The best books about equality

3 authors have picked their favorite books about equality and why they recommend each book.

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Tales of Two Planets

By John Freeman,

Book cover of Tales of Two Planets: Stories of Climate Change and Inequality in a Divided World

Any discussion of how people and nature relate to each other in the twenty-first century will come up against the issue of climate change. And there are so many good books to read on the topic – Elizabeth Rush’s Rising comes right to mind, or the collection All We Can Save, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson. What Tale of Two Planets offers is a global perspective on rising seas, changing seasons, and damaging weather through genres from poetry to prose to fiction. Each author brings clarity to the science and politics of climate change, but the sections here are also portraits of love for place and community. If you’ve never read a book on climate change before, it’s a great start; if you’ve read them all, there’s something new and beautiful here.

Who am I?

Bathsheba Demuth is a historian and prize-winning writer, interested in how people, ideas, places, and other-than-human species intersect in the far north. Her interest in these subjects began when she was 18 and spent several years in the Yukon, mushing huskies, hunting caribou, fishing for salmon, and otherwise learning to survive in the taiga and tundra. Now, when not in the Arctic, she lives in Rhode Island, where she is a professor at Brown University.

I wrote...

Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait

By Bathsheba Demuth,

Book cover of Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait

What is my book about?

Whales and walruses, caribou and fox, gold and oil: through the stories of these animals and resources, Bathsheba Demuth reveals how people have turned ecological wealth in a remote region into economic growth and state power for more than 150 years.

The first-ever comprehensive history of Beringia, the Arctic land and waters stretching from Russia to Canada, Floating Coast breaks away from familiar narratives to provide a fresh and fascinating perspective on an overlooked landscape. The unforgiving territory along the Bering Strait had long been home to humans--the Inupiat and Yupik in Alaska, and the Yupik and Chukchi in Russia--before Americans and Europeans arrived with revolutionary ideas for progress. Rapidly, these frigid lands and waters became the site of an ongoing experiment: How, under conditions of extreme scarcity, would the great modern ideologies of capitalism and communism control and manage the resources they craved?

Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality

By G.A. Cohen,

Book cover of Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality

Having read Robert Nozick’s philosophical defence of free markets, Anarchy, State and Utopia, in my early twenties, I started searching for a comprehensive rebuttal. With Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality, my search came to an end. Cohen — who sadly is no longer with us — was a gifted analytical philosopher who developed his critique of Nozick and other free marketeers over many years. The book delivers a clear and powerful distillation of his thought, which corroborates the intuition felt by many of us that there is something profoundly wrong with the conflation of freedom with free markets. 

Who am I?

It has long been claimed that we face a choice between freedom and equality: that advocates of capitalism favour freedom, while critics prioritise equality. Philosopher Raoul Martinez was never persuaded by this claim, yet it took years of research across a number of disciplines to understand not only how problematic it is, but how foundational to our society and its crises it has become. His journey of discovery culminated in the writing of Creating Freedom, which dismantles this misleading narrative while deepening our understanding of human liberty: the many ways it is subverted and the path to its creation.

I wrote...

Creating Freedom: Power, Control and the Fight for our Future

By Raoul Martinez,

Book cover of Creating Freedom: Power, Control and the Fight for our Future

What is my book about?

Free markets, free elections, free media, free thought, free speech, free will — the language of freedom pervades our lives, framing the most urgent issues of our time and the deepest questions about who we are and who we want to be. A foundational idea of our civilization, it has long been distorted to justify its opposite: soaring inequality, the erosion of democracy, an irrational criminal justice system, and the suicidal plundering of this planet.

In Creating Freedom a book The Guardian called “Exceptional. This year's essential text” — Martinez argues that the more we understand the limits on our freedom the better placed we are to transcend them.

The Origins of Unfairness

By Cailin O'Connor,

Book cover of The Origins of Unfairness: Social Categories and Cultural Evolution

O’Connor’s Origins of Unfairness uses game theory to provide “how possibly” models for how systemic discrimination and unfair conventions arise. Game theory offers a powerful tool for Realpolitik analysis, which is analyzing states of affairs that reflect agents’ material interests coupled with their power to realize them. Populations with two groups will likely end up in asymmetric conventions as divisions of labor result, and the sharing of rewards is unequal. Grasping the implications of this analysis is crucial for those seeking to go beyond the entrenched interests governing neoliberal political economy. O’Connor provides some remedies in her final chapter, and these incorporate moral awareness and a sense of responsibility.

Who am I?

