The most recommended books on collective identity

Who picked these books? Meet our 18 experts.

18 authors created a book list connected to collective identity, and here are their favorite collective identity books.
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Book cover of Deep China: The Moral Life of the Person

Aihwa Ong Author Of Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality

From my list on people's lives in contemporary China.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a professor emerita of Anthropology at Berkeley. I have written books on Muslim women in runaway factories; the modern Chinese diaspora; Cambodian refugees in the US; neoliberal Asian states; and Singapore's biomedical hub. I also write on contemporary Chinese art. We live in worlds interwoven by assemblages of technology, politics, and culture. Each situation is crystallized by the shifting interactions of global forces and local elements. Given our interlocking, interdependent realities, a sustainable future depends on our appreciation of cultural differences and support of transnational cooperation. For many people, China today is a formidable challenge, but learning about its peoples' struggles and desires is a beginning toward recognizing their humanity.

Aihwa's book list on people's lives in contemporary China

Aihwa Ong Why did Aihwa love this book?

This collection, by anthropologists and psychiatrists, gives us a glimpse of soul searching by ordinary people as China compresses centuries of industrial growth into two decades. The unprecedented fragmentation of families and loss of culture have scattered lives and disoriented minds. The chapter authors consider intimate topics --  death, sex, depression, stigma, suicide, and madness -- that lie beneath the glossy images of Chinese achievements. They reveal the deep confusion of ordinary people as they struggle with questions of morality and humanity in a relentless, turbulent world.

By Arthur Kleinman, Yunxiang Yan, Jing Jun , Sing Lee , Everett Zhang , Pan Tianshu , Wu Fei , Jinhua Guo

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Deep China" investigates the emotional and moral lives of the Chinese people as they adjust to the challenges of modernity. Sharing a medical anthropology and cultural psychiatry perspective, Arthur Kleinman, Yunxiang Yan, Jing Jun, Sing Lee, Everett Zhang, Pan Tianshu, Wu Fei, and Guo Jinhua delve into intimate and sometimes hidden areas of personal life and social practice to observe and narrate the drama of Chinese individualization. The essays explore the remaking of the moral person during China's profound social and economic transformation, unraveling the shifting practices and struggles of contemporary life.


Book cover of The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity

Friederike Otto Author Of Angry Weather: Heat Waves, Floods, Storms, and the New Science of Climate Change

From my list on starting to think about the much abused idea of freedom.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a physicist who ended up doing their PhD in philosophy, because the “so what” question for me always was more interesting to answer than finding out how the physical world is changing. Working as a climate scientist I see how climate change and extreme weather devastate livelihoods on a daily basis. It makes me very aware I know nothing, but also that the philosophical and humanist ideas we build our societies upon are much more important to solve the climate crisis than physics and technology. One of the most important ones is to reclaim freedom and actually allow people to live good lives.

Friederike's book list on starting to think about the much abused idea of freedom

Friederike Otto Why did Friederike love this book?

Identity isn’t personal, it is shaped by all sorts of influences, some of them we are very aware of and some of them we have never thought about. To be free means to be aware of all of them.

Appiah shows that while you cannot escape identity, you can pick and choose much more than most people make us believe. There is no inevitability and that is extremely liberating.

As a white woman, it made me see much better how not to equate privilege with guilt only, but responsibility and agency. 

By Kwame Anthony Appiah,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Lies That Bind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Who do you think you are? That's a question bound up in another: What do you think you are? Gender. Religion. Race. Nationality. Class. Culture. Such affiliations give contours to our sense of self, and shape our polarized world. Yet the collective identities they spawn are riddled with contradictions, and cratered with falsehoods.

Kwame Anthony Appiah's The Lies That Bind is an incandescent exploration of the nature and history of the identities that define us. It challenges our assumptions about how identities work. We all know there are conflicts between identities, but Appiah shows how identities are created by conflict.…


Book cover of Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism

Emily Paulson Author Of Hey, Hun: Sales, Sisterhood, Supremacy, and the Other Lies Behind Multilevel Marketing

From my list on nonfiction about cults, scams, and schemes.

Why am I passionate about this?

I spent 7 years in a commercial cult. I was indoctrinated into, rose to the top of, and finally escaped from a multilevel marketing company. When I started my exit, I wondered how I had become so brainwashed, which led me to do research into coercive control. I started to understand that different types of authoritarian control; behavior, information, thought, and emotional, drove me further into the cult and away from my outside friends and family. I read as many cult books and watched as many documentaries as I could find, and became fascinated with uncovering why people find themselves in the same situation I was in.  

