The best books about anarchism

1 authors have picked their favorite books about anarchism and why they recommend each book.

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The Green Child

By Herbert Read,

Book cover of The Green Child

First published in 1935, The Green Child is among the strangest books you’ll ever read. It enchanted me, forcing me to believe that Olivero, a South American dictator, could fake his own assassination, return to his roots in England, and save a speechless translucent creature, the Green Child, from her sadistic husband. I revelled in the exquisite writing – Sir Herbert Read was a renowned stylist who penned the classic English Prose Style -- and the improbable’s being made real. At one time Norton Professor of Fine Arts at Harvard, Read called his novel a philosophical myth to which ‘all types of Fantasy should conform’. It was his only long fiction. One reviewer called it an ‘organic fusion of thought and imagination into a crystalline beauty’.


Who am I?

I’ve always loved challenging books. They work your brain and confront your ideas. They’re written in a foreign tongue that somehow or other we understand. In my 2019 PhD, I examined how W. G. Sebald used nostalgia and the uncanny in his four great prose fictions to create their uniqueness. My own The Hands of Pianists is greatly influenced by Sebaldian techniques. It received a rave review from arguably Australia’s best literary critic Peter Craven. Five of my short stories have been longlisted and shortlisted in recent UK competitions. Last Meal won the UK’s 2020 Fiction Factory prize. A few of my food-themed non-fiction books have won Australian and international awards. 


I wrote...

The Hands of Pianists

By Stephen Downes,

Book cover of The Hands of Pianists

What is my book about?

In The Hands of Pianists, a neurotic freelance writer aims to prove that pianos kill elite pianists. For decades, he has grappled with the guilt that followed an accident in which he severed his talented sister’s fingers. A concert pianist, she had a promising career ahead of her. After the accident, she committed suicide. Her brother, the novel’s narrator, investigates the violent deaths at 31 of three great pianists, his detective work taking him from Melbourne to Geelong, Sydney, the south of France, London, Sussex, and the Czech Republic. Top Australian literary critic Peter Craven says The Hands of Pianists is as good as W. G. Sebald’s four great prose fictions. It’s a ‘compelling literary novel’ by a ‘born artist’.

The Conquest of Bread

By Peter Kropotkin,

Book cover of The Conquest of Bread

Kropotkin was a remarkable man with remarkable ideas and this book, written in Brighton and first published in 1892 remains a gem in the canon of historic anarchist literature.

In the 130 years since it was published, communism has demonstrably failed (China is less communist, more sinister state gangsterism, like North Korea); socialism looks to be on its last legs. On the left, then, there is only anarchism remaining. This is nothing like the idiotic street antics of modern youth – more nihilism than any coherent political position – but thoughtful sets of ideas around governance without the presence of a central authority.

If it is anything, anarchism is rooted in a concept of collectivist, cooperative, local communities. This is what The Price of Bread explores. Yes, it is wildly idealistic, utopian in intent. It was written before the horrors awaiting us in the 20th century, epitomised by Lenin,…


Who am I?

Tim Madge is a well-established award-winning published author, historian and former journalist of over 45 years standing. He has written on a wide range of subjects, a cultural history of cocaine being one, resulting in White Mischief. It’s a fascinating story involving a murky mix of politics and race, as well as criminals and Sigmund Freud.


I wrote...

White Mischief: A Cultural History of Cocaine

By Tim Madge,

Book cover of White Mischief: A Cultural History of Cocaine

What is my book about?

Starting with the Incas, who used coca leaves to stimulate the brain, alleviate high altitude sickness, and to stay alert and awake, the innocuous Coca plant was transported to Europe where it was revved up, a thousand times, into the chemical we know, love and hate, as cocaine. The story is beyond parody as the new-found stimulant was heavily pushed by Sigmund Freud, and used early on by Coca-Cola (the name’s a giveaway) who, in effect, stole the drink idea from an Italian entrepreneur.

White Mischief concentrates on cocaine, but inevitably and necessarily ranges across the wider history of drugs and drug-taking, from historical times until the present day. It delves into the relationship between drugs, race, and racism, particularly apposite where the USA is concerned – to this day.

The Aesthetic of Our Anger

By Mike Dines (editor), Matthew Worley (editor),

Book cover of The Aesthetic of Our Anger

Albeit about Britain more than America, the authors collected together here show how easy it was for young punks to move from just listening to music to political engagement. Most of it being direct action: squatting abandoned buildings or civil disobedience against the nuclear arms race. The most accomplished band here was Crass who had an immense impact in the United States and who drew from different sources, including, I quote, “Ghandian principles, radical philosophy, the aesthetic of the Beat and Bohemian poets, and the words of Rimbaud and Baudelaire, as much as… the formal anarchist tradition.” It’s unfair that many believe punk just to be nihilistic and violent – and the authors here show why (it should be pointed out that Worley has his own book on this, which is also quite good: No Future)

Who am I?