I have been studying neoliberal political economy and its future transformations since I wrote Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy. One major insight has been the deep entanglement of neoliberal political-economic practices with de facto power relations. The liberal normative bargaining characterizing Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations yields to coercive bargaining in which threats of harm are the surest and best means to get one’s way. If one seeks to understand how systems will evolve when governed by strategic competition, then orthodox game theory is useful. However, if one seeks to live in a post-scarcity society in which genuine cooperation is possible, then we can enact solidarity, trust-based relationships, and collective moral accountability. 

I wrote...

Prisoners of Reason: Game Theory and Neoliberal Political Economy

By S.M. Amadae,

Book cover of Prisoners of Reason: Game Theory and Neoliberal Political Economy

What is my book about?

Is capitalism inherently predatory? Must there be winners and losers? Is public interest outdated and free-riding rational? Is consumer choice the same as self-determination? Must bargainers abandon the no-harm principle? Prisoners of Reason recalls that classical liberal capitalism exalted the no-harm principle. Although imperfect and exclusionary, modern liberalism recognized individual human dignity alongside individuals' responsibility to respect others. Neoliberalism, by contrast, views life as a ceaseless struggle. Agents vie for scarce resources in antagonistic competition in which every individual seeks dominance. Money becomes the medium of all value. Solidarity and goodwill are invalidated. Relationships are conducted on a quid pro quo basis. However, agents can freely opt out of this cynical race to the bottom by embracing a more expansive range of coherent action.

Spheres of Influence

By Douglas S. Massey, Stefanie Brodmann,

Book cover of Spheres of Influence: The Social Ecology of Racial and Class Inequality: The Social Ecology of Racial and Class Inequality

In addition to neighborhoods, Americans also experience rampant inequalities across other social settings such as families, schools, and peer networks. These settings define the ecological context within which humans develop and each “sphere of influence” determines the development trajectories of people as the move from childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood. This book examines how each of these spheres affects human development at different stages of the life course among White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian young people in the United States to produce the racial and class inequalities that characterize contemporary American society.

Who am I?

My mother was the child of immigrants from Finland with grade-school educations who grew up in a small Alaskan town with no roads in or out. She came down to the “lower 48” during the Second World War to work her way through the University of Washington, where she met my father. He was a multigenerational American with two college-educated parents. His mother graduated from Whitman College in 1919 and looked down on my mother as a child of poorly educated immigrants. She was also openly hostile toward Catholics, Blacks, and Jews and probably didn’t think much of Finns either. Witnessing my grandmother’s disdain for minorities and the poor including my mother, I learned about racism and class prejudice firsthand. But I am my mother’s son, and I resented my grandmother’s self-satisfied posturing. Therefore I’ve always been on the side of the underdog and made it my business to learn all that I could about how inequalities are produced and perpetuated in the United States, and to do all I can to make the world a fairer, more egalitarian place.

I wrote...

American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass

By Douglas S. Massey, Nancy A. Denton,

Book cover of American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass

What is my book about?

American Apartheid describes how Black residential segregation was created during the first seven decades of the 20th century by powerful white actors in the public and private sectors, who collectively worked to isolate black in-migrants within ghettos for purposes of exclusion and exploitation. As a result, high levels of segregation prevailed throughout metropolitan America as of 1980.

Public policies enacted during the 1930s institutionalized the discriminatory of realtors and lenders, ensuring that Blacks were confined to recognized Black neighborhoods and that these were cut off from capital and credit to guarantee their decline. As Black poverty rates increased during the 1970s and 1980s, segregation served to concentrate deprivation spatially to create a supremely disadvantaged context that acted to perpetuate black poverty over the life course and across the generations, giving rise to what in the 1980s was known as the “urban underclass.”

An Unkindness of Ghosts

By Rivers Soloman,

Book cover of An Unkindness of Ghosts

This is an astonishing read, set on a generation ship ferrying the last of humanity through space to a mythical Promised Land. In a society organised like the antebellum South, the story follows our remarkable heroine, Aster. She is flawed, self-effacing, astonishingly courageous, with a huge heart and fierce hope despite what seems like hopeless odds. It’s a story of survival against the brutal reality of slavery, a journey of hope, and an enormous lesson in working with what you’ve got, never giving up, and appreciating that there are always choices to be found. Resourceful Aster never stops fighting, while taking care of those in need along the way. Awe-inspiring.

Who am I?

I adore the SFF genre for its scope of limitless creativity. In particular, I look to both read and write books that incorporate contemporary issues, represent marginalised sections of society, challenge stereotypes, and generally make you think – themes that don’t shy away from tough topics, while interspersed in plenty of colour. In my own epic fantasy series, Blood Gift Chronicles, themes include wildlife and the environment, social justice and marginalisation, magic, animism, and dragons. I have a definite soft spot for complex women and girl protagonists and am excited by the range of voices coming through in the genre. I hope you enjoy my recommendations as much as I have.

