flee to Thailand because of an attack by the Burmese military and ended up in a refugee camp. As one of Burma's leading democracy activists in Europe, I campaign for the promotion of human rights, democracy, and development back home in Burma. Together with my family, I set up Phan Foundation which aims to preserve Karen culture, promote human rights, fight poverty and provide education for Karen people. This is in memory of my mother Nant Kyin Shwe and my father Padoh Mahn Sha Lah Phan, who was assassinated by agents of the Burmese military.

Zoya's book list on the Karen and human rights that inspire me

Zoya Phan Why did Zoya love this book?

We, the Karens, call our land Kawthoolei, which means "a land without evil." When I first came to the UK, Ben gave me a copy of his book, A Land Without Evil. After reading this book, I felt so much pain that I couldn't stop my tears because all of the suffering of my people that Ben wrote in his book were all true, and it brought back all the memories of our sufferings. For decades, my people have been brutally attacked by Burmese governments, but the world didn't know and pay attention in order to help us. 

By Benedict Rogers,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Land Without Evil as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The gentle Karen, a tribe in Burma's eastern regions, call their country "a land without evil". They number between four and five million, and have been fighting for half a century to keep their land and identity. Many - at least 40 per cent - are Christians, and have suffered particularly harsh treatment. Burma today, and Karen State in particular, is a land torn apart by evil. It is a land ruled by a regime which took power by force, ignored the will of the people in an election, and survives by creating a climate of fear. It is a…


Book cover of Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century

Michael Freeman Author Of Human Rights

From my list on the power and the limits of human rights.

Who am I?

I am an emeritus professor in the Department of Government, University of Essex. I taught political theory for many years with a speciality in the theory and practice of human rights. I'm the author of Edmund Burke and the Critique of Political Radicalism and Human Rights. I've published many articles in political theory, philosophy of social science, and human rights. I've directed academic programmes in political theory, The Enlightenment, and human rights. I've lectured on human rights in some 25 countries. I was a founder-member of my local branch of Amnesty International and served on the board of Amnesty’s British Section for five years, for two years as its Chairperson.

Michael's book list on the power and the limits of human rights

Michael Freeman Why did Michael love this book?

When social scientists began to ask the question – neglected by human rights lawyers and activists – whether international human rights law actually improved the enjoyment of human rights, they came up with largely negative answers: international human rights law had no effect, or very little effect, or was sometimes counter-productive, being associated with more human rights violations, depending on the research methods used. Kathryn Sikkink was among the leading scholars challenging these results, showing that the previous studies greatly oversimplified the human rights world.

Her book, Evidence for Hope, brings together the empirical evidence showing that human rights law sometimes, in some places, improves the enjoyment of some human rights. Sikkink defends the human rights movement from the charge of `utopianism’ by turning the tables on the critics and accusing them of unrealistic expectations for human rights law. The human rights struggle takes place on a hard road…

By Kathryn Sikkink,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A history of the successes of the human rights movement and a case for why human rights work

Evidence for Hope makes the case that yes, human rights work. Critics may counter that the movement is in serious jeopardy or even a questionable byproduct of Western imperialism. Guantanamo is still open and governments are cracking down on NGOs everywhere. But human rights expert Kathryn Sikkink draws on decades of research and fieldwork to provide a rigorous rebuttal to doubts about human rights laws and institutions. Past and current trends indicate that in the long term, human rights movements have been…


Book cover of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting, and Intent

Nat Rubner Author Of The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights Volume 1: Political, Intellectual & Cultural Origins

From my list on the intelligent person’s guide to human rights.

Who am I?

Following my PhD at King’s College, Cambridge I was invited by the School of History at Queen Mary, University of London to serve as an Honorary Research Fellow. This enabled me to focus fully on 15 years of research into previously untapped archives and interviews with more than twenty-five politicians and jurists active in the process of the African human rights charter. By coincidence, thirty-five years or so ago, in an earlier incarnation, I was also responsible for editing the first public debt prospectus for the African Development Bank in Abidjan.

Nat's book list on the intelligent person’s guide to human rights

Nat Rubner Why did Nat love this book?

The author’s perspective on human rights and the process would not be something I would endorse, but it is, nonetheless, to date, the best book on the details of the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as it wound its way through the United Nations. 

By Johannes Morsink,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Selected by Choice magazine as an Outstanding Academic Book for 1999
Born of a shared revulsion against the horrors of the Holocaust, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has become the single most important statement of international ethics. It was inspired by and reflects the full scope of President Franklin Roosevelt's famous four freedoms: "the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear." Written by a UN commission led by Eleanor Roosevelt and adopted in 1948, the Declaration has become the moral backbone of more than two hundred human rights…


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