I was a participant in the D.C. punk scene during the 1980s and helped start an organization known as Positive Force. I remember hearing about the group “Parents of Punkers,” the head of which compared punk to a violent cult. They would go on television and scare watchers about what their kids might be doing. I remember at the time that this missed the realities of my own experiences and made me want to protest this moral panic. But I knew this required some distance from the “punk rock world” I had inhabited. I kept thinking about writing this book and the timing was right.


I wrote...

We're Not Here to Entertain: Punk Rock, Ronald Reagan, and the Real Culture War of 1980s America

By Kevin Mattson,

Book cover of We're Not Here to Entertain: Punk Rock, Ronald Reagan, and the Real Culture War of 1980s America

What is my book about?

Many remember the 1980s as the era of Ronald Reagan, a conservative decade populated by preppies and yuppies dancing to a soundtrack of electronic synth-pop music. In some ways, it was the "MTV generation." However, the decade also produced some of the most creative works of punk culture, from the music of bands like the Minutemen and the Dead Kennedys to avant-garde visual arts, literature, poetry, and film.

In We're Not Here to Entertain, Kevin Mattson documents what Kurt Cobain once called a "punk rock world" --the all-encompassing hardcore-indie culture that incubated his own talent. Mattson shows just how widespread the movement became--ranging across the nation, from D.C. through Ohio and Minnesota to LA--and how democratic it was due to its commitment to Do-It-Yourself (DIY) tactics.

Durruti in the Spanish Revolution

By Abel Paz, Chuck Morse (translator),

Book cover of Durruti in the Spanish Revolution

Durruti is a massive 800-page biography of a Spanish anarchist that carried “the future in is heart and a gun in each pocket” and, at the same time, portrays the twists and turns of the Spanish Revolution and the millions of people who made it. A model of how to place a radical, working-class life within a broader context, Durruti is also a blow-by-blow account of a revolution and its battles, trials, and upheavals. I shamelessly tried to re-create such a gripping biography when writing my own book. Who would have thought an 800-page brick could be such a page-turner?


Who am I?

As a reader, I want to be thrown into the heady world of revolution, to learn how everyday people made history, to see what they saw and feel what they felt. And I want a book that challenges mainstream narratives of the past. Radical history does this through gripping storytelling and revealing hidden histories of power. As a writer that tries to shine a light on lesser-known aspects of New Zealand’s past, these five books are both my ‘how-to’ and inspiration. I love to share the stories of people who are often left out of history but nonetheless made it. And being an archivist means questions of power and memory are always lurking.


I wrote...

Dead Letters: Censorship and Subversion in New Zealand 1914-1920

By Jared Davidson,

Book cover of Dead Letters: Censorship and Subversion in New Zealand 1914-1920

What is my book about?

In his excellent book, Dead Letters, archivist, and historian Jared Davidson introduces us to a range of extraordinary characters whose stories and struggles challenge the nationalist narratives of the war. These historical characters, as introduced in the blurb of the book, include ‘a feisty German-born socialist, a Norwegian watersider, an affectionate Irish nationalist, a love-struck miner, an aspiring Maxim Gorky, a cross-dressing doctor, a nameless rural labourer, an avid letter writer with a hatred of war, and two mystical dairy farmers with a poetic bent.’ What connects this cast of characters is that their activities, their letters, and in some cases their activism against the war, was of interest to the New Zealand state. The letters they wrote, to loved ones, friends, and comrades, were never delivered, but were intercepted by the state. 

The Anarchist's Tool Chest

By Christopher Schwarz,

Book cover of The Anarchist's Tool Chest

Chris has a very personal and very persuasive approach to woodworking. In this book, he uses the discussion of a tool chest and its contents to explain his take on the basic tools needed to work with wood by hand, as well as his philosophy of working wood this way. The book is funny, compelling, and an essential read for anyone interested in hand tools and working with them.

Who am I?

Jeff Miller is one of the country’s leading furniture designer/craftsmen. He is also a dedicated teacher and a prolific writer, with over 40 articles and 4 books (with a fifth in preparation). Jeff has exhibited furniture in shows from coast to coast, and has a piece in the permanent collection of the Chicago History Museum. Jeff’s work is heavily influenced by his former career as a professional musician, and he strives to make each of his pieces feel musical in some way. Jeff is a runner and – despite the hindrance of living in the flat mid-west – an avid skier. A substantial chunk of his time is taken up by dialysis treatments, but he tries not to let that slow him down too much.