I wrote...

Return of the Mantra (Blood Gift Chronicles)

By Susie Williamson,

Book cover of Return of the Mantra (Blood Gift Chronicles)

What is my book about?

16-year-old Suni has always known she is different. She and her mother, Mata, live a secretive life on the edge of society, hidden from the tyrant King and his autocratic rule. Her father abandoned them to work in the King’s crystal mines. In a land ravaged by drought, where the natural world is forsaken for profit, Mata follows the old ways of the Mantra, which the King has outlawed. When tragedy strikes, Suni is cut adrift. She sets off to find her father. Will she also find the destiny Mata wanted for her?

This award-winning, character-driven fantasy adventure chronicles Suni’s search for justice and her own identity, as she finds herself at the centre of a desperate bid to save her homeland.

Down to Earth

By Bruno Latour,

Book cover of Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime

Latour was not one of my favourite thinkers before I read this book. I‘ve found him an interesting person to engage with, in person, and to read in the past, but I rarely found myself really agreeing with him very much. But this book has changed all of that. The title is translated from French—a better translation would be A Place to Land.

Who am I?

Rupert Read is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, where he works alongside some of the world’s leading climate scientists. He is a campaigner for the Green Party of England and Wales, a former spokesperson for the Extinction Rebellion, and co-founder of the Climate Activists Network, GreensCAN.

I wrote...

Parents for a Future

By Rupert Read,

Book cover of Parents for a Future

What is my book about?

In this book I explore and seek to understand the direness of our predicament while showing a metaphor and a method a way of thinking by which we might transform it. From the relatively uncontroversial starting point that we love our own children, I introduce a logic of care that iterates far into the future: in caring for our own children, we are committed to caring for the whole of human future; in caring for the whole of human future, we are committed to caring for the future of the natural world. Out of such thinking, hope emerges.

Let’s call for a radical expansion of our democracies, based on the proposal for institutional reform as set out in the book – and a long overdue revolution in the way we think about ourselves and organise ourselves: Citizens assemblies at every level of government, Guardians of future generations and the Precautionary principle.

The First and Second Discourses

By Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Roger D. Masters, Judith R. Masters (translator)

Book cover of The First and Second Discourses

Rousseau took up the critique of civilized politics where Plato left off. All later critics of capitalism, technology, and media—e.g., Karl Marx, Jacques Ellul, and Neil Postman—stand in his debt. And many of his most radical insights have been amply confirmed by contemporary anthropologists. In short, a rich playground for the intellect.

Who am I?

William Ophuls served as a Foreign Service Officer in Washington, Abidjan, and Tokyo before receiving a PhD in political science from Yale University in 1973. His Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity published in 1977 laid bare the ecological, social, and political challenges confronting modern industrial civilization. It was honored by the Kammerer and Sprout awards. After teaching briefly at Northwestern University, he became an independent scholar and author. He has since published a number of works extending and deepening his original argument, most prominently Requiem for Modern Politics in 1997, Plato’s Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology in 2011, and Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail in 2013.

I wrote...

Plato's Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology

By William Ophuls,

Book cover of Plato's Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology

What is my book about?

We are embarked on an industrial Titanic running on fossil fuels that have caused a climate crisis, soon to become a civilizational crisis. Making the deck chairs from recyclable materials and fueling the boilers with biofuels is futile. In the end, the ship is doomed by the laws of thermodynamics and implacable geological and biological limits that have already begun to bite. Thus we are headed for a post-industrial future that will resemble the pre-industrial past in many respects.

I argue for an essentially Platonic politics of consciousness dedicated to inner cultivation rather than the external pursuit of perpetual growth. We might then achieve a way of life that is materially and institutionally simple, but culturally and spiritually rich.

The Nutmeg's Curse

By Amitav Ghosh,

Book cover of The Nutmeg's Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis

Amitav Ghosh is an outstanding novelist who has now written two great books about global environmental change. His previous work, The Great Derangement, looks at the relationship between colonialism, the humanities, and the climate crisis. Now, The Nutmeg’s Curse expands that exploration provides more detail and depth, and covers the historical era of European expansion, paying close attention to how that process irrevocably and dangerously changed how we perceive the natural world. In so doing, Ghosh covers some of the most pertinent issues of contemporary environmental learning—race, equity, diversity, inclusion, and migration.

If you want to gain deeper insight into our current environmental challenges from a cultural perspective, this book will reward that interest. Hopefully, too, it will give you insight into your own behaviors and cultural predispositions. 

Who am I?

