The most recommended activist books

Who picked these books? Meet our 21 experts.

21 authors created a book list connected to activists, and here are their favorite activist books.
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Book cover of Making History/Making Blintzes: How Two Red Diaper Babies Found Each Other and Discovered America

Paul Lauter Author Of Our Sixties: An Activist's History

From my list on how we made change in the 1960's.

Who am I?

Over the past 50 years, I've been one of those “tenured radicals” the right-wing loved to bash. But before that, during the 1960s, I worked, often full-time, in the social movements that did change America: civil rights, anti-war, feminism. I was older, so I became a “professor-activist.” As a teacher, I applied what I had learned in the movements to reconstruct ideas about which writers mattered—women as well as men, minorities as well as whites: Zora Neale Hurston, Frederick Douglass, Adrienne Rich as well as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway. Using that principle, I led a team that created a very successful collection, The Heath Anthology of American Literature.     

Paul's book list on how we made change in the 1960's

Paul Lauter Why did Paul love this book?

Mickey and Dick Flacks enjoyed a 60-year marital and political partnership that featured blintzes along with activism. Their joint memoir traces a century of American left history as they and their families created and lived it. Raised in the rich but insulated culture of the communist “old left” in the Bronx and Brooklyn, these founding figures of the "new left,” helped construct a post-sixties progressive movement in a once-conservative region of California. They have been trailblazers in the struggles for affordable housing, and leaders and mentors—including mein the on-going efforts to democratize higher education. Their activist left perspective on American possibilityunimaginable for too many Americansbelongs on our bookshelves. 

By Mickey Flacks, Dick Flacks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Making History/Making Blintzes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Making History/Making Blintzes is a chronicle of the political and personal lives of progressive activists Richard (Dick) and Miriam (Mickey) Flacks, two of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). As active members of the Civil Rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement in the 1960s, and leaders in today's social movements, their stories are a first-hand account of progressive American activism from the 1960s to the present.

Throughout this memoir, the couple demonstrates that their lifelong commitment to making history through social activism cannot be understood without returning to the deeply personal context of their family history-of…


Book cover of The Deluge

Jorge L. Contreras Author Of The Genome Defense: Inside the Epic Legal Battle to Determine Who Owns Your DNA

From Jorge's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Law professor Traveler Science junkie Amateur historian Science fiction buff

Jorge's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Jorge L. Contreras Why did Jorge love this book?

Stephen Markley’s massive near-future climate apocalypse novel The Deluge features a sprawling Balzacian cast and an acknowledged debt to Stephen King’s The Stand.

The narrative proceeds, year by painful year, to detail the climatic, political, and social catastrophe that’s just around the corner.

The benefit of Markley’s painstaking approach is that the world he builds looks depressingly like our own: no Mad Max/Planet of the Apes craziness. Just a bunch of highly realistic political and corporate skullduggery that inches us closer and closer to apocalypse.

The characters are largely idealists, including a neurodiverse policy wonk who, entirely straight-faced, proposes that the nation’s billion domestic pets be converted to a ready source of protein. I found myself continuing to wonder about a lot after finishing The Deluge, a sign of a worthwhile read.

By Stephen Markley,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"This book is, simply put, a modern classic. If you read it, you'll never forget it. Prophetic, terrifying, uplifting." -Stephen King

From the bestselling author of Ohio, a masterful American epic charting a near future approaching collapse and a nascent but strengthening solidarity.

In the first decades of the 21st century, the world is convulsing, its governments mired in gridlock while a patient but unrelenting ecological crisis looms. America is in upheaval, battered by violent weather and extreme politics. In California in 2013, Tony Pietrus, a scientist studying deposits of undersea methane, receives a death threat. His fate will become…


Book cover of Give Me Liberty: The True Story of Oswaldo Payá and his Daring Quest for a Free Cuba

Ilan Ehrlich Author Of Eduardo Chibás: The Incorrigible Man of Cuban Politics

From my list on biographies peeking into the lives of Cuban people.

Who am I?

I was weaned on Cuban stories by my Havana-born mother and first visited the island in 1998. Since then, I earned a PhD in history from the Graduate Center, City University of New York–where I studied twentieth-century Cuban politics. While conducting research in Havana and Miami, I confirmed that legends were imbibed with the same fervor as café cubano. All histories are marked by tall tales, but Cubans are governed by theirs, inside and out, more than most. 

Ilan's book list on biographies peeking into the lives of Cuban people

Ilan Ehrlich Why did Ilan love this book?