Emily's book list on nonfiction about cults, scams, and schemes

Emily Paulson Why did Emily love this book?

Amanda is a language whiz, and does an amazing job showing how cultism is a spectrum; that we are all victims of undue influence.

She talks about the language that communities and organizations use as the key to gaining undue influence over people, and that this influence pervades everything from startups to skincare to workout programs.

It’s well researched and fascinating to read, and will make you question your strong affiliations to the most basic things. 

By Amanda Montell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The author of the widely praised Wordslut analyzes the social science of cult influence: how cultish groups from Jonestown and Scientology to SoulCycle and social media gurus use language as the ultimate form of power.

What makes "cults" so intriguing and frightening? What makes them powerful? The reason why so many of us binge Manson documentaries by the dozen and fall down rabbit holes researching suburban moms gone QAnon is because we're looking for a satisfying explanation for what causes people to join-and more importantly, stay in-extreme groups. We secretly want to know: could it happen to me? Amanda Montell's…


Book cover of Gender as Love: A Theological Account of Human Identity, Embodied Desire, and Our Social Worlds

Amy Peeler Author Of Women and the Gender of God

From my list on understanding the historic and modern roles of men and women in Christianity.

Why am I passionate about this?

I was the little girl who always wanted to be at church, who felt compelled to tell people about the goodness of God, but because my religious communities did not allow women to be church leaders, I never imagined this was a path I could pursue. As an undergraduate, I was captured by the academic study of the Bible and could not imagine doing anything else with my life. Now, for the past 20+ years, I have been teaching the Bible in academic and ecclesial settings and have become one of many good scholars who are making a case that the Christian God fully values men and women.

Amy's book list on understanding the historic and modern roles of men and women in Christianity

Amy Peeler Why did Amy love this book?

No other book has helped me understand the categories of sex and gender and given me the language to define them. Even more important, that clarity has given me the confidence to affirm the goodness of different created bodies and allow the beautiful variety in which those bodies serve God’s kingdom.

By Fellipe Do Vale, Beth Jones,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In recent years, the issue of gender has become a topic of great importance and has generated discussion from the kitchen table to the academy. It is an issue that churches and Christian educational institutions are grappling with as well, since gender is a crucial aspect of identity, affecting how we engage socially and understand our embodiment. Upstream from all these conversations lies a more basic question: What is gender?

In Gender as Love, Fellipe do Vale takes a theological approach to understanding gender, employing both biblical exegesis and historical theology and emphasizing the role human love plays in shaping…


Book cover of History, Memory, and Trans-European Identity: Unifying Divisions

Caner Tekin Author Of Debating Turkey in Europe: Identities and Concepts

From my list on European identity for history readers.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a postdoctoral researcher, I'm fascinated by the notions of cultural belonging to Europe and European nation-states, as they have evolved throughout history in relation to what the holders of these notions call their "others". I know of few cases in the field of identity and memory politics that are as controversial, as curious, as fragile, and yet as fascinating as the idea of a Europe, a social and political construct that emerges from past events but is shaped for political purposes. Debates about a common European history and memory are intertwined with those about the geographical and cultural definitions of Europe, and my book list often includes the most recent examples of these interactions.

Caner's book list on European identity for history readers

Caner Tekin Why did Caner love this book?

How was the common European memory constructed in the second half of the 20th century and how does it serve the common understanding of Europeanness?

Transforming memory constructions into a common European culture of remembrance requires political will and capacity, which today is mostly represented by the EU and its nation states. By analysing the speeches of political elites at commemorative events, Sierp shows how 'European memory' was materialised between pan-European and national initiatives after the Second World War, and how regional conceptions of the Holocaust and its perpetrators were transformed into a common understanding.

The book also recalls the historicity of European memory and its function for the project of European identity.

By Aline Sierp,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked History, Memory, and Trans-European Identity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book questions the presupposition voiced by many historians and political scientists that political experiences in Europe continue to be interpreted in terms of national history, and that a European community of remembrance still does not exist. By tracing the evolution of specific memory cultures in two successor countries of the Fascist/Nazi regime (Italy and Germany) and the impact of structural changes upon them, the book investigates wider democratic processes, particularly concerning the conservation and transmission of values and the definition of identity on different levels. It argues that the creation of a transnational European memory culture does not necessarily…


Book cover of Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

Sarah Pegrum Author Of Break the Binds of Weight Stigma: Free Yourself from Body Image Struggles Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

From my list on getting perspective about life and be inspired.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a clinical psychologist, which gifts me the experience of being part of people's journey of looking at their lives differently and transforming. Early in my career, throughout my academic studies, I was particularly curious about and drawn to existential perspectives. Sadly, with multiple losses of close loved ones, I was pushed into grappling with existential questions at a more personal level. Yet the pain of loss created shifts in perspective that have helped shape who I am, and the work that I do. I have found that connecting with people, travel, and books are avenues that help me continue to ask questions about life and inspire new directions. 