I’ve been engaged in the environmental field for fifty years as an educator, a professor, a university president, and as a concerned citizen. The field is dynamic, complex, inspiring, and often overwhelming. All of my writing and teaching emphasizes empowering readers and students alike to use the depth of their experience to gather insight, wisdom, and agency. I want readers to actively think about their relationship to the biosphere, the contributions they can make as environmental citizens, and the inspiration they can cultivate at home or in the workplace. 

I wrote...

To Know the World: A New Vision for Environmental Learning

By Mitchell Thomashow,

Book cover of To Know the World: A New Vision for Environmental Learning

What is my book about?

How can we respond to the current planetary ecological emergency? In To Know the World, I propose that we revitalize, revisit, and reinvigorate how we think about our residency on Earth. First, we must understand that the major challenges of our time—migration, race, inequity, climate justice, and democracy—connect to the biosphere. Traditional environmental education has accomplished much, but it has not been able to stem the inexorable decline of global ecosystems. I use the term environmental learning to signify that our relationship to the biosphere must be front and center in all aspects of our daily lives.

Mixing memoir, theory, mindfulness, pedagogy, and compelling storytelling, I discuss how to navigate the Anthropocene's rapid pace of change without further separating psyche from biosphere; why we should understand migration both ecologically and culturally; how to achieve constructive connectivity in both social and ecological networks; and why we should take a cosmopolitan bioregionalism perspective that unites local and global.

Downhill from Here

By Katherine S. Newman,

Book cover of Downhill from Here: Retirement Insecurity in the Age of Inequality

I like this book because it provides a sociological portrait of the retirement crisis. Newman digs deep into the impact on people of losing pensions because of corporate shenanigans. She digs into the threatened cutting of Teamster pension benefits and what happened to municipal employee retirees and near-retirees when Detroit declared bankruptcy. She marshaled her considerable sociological research skills to lay bare the human face of the retirement crisis.

Who am I?

I became fascinated with retirement plans and policy when I realized that my 401(k)-like retirement plan with a high rate of savings and investment returns would still come up way short in terms of the retirement income needed for me and my family. That led me to initiate a winning campaign to allow those of us in that plan to switch to our employer’s pension plan. In leading that struggle, I had to learn everything possible, beyond what I already knew, about retirement plans. I have a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Wisconsin and have studied retirement plans in Latin America and Europe as well as the United States.

I wrote...

The Labor Guide to Retirement Plans: For Union Organizers and Employees

By James W. Russell,

Book cover of The Labor Guide to Retirement Plans: For Union Organizers and Employees

What is my book about?

What do workers need to know as they assess the security of their retirement plans? What should union activists keep in mind as they push for the national and workplace reforms needed to produce greater retirement security? This nuts-and-bolts book provides a much-needed demystification of the retirement system and enables workers to take charge of their own personal futures.

Winner-Take-All Politics

By Jacob S. Hacker, Paul Pierson,

Book cover of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer--And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class

Hacker explores the connection between America’s present yawning inequality and the deliberate decisions made by key political figures throughout the last 50 years. While off-shoring and technological innovation have contributed to the ever poorer job prospects and conditions for the poor and working-class, he argues that our government is just as much to blame. We could have taken action to protect these constituencies but rather defended the interests of corporate America and the radical rich (his term for wealth conservative donors such as the Koch Brothers). The book is very well-researched and easily digestible.

Who am I?

I write about politics. I grew up in a political household. My mother was a key fundraiser for the Democratic Party and my stepfather served as a White House counsel to President Clinton. Politics and the Washington experience were the air I breathed during my formative years. I followed in their footsteps and co-founded Fight for a Better America, an organization that invests in key battleground districts and states throughout the US, with the goal of either flipping them blue or maintaining a Democratic incumbent. Through my travels with the organization, I have made hundreds of contacts with folks in local civic clubs and organized hundreds of volunteers on the ground. 

I wrote...

Facts & Fury: An Unapologetic Primer on How the GOP Has Destroyed American Democracy

By Bill Kuhn,

Book cover of Facts & Fury: An Unapologetic Primer on How the GOP Has Destroyed American Democracy

What is my book about?

Written in smart and easily digestible chapters, you will discover how Trump became the logical consequence of decades worth of corruption, fear-mongering, and destructive policies. Kuhn uncovers the blatantly racist style of politics inherent in the GOP from Goldwater’s opposition to the Civil Rights Movement to Reagan’s aversion to public welfare. Each chapter is poignant and a well-researched entry contributing to the national conversation and debate on how we got to where we are today.

Facts & Fury is a revelatory work of scholarship and a laceration of the Republication Party that will energize the country and encourage discussion. Much more, it is a call to arms to halt the GOP’s efforts, engage our neighbors, and ultimately strengthen American democracy.

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