100 books like The Spirit Level

By Richard Wilkinson, Kate Pickett,

Here are 100 books that The Spirit Level fans have personally recommended if you like The Spirit Level. 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 Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need

Sam Pizzigati Author Of The Case for a Maximum Wage

From my list on why we need a world without billionaires.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in the 1950s next door to Long Island’s iconic Levittown. All my aunts and uncles lived in similar modest suburbs, and I assumed everyone else did, too. Maybe that explains why America’s sharp economic U-turn in the 1970s so rubbed me the wrong way. We had become, in the mid-20th century, the first major nation where most people—after paying their monthly bills—had money left over. Today we rate as the world’s most unequal major nation. Our richest 0.1 percent hold as much wealth as our bottom 90 percent. I’ve been working with the Institute for Public Studies, as co-editor of Inequality.org, to change all that.

Sam's book list on why we need a world without billionaires

Sam Pizzigati Why did Sam love this book?

Our nation’s most insightful—and readable—sociologist? Boston College’s Juliet Schorr has my vote.

Over the past quarter-century, Schor has probably done more than anyone else in the world to bring grand conceptual constructs like income distribution down to the nitty-gritty of daily life.

Her 1999  best-seller, The Overspent American, strikingly exposes how inequality unleashes a “competitive consumption” dynamic that has us consuming ever more and enjoying life ever less. And that dynamic poses more dangers today than ever before.

As Schor put it in an interview with her I did some years back, we have “no chance” at achieving ecological sustainability “with the kind of extreme income distribution” that we have today. 

By Juliet B. Schor,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Overspent American as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An in-depth look at the corruption of the American Dream, the follow-up to the the Overworked American examines the consumer lives of Americans and the pitfalls of keeping up with the Joneses. Schor explains how and why the purchases of others in our social and professional communities can put pressure on us to spend more than we can afford to, how television viewing can undermine our ability to save, and why even households with good incomes have taken on so much debt for so many products they dont need and often dont even want.


Book cover of Americanah

Nell Freudenberger Author Of The Limits

From my list on what it’s really like to be a teenage girl.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in Los Angeles in the 80s and 90s. I was a shy teenager, an obsessive reader, and a secret writer.  I went to an all-girls high school where we wore uniforms, did a lot of homework, and mostly had no idea how to meet boys. The teen girls I encountered in movies, TV shows, and even literature were sexualized to the point of being unrecognizable to me. Now that I work with teenagers (and am a mom to one), I’m fascinated by the variability of girls this age, their wide-ranging intelligence, passions, and ways of being in the world. I love novels that reflect that complexity.

Nell's book list on what it’s really like to be a teenage girl

Nell Freudenberger Why did Nell love this book?

This book is the best love story I’ve read, full stop. There’s nothing like the first time you fall in love, and Ifemelu and Obinze’s relationship reminded me of that feeling—its paralyzing awkwardness and overwhelming joy.

Before I read this book, I’d never thought about what it must be like for immigrants from Africa to encounter (and enter) the long and tortured story of race in America for the first time, and the novel gave me a lot to think about on that score. I also love a novel that takes me somewhere I’ve never been, and the scenes of contemporary Lagos, where Ifemelu and Obinze are reunited, come alive in Adichie’s precise and brilliant description. 

By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Introducing the Collins Modern Classics, a series featuring some of the most significant books of recent times, books that shed light on the human experience - classics which will endure for generations to come.

How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives we imagined.

Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria. Self-assured Ifemelu heads for America. But quiet, thoughtful Obinze finds post-9/11 America closed to him, and plunges into a dangerous undocumented life in London.

Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria,…


Book cover of The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity

Craig Nelson Author Of V Is for Victory: Franklin Roosevelt's American Revolution and the Triumph of World War II

From my list on history that will wake you up.

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent twenty years as a book publishing executive learning how the trade works before launching myself as a full-time author wanting to make the world a better place. My books use state-of-the-art scholarship for history you can read on the beach, and focus on ‘hinge’ moments, great turnings of the world, as well as on forgotten and unsung heroes.

Craig's book list on history that will wake you up

Craig Nelson Why did Craig love this book?

What ideas do you have about what the first peoples were like, and how human society developed?

Maybe you’ve even read the popular authors on this topic such as Diamond, Harari, Pinker, Hobbes, and Rousseau. Prepare to have all of your notions and received opinions upended and turned to dust by David Graeber (a man universally acknowledged as a genius) and the book he worked on for the last ten years of his life, which brings revolutionary ideas to 30,000 years of civilization.