To some, Cuba is a plucky, embargo-defying success story, with top educational and medical systems – the latter of which ensures Cubans live longer on average than Americans. Hoffman’s biography of Oswaldo Payá lays bare the regime’s darkest depths. As a young man, Payá was harassed and persecuted for his Catholic faith. He later devised the Varela Project, which sought to legally change Cuba’s 1976 constitution and allow democratic freedoms. Payá remained an outspoken critic of Cuba’s one-party state and refused to leave despite constant threats from state security agents. In 2012, they ran his car off the road and he was killed in the ensuing crash.  

By David E. Hoffman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporter David E. Hoffman comes the riveting biography of Oswaldo Payá, a dissident who dared to defy Fidel Castro, inspiring thousands of Cubans to fight for democracy.

Oswaldo Payá was seven years old when Fidel Castro seized power in Cuba, promising to create a “free, democratic, and just Cuba.” But Castro instead created an authoritarian regime with little tolerance of free speech or thought. His secret police were trained to crush dissent by East Germany’s ruthless Stasi.

Throughout Cuba’s 20th century history, the dream of democracy was often just within reach, only to be…


Book cover of We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I: A Palestinian Memoir

Rebecca Gould Author Of Erasing Palestine: Free Speech and Palestinian Freedom

From my list on Palestinian liberation.

Who am I?

The year I spent in Palestine from 2011 to 2012 was the first time in my life that I encountered racism firsthand. Growing up in America, I was aware of my country’s racist history and I knew that my country’s history was indelibly marked by prejudice. But in Palestine I witnessed racism in action. It reminded me of segregation in the American South. Every aspect of daily life in Israel and in the territories it occupied is segregated: buses, roads, lines waiting to pass through checkpoints. After I witnessed a Palestinian man being refused entry into an Israeli tourist site simply because he was Palestinian, I knew this was a book I had to write.

Rebecca's book list on Palestinian liberation

Rebecca Gould Why did Rebecca love this book?

Raja Shehadeh is the author of many important books on Palestine.

He has a unique ability to interweave the personal into the political in his writing. That talent shines through in this recent book, a memoir about his relationship to his father, an influential attorney and defender of Palestinian rights who was murdered outside his home in Ramallah in 1985. In telling the story of this relationship, which was marked by mutual misunderstanding and unarticulated love, Shehadeh also tells a story about the history of the Palestine people.

He shows how the conflicts and displacements inflicted on Palestinians have torn apart millions of lives and destroyed the human connections that many of us take for granted.

By Raja Shehadeh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Could Have Been Friends, My Father and I as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A subtle psychological portrait of the author’s relationship with his father during the twentieth-century battle for Palestinian human rights.

Aziz Shehadeh was many things: lawyer, activist, and political detainee, he was also the father of bestselling author and activist Raja. In this new and searingly personal memoir, Raja Shehadeh unpicks the snags and complexities of their relationship.

A vocal and fearless opponent, Aziz resists under the British mandatory period, then under Jordan, and, finally, under Israel. As a young man, Raja fails to recognize his father’s courage and, in turn, his father does not appreciate Raja’s own efforts in campaigning…


Book cover of Chicana Power!: Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement

Melissa Estes Blair Author Of Revolutionizing Expectations: Women's Organizations, Feminism, and American Politics, 1965-1980

From my list on U.S. grassroots feminism.

Who am I?

I have loved history since I was a girl, visiting my grandparents in Virginia and reading American Girl books. I began to focus on women’s history when I learned in college just how much the women’s movement of the generation before mine had made my life possible. So much changed for American women in the ten years before I was born, and I wanted to know how that happened and how it fit into the broader political changes. That connection, between women making change and the bigger political scene, remains the core of my research. I have a B.A. in history and English from the University of Kentucky, and a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Virginia.

Melissa's book list on U.S. grassroots feminism

Melissa Estes Blair Why did Melissa love this book?

Blackwell’s book is very different from Springer’s, and that difference is my favorite part. Instead of giving an overview of several Chicana feminist groups, as Springer does with Black feminists, Blackwell dives deep into one major ones, Las Hijas, in Los Angeles. Oral history is a major source for Blackwell, and the way she includes some of her major characters not only talking about their historical actions but reflecting on them several decades later makes this a great read.

By Maylei Blackwell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The first book-length study of women's involvement in the Chicano Movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, !Chicana Power! tells the powerful story of the emergence of Chicana feminism within student and community-based organizations throughout southern California and the Southwest. As Chicanos engaged in widespread protest in their struggle for social justice, civil rights, and self-determination, women in el movimiento became increasingly militant about the gap between the rhetoric of equality and the organizational culture that suppressed women's leadership and subjected women to chauvinism, discrimination, and sexual harassment. Based on rich oral histories and extensive archival research, Maylei Blackwell analyzes…


Book cover of On Gallows Down: Place, Protest and Belonging

Tessa Boase Author Of Etta Lemon: The Woman Who Saved the Birds

From my list on women, birds, and nature.