I wrote...

The Foundations of Better Woodworking: How to Use Your Body, Tools and Materials to Do Your Best Work

By Jeff Miller,

Book cover of The Foundations of Better Woodworking: How to Use Your Body, Tools and Materials to Do Your Best Work

What is my book about?

In order to improve as a woodworker, you need to understand that your tools are mere extensions of your body. How you use your body, then, is crucial for effective tool use. Our tools connect us to the wood. So understanding how tools function, as well as the complex nature of wood as the material they work on, is also essential to doing better work. Unfortunately, many woodworking books ignore these aspects of woodworking. This book can be seen as the missing manual to woodworking; a book that covers important topics rarely discussed in other books or articles. And it works as a great way to improve the skills and knowledge you already have.

The Man Who Was Thursday

By G.K. Chesterton,

Book cover of The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare

If Lewis’ Till We Have Faces is a deeply buried metaphor for religious experience, The Man Who Was Thursday requires an excavator to unearth. Both books explain their metaphors in the final pages, but Thursday does this much less clearly. Unless you’re pretty familiar with Christianity, you’re probably gonna miss it. But what a wonderful surprise to get to the end of this strange story and realize that Chesterton was sneakily describing the sneakiness of God’s beauty, just like Lewis did.


Who am I?

My very intelligent, very (self-described) un-literary father taught me all about the complexities and beauty of God. My librarian mother gave me the literature that would introduce me to the most profound descriptions of those complex beauties. As the author of Marvelous Light, numerous metaphor-dependent blog posts, and future allegorical novels, I hope to introduce each of my readers to the divine realities on which I depend daily.


I wrote...

Marvelous Light

By Paul Frank Spencer,

Book cover of Marvelous Light

What is my book about?

People use metaphors to understand complex concepts. The most universal image used to describe profound realities is light. Light as metaphor is strewn throughout literature; poetry, novels, and non-fiction. Light is used to get at the deepest philosophical ideas. Science employs models to help us understand how physical light behaves, and those mental pictures in turn can be used to understand theological truths. And anyone who talks about divinity, from any religious tradition, will describe their god in terms of light. Light is unavoidable when revealing the character of reality.

Marvelous Light demonstrates that light is used in practically all attempts to find truth. It dives into the science, philosophy, and theology of light to reveal God’s character and the nature of reality.

The Dispossessed

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of The Dispossessed

Yes, another social thought experiment by Ursula K. Le Guin! This one examines what a "utopian" society that attempts to live according to the philosophy of anarchism might look like. But trying to organize an anarchistic society is, of course, a contradiction in itself. The plot follows the physicist Shevek as he tries to reunite the moon, Anarres, home of the anarchist rebels, with its mother planet, Urras. The novel challenges many different common assumptions, ranging from the political to the personal, in its portrayal of two deeply flawed societies, neither of which can be seen as "the good guys."


Who am I?

Since discovering Ursula K. Le Guin in high school, I have loved the kind of science fiction that is more about thought experiments than rocket ships and space exploration. When I went on to get a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, I often encountered skepticism regarding this predilection, but I continued studying and teaching speculative fiction anyway. Now I am no longer in academia, and I write science fiction and fantasy myself. Looking Through Lace is my attempt at the kind of thought experiment I've been such a fan of for so long.


I wrote...

Looking Through Lace

By Ruth Nestvold,

Book cover of Looking Through Lace

What is my book about?

As the only woman on the first contact team, xenolinguist Toni Donato expected her assignment on Christmas would be to analyze the secret women's language—but then the chief linguist begins to sabotage her work. What is behind it? Why do men and women have separate languages in the first place? What Toni learns turns everything she thought they knew on its head.

Originally published in Asimov's in 2003, "Looking Through Lace" was a finalist for the Tiptree and Sturgeon awards. The Italian translation won the Premio Italia for best work of speculative fiction in translation in 2007.

Self-Management

By Saul Estrin,

Book cover of Self-Management: Economic Theory and Yugoslav Practice

Although the book was originally published in 1983, it still remains a very valuable source for understanding one of the major socio-economic phenomena in post-WWII Yugoslavia—Yugoslav self-managing (or self-governing) socialism. The author offers a detailed insight into the theory upon which this system was based, as well as how this system worked in practice, pointing to many obstacles that could be detected. Given the importance of self-management in the history of socialist and anarchist thought, this book remains indispensable for the study of this Yugoslav experiment.