By David Graeber, David Wengrow,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked The Dawn of Everything as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

A dramatically new understanding of human history, challenging our most fundamental assumptions about social evolution—from the development of agriculture and cities to the origins of the state, democracy, and inequality—and revealing new possibilities for human emancipation.

For generations, our remote ancestors have been cast as primitive and childlike—either free and equal innocents, or thuggish and warlike. Civilization, we are told, could be achieved only by sacrificing those original freedoms or, alternatively, by taming our baser instincts. David Graeber and David Wengrow show how such theories first emerged in the eighteenth century as a conservative reaction…


Book cover of Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community

Landon Y. Jones Author Of Celebrity Nation: How America Evolved into a Culture of Fans and Followers

From my list on celebrity culture and what it is doing to America.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by celebrities and heroes ever since I was a child. That compulsion became something I wanted to understand. I got my chance as the head editor of People magazine. Over the years, I met more than my share of celebrities – Ronald Reagan, Tom Hanks, Malcolm X, and Princess Diana, to name only a few. I began to take notes about my brushes with fame and think about celebrities in history and why they have recently become so dominant in our culture. Celebrity Nation is the result. Enjoy it!

Landon's book list on celebrity culture and what it is doing to America

Landon Y. Jones Why did Landon love this book?

If you are looking for an “Eureka!” moment while reading about celebrity, you can start with Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, first published in 2000 and re-issued with a new preface in 2020.

Putnam convincingly shows how Americans have become increasingly disconnected – from bowling leagues, from PTAs, neighborhood associations, from all forms of membership organizations.

Why did this happen? Putnam blames television and now the fragmented internet for the decline in these civic assets. I think that, more specifically, celebrity has become the opiate of the masses.

Celebrity worship has become a weapon of mass distraction. We suffer from an excess of individualism that will not end until we begin to accept and embrace the common good we all share.

When you combine the rise of celebrity with the decline of civic assets, that’s America today.

By Robert D. Putnam,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Once we bowled in leagues, usually after work -- but no longer. This seemingly small phenomenon symbolizes a significant social change that Robert Putnam has identified in this brilliant volume, Bowling Alone, which The Economist hailed as "a prodigious achievement."

Drawing on vast new data that reveal Americans' changing behavior, Putnam shows how we have become increasingly disconnected from one another and how social structures -- whether they be PTA, church, or political parties -- have disintegrated. Until the publication of this groundbreaking work, no one had so deftly diagnosed the harm that these broken bonds have wreaked on our…


Book cover of Our Common Wealth: The Return of Public Ownership in the United States

Keith Harrison-Broninski Author Of Supercommunities: A handbook for the 21st century

From my list on how community can save society.

Why am I passionate about this?

I studied Mathematics – the art of solving a problem by making it as general as possible, then attacking it with a combination of different techniques. By profession, I am a technologist, but the problem that interested me wasn’t technical – I wanted to know why, when most people are basically well-meaning, the world was in such a mess! Early on in my career, I came to believe that better collaboration was part of the answer. Later, I saw how you also needed the right kind of communities. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about psychology, biology, systems theory, learning theory, anthropology, history, management, economics, finance, and more. I’m still learning.

Keith's book list on how community can save society

Keith Harrison-Broninski Why did Keith love this book?

It always seemed to me that public ownership could be a way to unlock better use of resources, and didn’t believe it was the same as Soviet-style economic planning. But I didn’t really know what it did mean!  So, I bought Hanna’s book as soon as it came out in 2018, and wasn’t disappointed. He is Research Director at the Democracy Collaborative, and shows by example how public ownership comes in many varieties. He debunks the myths about it being worse than corporate or private ownership, showing how it can be more efficient and effective. Read this to see how public ownership in one form or another is a sensible and pragmatic option that can help address the really big social challenges such as inequality, sustainability, and fragility.

By Thomas M. Hanna,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Public ownership is more widespread and popular in the United States than is commonly understood. This book is the most comprehensive and up-to-date analysis of the scope and scale of U.S. public ownership, debunking frequent misconceptions about the alleged inefficiency and underperformance of public ownership and arguing that it offers powerful, flexible solutions to current problems of inequality, instability, and unsustainability- explaining why after decades of privatization it is making a comeback, including in the agenda of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party in Britain. Hanna offers a vision of deploying new forms of democratized public ownership broadly, across multiple sectors, as…


Book cover of ...and forgive them their debts: Lending, Foreclosure and Redemption From Bronze Age Finance to the Jubilee Year

Keith Harrison-Broninski Author Of Supercommunities: A handbook for the 21st century

From my list on how community can save society.

Why am I passionate about this?