Who am I?

I’m an investigative journalist and social historian who’s obsessed with ‘invisible’ women of the 19th and early 20th century, bringing their stories to life in highly readable narrative non-fiction. I love the detective work involved in resurrecting ordinary women’s lives: shop girls, milliners, campaigning housewives, servants. . . The stories I’ve uncovered are gripping, often shocking and frequently poignant – but also celebrate women’s determination, solidarity and capacity for reinvention. Each of my two books took me on a long research journey deep into the archives: The Housekeeper’s Tale – the Women Who Really Ran the English Country House, and Etta Lemon – The Woman Who Saved the Birds.

Tessa's book list on women, birds, and nature

Tessa Boase Why did Tessa love this book?

An unusually honest, rural memoir by the RSPB’s longest-serving female columnist. Chester’s writing has a lovely elasticity, dancing between wonder, introspection, and anger as she moves from the particular to the universal. I learned a lot about how Britain’s countryside is managed. I also enjoyed her more eccentric impulses, such as lying down in the snow on the edge of a field one night, just to see what might happen. She belongs to the disappearing English rural working class, and is intent on handing this baton to her three children. Chester also explores the familiar tension between wanting to write and being needed at home. The heady ecstasy of time carved out alone, in nature. The scrabble to earn a precarious living, and the insecurities of occupying a tied cottage. The idea of ‘home’ lies at the heart of this fierce, beautifully written, immersive book about one’s place within the…

By Nicola Chester,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the Richard Jeffries Award 2021

[A] wonderfully accurate, powerful and funny memoir of rural life Stephen Moss

It's ever so good. Political, passionate & personal. Robert Macfarlane (via Twitter)

I couldn't put it down! A must read! Dara McAnulty (via Twitter), author of The Diary of a Young Naturalist

An evocative and inspiring memoir Claire Fuller, author of Unsettled Ground and winner of Costa Novel Award 2021

Part nature writing, part memoir, On Gallows Down is an essential, unforgettable read for fans of Helen Macdonald, Melissa Harrison and Isabella Tree.

On Gallows Down is a powerful, personal story…


Book cover of Radicals on the Road: Internationalism, Orientalism, and Feminism during the Vietnam Era

Alexander Sedlmaier Author Of Protest in the Vietnam War Era

From my list on the international dimensions of the Vietnam War.

Who am I?

As a historian and someone who grew up in Cold War Berlin, I am constantly inspired by efforts to curb the devastating effects of industrialised warfare. I love learning about people who had the courage to speak up, and how their historical understanding of the military abuse of power enables us to think differently about present-day warfare. So much of my research has been inspired by social movements and their difficult efforts to improve the world. While I am no expert on Vietnamese history, I have been fortunate to have learned a lot about how ingenious the Vietnamese revolutionaries were in actively pedalling the global emergence of Vietnam War protest. 

Alexander's book list on the international dimensions of the Vietnam War

Alexander Sedlmaier Why did Alexander love this book?

What happened when US activists travelled to Asia during the Vietnam War?

This is the question Wu seeks to answer in one of the most important books on internationalism and Vietnam War protest. She looks at how they sympathised and identified with anti-imperialist struggles in Asia, inverting an orientalist dichotomy between imperial America and decolonising Asia “whereby the decolonizing East helped to define the identities and goals of activists in the West.”

This was one of the books that first got me interested in understanding why ethnically diverse protesters responded to the Vietnam War the way they did, and how activists’ travel fostered the imagination of new political possibilities and alternative means of political articulation as they transcended ethnic and racial backgrounds.

By Judy Tzu-Chun Wu,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Radicals on the Road as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Traveling to Hanoi during the U.S. war in Vietnam was a long and dangerous undertaking. Even though a neutral commission operated the flights, the possibility of being shot down by bombers in the air and antiaircraft guns on the ground was very real. American travelers recalled landing in blackout conditions, without lights even for the runway, and upon their arrival seeking refuge immediately in bomb shelters. Despite these dangers, they felt compelled to journey to a land at war with their own country, believing that these efforts could change the political imaginaries of other members of the American citizenry and…


Book cover of Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes

Seth Rosenfeld Author Of Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power

From my list on spies and radicals.

Who am I?

Seth Rosenfeld is an independent investigative journalist and author of the New York Times best-seller Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power. As a staff reporter for The San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle, he specialized in using public records and won national honors including the George Polk Award. Subversives, based on thousands of pages of FBI records released to him as a result of several Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, won the PEN Center USA’s Literary Award for Research Nonfiction Prize, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sunshine Award, and other honors.

Seth's book list on spies and radicals

Seth Rosenfeld Why did Seth love this book?