Who am I?

I'm professor in the Department of Eastern Christian Studies at University College Stockholm and president of The Institute for the Study of Culture and Christianity. I focus primarily on human freedom and creativity, which I explore as aesthetic, socio-political, and existentially relevant phenomena. I've been teaching and publishing in the domains of visual arts, art history and theory, but also in religion/theology and political philosophy.


I edited...

Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution

By Noam Chomsky,

Book cover of Yugoslavia: Peace, War, and Dissolution

What is my book about?

Yugoslavia and the Balkan region had a particularly turbulent history during WWII but also at the end of the XX century. Being exposed to various imperial projects and aspirations, while trying to reconcile its own, very diverse religious, ethnic and national landscape, Yugoslavia was in many ways a paradigmatic modernist project, a case study for how the ideologies of nationalism, (state) communism, liberalism, and capitalism shaped social and political realities. 

This volume provides a comprehensive survey of virtually all of Noam Chomsky’s texts and public talks that focus on the region of the former Yugoslavia, from the 1970s to the present. With numerous articles and interviews, this collection presents a wealth of materials appearing in book form for the first time.

The Spanish Civil War

By Hugh Thomas,

Book cover of The Spanish Civil War

First published in 1961, and reissued many times since, The Spanish Civil War remains the single best account of the Spanish Civil War. Thomas was a historian who had served in the British government and whose political allegiances shifted from the Labour to the Conservative party. His seminal work was quickly adopted by the left in Europe and the United States as the go-to work on a legendary clash between the right and left. Despite a few errors and the publication of new accounts, Thomas’s book deserves to be the first on any list like this one. It was banned in Spain until after Franco’s death. Travelers would smuggle copies across the border.


Who am I?

James McGrath Morris is the author of The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War, which the Economist said was “as readable as a novel.” His previous work, Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of the Black Press was a New York Times bestseller. His next book is Tony Hillerman: A Life.


I wrote...

The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, DOS Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War

By James McGrath Morris,

Book cover of The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, DOS Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War

What is my book about?

Rich in evocative detail--from Paris cafés to Austrian chateaus, from the streets of Pamplona to the waters of Key West--The Ambulance Drivers tells the story of two aspiring writers, Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos, who met in World War I and forged a twenty-year friendship that produced some of America's greatest novels, giving voice to a generation shaken by war.

In war, Hemingway found adventure, women, and a cause. Dos Passos saw only oppression and futility. Their different visions eventually turned their private friendship into a nasty public fight, fueled by money, jealousy, and lust. This is not only a biography of the turbulent friendship between two of the century's greatest writers but also an illustration of how war inspires and destroys, unites, and divides.

The Ecology of Freedom

By Murray Bookchin,

Book cover of The Ecology of Freedom: The Emergence and Dissolution of Hierarchy

A better world is possible — just not through the kind of progress touted by liberal politicians. In this 1982 collection, Bookchin sketches such a new world, based on his concept of social ecology — a prescient integration of the people’s desires for a better life, for personal freedom, and for coexistence, mutual aid, and respect.

Who am I?

In a sense, I have been working on the material for my book, Life, Death, and Other Inconvenient Truths, for my entire life. The 38 short chapters that comprise it span a range of topics: alphabetically, from ambition and anxiety, through love and mathematics, to war and youth. For whatever it is worth, I have had first-hand experience (in three languages, on three continents) learning, researching, teaching, enjoying, suffering, and fighting — in other words, living — all but one of them (the exception is one that technically cannot be lived through, but can still be pondered and written about). My five recommendations reflect this life-long interest in the human condition, which I am excited to share with you.


I wrote...

Life, Death, and Other Inconvenient Truths: A Realist's View of the Human Condition

By Shimon Edelman,

Book cover of Life, Death, and Other Inconvenient Truths: A Realist's View of the Human Condition

What is my book about?

This book … is a kind of reference volume, a partial one for sure, for making sense of the human world and of the hard work of human soul-making, or simply life. The entries are cross-referenced and contain quite a few notes and pointers to primary sources, all collected at the end of the book. Each chapter ends with a list of films, music, stories, and places—any product of human endeavor or feature of the natural environment that may help illuminate its theme.

No synthesis is offered for the list of inconvenient truths collected here, for the simple reason that there isn’t—nor can there be—a single underlying cause that makes life what it is. If this book has a central thesis, it’s one that is neither a revelation, nor a secret: the human condition has much room for improvement. Working out possible ways of improving it is left as an exercise for the reader.

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