Sarah's book list on getting perspective about life and be inspired

Sarah Pegrum Why did Sarah love this book?

Braving the Wilderness sparked a shift in my perspective on self and relationships.

What struck me most was the separation of belonging and fitting in. I realized how much energy I had put into fitting in, all the while betraying what was true to me. Not only did Braving the Wilderness get me thinking, but it also provided practical steps on how to do things differently.

Since reading the book I have changed how I interact with others, steering away from connection through shared enemies, and instead moving towards connection through authenticity and vulnerability.

My favorite quote: “We can spend our entire life betraying ourself and choosing fitting in over standing alone. But once we've stood up for ourself and our beliefs, the bar is higher. A wild heart fights fitting in and grieves betrayal.”

By Brene Brown,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Braving the Wilderness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


A timely and important new book that challenges everything we think we know about cultivating true belonging in our communities, organizations, and culture, from the #1 bestselling author of Rising Strong, Daring Greatly, and The Gifts of Imperfection.

'True belonging doesn't require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.' Social scientist Brene Brown, PhD, LMSW has sparked a global conversation about the experiences that bring meaning to our lives - experiences of courage, vulnerability, love, belonging, shame and empathy. In Braving the Wilderness, Brown redefines what it means to truly belong in an…


Book cover of Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging

Susie Orbach Author Of Bodies

From my list on contemporary memoirs by women.

Why am I passionate about this?

Memoirs have crept up on me as favorites. I could list many more. Please let me! As a psychoanalyst, I listen to the pains and struggles of individuals trying to become more at ease with themselves. They engage with their demons and try to make sense of how to manage the way their personal history has created their worldview and how to expand it enough to enter a present. Memoirs are another way of addressing such struggles. They have an elegance and a universality that emerges out of their individual stories. We learn about the other and we learn about ourselves.

Susie's book list on contemporary memoirs by women

Susie Orbach Why did Susie love this book?

Afua’s father is from a Jewish refugee family, her mother is Ghanian. She grows up in an affluent middle-class suburb of London. As she explores her Black and Ghanian identity she looks at what it means to be British; the political heritage, race, and identity from the inside of a loving mix raced family. It is an important commentary on her experience of being in more than one place at the same time.

By Afua Hirsch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Brit(ish) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Afua Hirsch - co-presenter of Samuel L. Jackson's major BBC TV series Enslaved - the Sunday Times bestseller that reveals the uncomfortable truth about race and identity in Britain today.

You're British.

Your parents are British.

Your partner, your children and most of your friends are British.

So why do people keep asking where you're from?

We are a nation in denial about our imperial past and the racism that plagues our present. Brit(ish) is Afua Hirsch's personal and provocative exploration of how this came to be - and an urgent call for change.

'The book for our divided…


Book cover of A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic

Ray Laurence Author Of The Roads of Roman Italy: Mobility and Cultural Change

From my list on the archaeology of Roman Italy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in London and became interested in history from multiple visits to the British Museum and the Museum of London, but it was on an undergraduate trip to Pompeii that I realized that I was capable of explaining archaeological remains. That realization led me back to Pompeii and then Rome, but also to tracking down the archaeology of Roman roads. Writing has become important to me, perhaps, because I’m dyslexic and I’ve had some struggles to write in the past. Yet, as a dyslexic professor, working at Macquarie University (Sydney), I think I can offer students and readers explanations of history that reflect my ongoing passion for studying the past.  

Ray's book list on the archaeology of Roman Italy

Ray Laurence Why did Ray love this book?

This book has everything in it across 37 chapters: technology, landscapes, material culture, identity, and empire. It is one of the few volumes in this series of Companions and Handbooks from various publishers that takes an explicitly archaeological focus. It includes developments in the city of Rome over time, but broadens out to include Italy and Rome’s empire. The book benefits from drawing on the research of 37 leading experts, who present in concise sections key findings based on archaeological research – often from archaeological projects that they have led in the field.