This gem of narrative non-fiction tells the improbable story of an utterly impoverished immigrant woman who married into one of the wealthiest “establishment” families of New York City and became one of the nation’s most prominent radical activists in the early 1900s. The unlikely marriage of Rose Pastor and Graham Stokes made many national headlines -- and attracted attention from federal agents. Hochschild brings this odd couple to life in all their ups and downs, introduces us to their circle of famous fellow activists, and illuminates their fights for social justice, struggles that remain relevant to this day.

By Adam Hochschild,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the best-selling author of King Leopold's Ghost and Spain in Our Hearts comes the astonishing but forgotten story of an immigrant sweatshop worker who married an heir to a great American fortune and became one of the most charismatic radical leaders of her time.

Rose Pastor arrived in New York City in 1903, a Jewish refugee from Russia who had worked in cigar factories since the age of eleven. Two years later, she captured headlines across the globe when she married James Graham Phelps Stokes, scion of one of the legendary 400 families of New York high society.

Together,…


Book cover of Malala: Activist for Girls' Education

Anne Broyles Author Of Priscilla and the Hollyhocks

From my list on real-life children who overcame hardships.

Who am I?

Ever since I read Island of the Blue Dolphins in 5th grade I’ve loved historical fiction. I am inspired by amazing humans who lived across centuries and around the globe and left their mark on the world. My 2023 book I’m Gonna Paint: Ralph Fasanella, Artist of the People is about a social activist artist. Future published books include middle grade novels on the 1838 Trail of Tears, a day on Ellis Island in 1907, and a 1935 book about Eleanor Roosevelt and the planned community of Arthurdale, WV. Like I said, I love exploring history! I read in many genres, but still enjoy learning about history through fiction.

Anne's book list on real-life children who overcame hardships

Anne Broyles Why did Anne love this book?

Malala Yousafzai inspires me because she never lost sight of the importance of education and continues to work for justice in the world. Malala was a young student in Pakistan when the Taliban took over her nation and prohibited girls from going to school. Malala spoke out against Taliban actions, advocating for universal education. That was enough to make the Taliban afraid of her. They tried to kill her; she almost died in the attempted assassination. That would have caused many people to retreat in fear, but not Malala. Once she recovered, she became an even more outspoken activist for female education and won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. 

By Raphaële Frier, Aurélia Fronty (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Malala as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 6, 7, 8, and 9.

What is this book about?

"A realistic and inspiring look at Malala Yousafzai's childhood in Taliban-controlled Pakistan and her struggle to ensure education for girls" — Kirkus Reviews

Malala Yousafzai stood up to the Taliban and fought for the right for all girls to receive an education. When she was just fifteen-years old, the Taliban attempted to kill Malala, but even this did not stop her activism. At age eighteen Malala became the youngest person to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work to ensure the education of all children around the world.

Malala’s courage and conviction will inspire young readers in this…


Book cover of Women Against Cruelty: Protection of Animals in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Tessa Boase Author Of Etta Lemon: The Woman Who Saved the Birds

From my list on women, birds, and nature.

Who am I?

I’m an investigative journalist and social historian who’s obsessed with ‘invisible’ women of the 19th and early 20th century, bringing their stories to life in highly readable narrative non-fiction. I love the detective work involved in resurrecting ordinary women’s lives: shop girls, milliners, campaigning housewives, servants. . . The stories I’ve uncovered are gripping, often shocking and frequently poignant – but also celebrate women’s determination, solidarity and capacity for reinvention. Each of my two books took me on a long research journey deep into the archives: The Housekeeper’s Tale – the Women Who Really Ran the English Country House, and Etta Lemon – The Woman Who Saved the Birds.

Tessa's book list on women, birds, and nature

Tessa Boase Why did Tessa love this book?

Victorian women were at the forefront of Britain’s animal protection movement. We owe our compassionate reflex to their hard-fought battles against cruelty. Women founded the Battersea Dogs’ Home, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the many groups that opposed vivisection. They lobbied for better treatment of animals, both through practical action (demonstrations, gruesome shop window displays, pamphleteering) and through writing, such as Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. Yet their male opponents dismissed their efforts as sentimental and hysterical. For an overview of women’s struggles under the patriarchy (eg, patronisingly menial tasks dished out by a male RSPCA council) this is a fascinating read.

By Diana Donald,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Women against cruelty is the first book to explore women's leading role in animal protection in nineteenth-century Britain, drawing on rich archival sources. Women founded bodies such as the Battersea Dogs' Home, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and various groups that opposed vivisection. They energetically promoted better treatment of animals, both through practical action and through their writings, such as Anna Sewell's Black Beauty. Yet their efforts were frequently belittled by opponents, or decried as typifying female 'sentimentality' and hysteria. Only the development of feminism in the later Victorian period enabled women to show that spontaneous fellow-feeling…