The best civil rights books 📚

Browse the best books on civil rights as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution

The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution

By Eric Foner

Why this book?

Eric Foner is our nation’s foremost historian of Reconstruction, the author of dozens of books and articles. This is my favorite—it takes the research and thought of a monumental career and packages it for maximum impact. In just over 200 pages, it takes you through the changes of the Civil War and Reconstruction and their relevance for America today. 

From the list:

The best books to understand America

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Book cover of We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China's Surveillance State

We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China's Surveillance State

By Kai Strittmatter

Why this book?

Frankly, it makes me squirm to recommend this book, but it’s a topic we Americans need to understand better. Under Xi Jinping, China has expanded its use of surveillance cameras and begun a “social credit” system to track people who are—and aren’t—following the rules. Kai Strittmatter, who reported from China for a leading German newspaper for more than a decade, relies on strong research and concludes that China is Orwellian. And yet, most Chinese citizens I know do not feel watched and oppressed. I’m eager to get back to China to judge for myself. Published in September 2020.

From the list:

The best books to understand China today

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Book cover of Salvador

Salvador

By Joan Didion

Why this book?

An account of El Salvador’s era of “disappearances” from one of the best non-fiction writers of her generation. Didion interviews the president, visits smoldering body dumps on the edge of San Salvador, and captures the atmosphere of revolution, civil strife, and Soviet-American rivalry that afflicted El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala in the 1980s. Essential reading for understanding the scars that continue to plague the region today.

From the list:

The best books on Central America

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Book cover of These Truths: A History of the United States

These Truths: A History of the United States

By Jill Lepore

Why this book?

Jill Lepore is a distinguished historian and staff writer for the New Yorker. In this volume, she focuses on the ideals of political equality and civil rights that shaped America. Deeply attuned to the struggles that have shaped the United States, the book offers a sweeping lyrical introduction to American history.

From the list:

The best books on the real history of America

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Book cover of Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality

Stuck in Place: Urban Neighborhoods and the End of Progress Toward Racial Equality

By Patrick Sharkey

Why this book?

Pat Sharkey draws on a rich longitudinal dataset (the Panel Study of Income Dynamics) that follows individuals and households over decades and keeps track of them as they change, move, and form new households. He uses it to show that Black Americans are unique in the degree to which they are confined to poor and disadvantaged neighborhoods across time and the generations, and how neighborhood disadvantage works so powerfully to perpetuate poverty and stymie upward mobility.

From the list:

The best books on how neighborhoods perpetuate inequality

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Book cover of Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power

Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power

By Timothy B. Tyson

Why this book?

Robert F. Williams may be the most influential, inspiring, and entertaining leader to be written out of popular American civil rights history. Tyson rescues him and his story, showing how one man can combine writing and organizing talent to outwit the Klan, the FBI, change his community, challenge movement orthodoxy, and then have unforgettable and unpredictable encounters with Castro, Mao  —  and Nixon, at the dawn of a new foreign policy era. This book, like Williams himself, forces us to wrestle with the nuances of arguments about social justice, racism, violence, and ideology. It’s also an unforgettable story in and…

From the list:

The best books on Black protest and government resistance

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