I studied Mathematics – the art of solving a problem by making it as general as possible, then attacking it with a combination of different techniques. By profession, I am a technologist, but the problem that interested me wasn’t technical – I wanted to know why, when most people are basically well-meaning, the world was in such a mess! Early on in my career, I came to believe that better collaboration was part of the answer. Later, I saw how you also needed the right kind of communities. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about psychology, biology, systems theory, learning theory, anthropology, history, management, economics, finance, and more. I’m still learning.

Keith's book list on how community can save society

Keith Harrison-Broninski Why did Keith love this book?

I can’t say how much I love this book. It explains everything we know intuitively about economics but find hard to justify. Hudson was one of the few who saw the 2008 crisis coming, and he is still one of the few who know what we must do now. Taking the discussion of David Graeber’s extraordinary 2011 book Debt: The First 5000 Years to the next level, Hudson shows how Bronze Age rulers understood economic instability better than we do. When people get into serious debt, their personal crises not only destroy their own lives but ripple outwards to derail society, by giving their creditors enough power to compete with governments. To avoid society being run into the ground, governments must start cancelling debts – as they did long ago.

By Michael Hudson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In ...and forgive them their debts, renowned economist Michael Hudson – one of the few who could see the 2008 financial crisis coming – takes us on an epic journey through the economies of ancient civilizations and reveals their relevance for us today. For the past 40 years, in conjunction with Harvard’s Peabody Museum, he and his colleagues have documented how interest-bearing debt was invented in Bronze Age Mesopotamia, and then disseminated to the ancient world. What the Bronze Age rulers understood was that avoiding economic instability required regular royal debt cancellations. Professor Hudson documents dozens of these these royal…


Book cover of The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality

Guido Alfani Author Of As Gods Among Men: A History of the Rich in the West

From my list on the rich, the super-rich, and wealth inequality in general.

Why am I passionate about this?

Since I was a student, I have been fascinated with social and economic inequality–the more so because back then, my professors seemed to disregard this subject of study. So, I made it one of my own main areas of research: I simply needed to understand more about the nature and the causes of inequality in human societies. In recent years, I have been busy researching economic inequality in different historical settings, also looking at specific socioeconomic strata. I began with the poor, and more recently, I focused on the rich. In my list of recommendations, I included books that, I believe, are particularly insightful concerning wealth and the wealthy.

Guido's book list on the rich, the super-rich, and wealth inequality in general

Guido Alfani Why did Guido love this book?

I have always loved Branko Milanović’s way of addressing complex topics in a very accessible and usually highly original way.

In this book, Milanović pays much attention to the rich and the super-rich and devises a way of comparing their wealth across the ages by asking this simple question: how much labour could they command in their own historical period and socio-economic context?

So, for example, Marcus Licinius Crassus, the richest Roman of Caesar’s times, could, with the yearly income from his vast possessions, command the work of 32,000 people. But, as Milanović argues, today’s super-rich are richer than past ones–circa 2010, the richest person in the world was the telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim, who could command the work of 440,000 Mexicans.

By Branko Milanovic,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Haves and the Have-Nots as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Who is the richest person in the world, ever? Does where you were born affect how much money you'll earn over a lifetime? How would we know? Why- beyond the idle curiosity- do these questions even matter? In The Haves and the Have-Nots , Branko Milanovic, one of the world's leading experts on wealth, poverty, and the gap that separates them, explains these and other mysteries of how wealth is unevenly spread throughout our world, now and through time. Milanovic uses history, literature and stories straight out of today's newspapers, to discuss one of the major divisions in our social…


Book cover of The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students

D. Sánchez-Ancochea Author Of The Costs of Inequality in Latin America: Lessons and Warnings for the Rest of the World

From my list on inequality as one of our significant challenges.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a political economist committed to building a better world for all. In my academic work, I explore the obstacles to human flourishing and the best policies to promote more equitable development. The growing concentration of wealth among a small elite have become one of our most significant challenges to create better societies. In a growing number of countries, the wealthy control more than a third of all the income generated every year, contributing to social discontent and reducing the opportunities for the majority. I want to convince everyone out there about the urgency of understanding why inequality takes place, why it is costly and how we can fight against it is.

D.'s book list on inequality as one of our significant challenges

D. Sánchez-Ancochea Why did D. love this book?

US elite universities are both an engine of inequality and an environment where inequality is particularly evident. 

In this book Harvard professor Abraham Jack explores how low-income students fare when accepted to a prestigious and expensive college.

The book distinguishes between the “privileged poor” who attended private high schools before arriving to campus and the “double disadvantaged” which come from underfunded, state schools. 