By Jane DeRose Evans (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Companion to the Archaeology of the Roman Republic offers a diversity of perspectives to explore how differing approaches and methodologies can contribute to a greater understanding of the formation of the Roman Republic. * Brings together the experiences and ideas of archaeologists from around the world, with multiple backgrounds and areas of interest * Offers a vibrant exploration of the ways in which archaeological methods can be used to explore different elements of the Roman Republican period * Demonstrates that the Republic was not formed in a vacuum, but was influenced by non-Latin-speaking cultures from throughout the Mediterranean region…


Book cover of In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong

Uzi Rabi Author Of The Return of the Past: State, Identity, and Society in the Post-Arab Spring Middle East

From my list on political identity and divisions.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am the Director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University. My interest lies in modern history and evolution of states and societies in the Middle East: Iranian- Arab relations, oil and politics, and Sunni- Shi’i dynamics. It is a particularly important period in time for the Middle East as there is a changing paradigm of geopolitics in the region. During the course of the last decade, we have seen repercussions of the Arab Spring, withdrawal of US troops from the region and signing of the Abraham Accords. I follow these developments and frequently provide expert commentary and analysis in various forums. 

Uzi's book list on political identity and divisions

Uzi Rabi Why did Uzi love this book?

In the Name of Identity challenges our thinking about how we decide who we are as individuals, as groups and what makes us behave as we do with each other.

Maalouf addresses the dangers of defining people solely on a singular component of their identity rather than their identity as a whole. He examines his own identity, and acknowledges that it is complex.

He is Arab and Christian, both Lebanese and French. Yet his identity is more than the aggregate of these components. He urges the reader to avoid generalizing based on a singular component of one’s identity and convincingly argues how this can lead to violence.

Maalouf’s wisdom on how we use our identities to define ourselves against each other can help us understand how to avoid hatred and violence. 

By Amin Maalouf, Barbara Bray (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked In the Name of Identity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Makes for compelling reading in America today.”—New York Times Book Review.

“I want to try and understand why so many people commit crimes in the name of identity,” writes Amin Maalouf. Identity is the crucible out of which we come: our background, our race, our gender, our tribal affiliations, our religion (or lack thereof), all go into making up who we are. All too often, however, the notion of identity—personal, religious, ethnic, or national—has given rise to heated passions and even massive crimes.

Moving across the world’s history, faiths, and politics, he argues against an oversimplified and hostile interpretation of…


Book cover of Ottoman Brothers: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Early Twentieth-Century Palestine

Lior B. Sternfeld Author Of Between Iran and Zion: Jewish Histories of Twentieth-Century Iran

From my list on Jewish histories of the Middle East.

Why am I passionate about this?

I always felt that Middle Eastern studies is different from other fields of history. Its ever-presence in our life, the news cycle, religious life, political life, yet, because of language barriers and other filters, there’s a gap in knowledge that is highly conspicuous when forming one’s opinion. When I started my academic training, I felt like I was swimming in this ocean of histories that were completely unknown to me. I studied the Jewish histories of the region only later in my training and found that this gap is even more visible when talking about the history of Jews in the Middle East, because of misconceptions of antisemitism, the Israel-Palestine conflict, political tilt of media outlet, and more. For me, entering this field was a way to understand long-term processes in my own society, and expand the body of scholarship to enrich the public conversation on top of the academic one.

Lior's book list on Jewish histories of the Middle East

Lior B. Sternfeld Why did Lior love this book?

Students of Middle East studies learn a lot about Ottoman history, specifically about the Ottoman Empire's last decades, before WWI. But historians gave very little attention to the Arab provinces of the empire in comparison to Istanbul and the imperial center. In this book, Campos presented the fascinating case of Ottoman Palestine. Campos shows the most convincing rebuttal for the theories that attributed no Ottoman identity in the peripheries. The fantastic picture of Jerusalem during the last years of the empire can teach us a lot about the relations between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Palestine, the understanding of national and imperial frameworks at the turn of the century, and the optimistic reader may find ideas to deadlock conflicts in the 21st century.

By Michelle U. Campos,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In its last decade, the Ottoman Empire underwent a period of dynamic reform, and the 1908 revolution transformed the empire's 20 million subjects into citizens overnight. Questions quickly emerged about what it meant to be Ottoman, what bound the empire together, what role religion and ethnicity would play in politics, and what liberty, reform, and enfranchisement would look like. Ottoman Brothers explores the development of Ottoman collective identity, tracing how Muslims, Christians, and Jews became imperial citizens together. In Palestine, even against the backdrop of the emergence of the Zionist movement and Arab nationalism, Jews and Arabs cooperated in local…