Through many interviews and everyday examples, Abraham Jack shows how inequality is both about income and social capital and demonstrates the complexity of creating a more just society in a country like the United States. 

Although the book is less relevant to understand other countries, this is social science at its best.

By Anthony Abraham Jack,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An NPR Favorite Book of the Year

"Breaks new ground on social and educational questions of great import."
-Washington Post

"An essential work, humane and candid, that challenges and expands our understanding of the lives of contemporary college students."
-Paul Tough, author of Helping Children Succeed

"Eye-opening...Brings home the pain and reality of on-campus poverty and puts the blame squarely on elite institutions."
-Washington Post

"Jack's investigation redirects attention from the matter of access to the matter of inclusion...His book challenges universities to support the diversity they indulge in advertising."
-New Yorker

The Ivy League looks different than it used…


Book cover of Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class

D. Sánchez-Ancochea Author Of The Costs of Inequality in Latin America: Lessons and Warnings for the Rest of the World

From my list on inequality as one of our significant challenges.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a political economist committed to building a better world for all. In my academic work, I explore the obstacles to human flourishing and the best policies to promote more equitable development. The growing concentration of wealth among a small elite have become one of our most significant challenges to create better societies. In a growing number of countries, the wealthy control more than a third of all the income generated every year, contributing to social discontent and reducing the opportunities for the majority. I want to convince everyone out there about the urgency of understanding why inequality takes place, why it is costly and how we can fight against it is.

D.'s book list on inequality as one of our significant challenges

D. Sánchez-Ancochea Why did D. love this book?

Frank is, in my view, one of the most engaging writers on inequality. 

He has developed interesting insights like the “winner takes-all society”: the idea that we live in a world in which a small group of people reaps most of the benefits in all markets from sports to music or academia. 

In Falling Behind, Frank shows how inequality does not only harm the poor but the middle class as well.

I like how he combines economic data with many examples to show how consumption patterns among the wealthy lead to an “expenditure cascades” that force the middle class to borrow too much money and consume more than it should. 

The book is a reminder that inequality must be explored from many dimensions and its solution will require a lot of creativity.

By Robert Frank,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Although middle-income families don't earn much more than they did several decades ago, they are buying bigger cars, houses, and appliances. To pay for them, they spend more than they earn and carry record levels of debt. In a book that explores the very meaning of happiness and prosperity in America today, Robert Frank explains how increased concentrations of income and wealth at the top of the economic pyramid have set off "expenditure cascades" that raise the cost of achieving many basic goals for the middle class. Writing in lively prose for a general audience, Frank employs up-to-date economic data…


Book cover of Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development

Sam Pizzigati Author Of The Case for a Maximum Wage

From my list on why we need a world without billionaires.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in the 1950s next door to Long Island’s iconic Levittown. All my aunts and uncles lived in similar modest suburbs, and I assumed everyone else did, too. Maybe that explains why America’s sharp economic U-turn in the 1970s so rubbed me the wrong way. We had become, in the mid-20th century, the first major nation where most people—after paying their monthly bills—had money left over. Today we rate as the world’s most unequal major nation. Our richest 0.1 percent hold as much wealth as our bottom 90 percent. I’ve been working with the Institute for Public Studies, as co-editor of Inequality.org, to change all that.

Sam's book list on why we need a world without billionaires

Sam Pizzigati Why did Sam love this book?

The climate crisis, many of us now understand, may just end up crushing us. What can save us from that crushing?

Greater income equality, the former World Bank economist Herman Daly argued in this concise 1996 volume, has to be central to our solution. Daly, who passed away in 2022, pioneered the discipline of ecological economics.

Our planet, this University of Maryland professor emeritus believed, has “a limit to the total material production that the ecosystem can support.” In other words, we can’t afford to continue grasping for ever more.

We need to center ourselves instead around having enough, and that means, Daly concluded, moving toward adopting a “maximum personal income” since having 99 percent of a limited total product “go to only one person” would be “clearly unjust.”

By Herman E. Daly,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Daly is turning economics inside out by putting the earth and its diminishing natural resources at the center of the field . . . a kind of reverse Copernican revolution in economics." 
--Utne Reader

"Considered by most to be the dean of ecological economics, Herman E. Daly elegantly topples many shibboleths in Beyond Growth. Daly challenges the conventional notion that growth is always good, and he bucks environmentalist orthodoxy, arguing that the current focus on 'sustainable development' is misguided and that the phrase itself has become meaningless."
--Mother Jones

"In Beyond Growth, . . . [Daly] derides the concept of…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in quality of life, social mobility, and equality?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about quality of life, social mobility, and equality.

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Equality Explore 63 books about equality