48 books directly related to public policy 📚

All 48 public policy books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

By Richard Rothstein,

Book cover of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America

Why this book?

When I was trying to figure out how the city of Charlotte became segregated, this book was a godsend. Rothstein explodes the myth that segregation in America grew primarily from individual choices, such as White people fleeing a neighborhood when a Black family moved in. He shows how local, state, and federal governments passed laws and made policies that created the housing and school segregation that much of the nation lives with today.  


Failures of State: The Inside Story of Britain's Battle with Coronavirus

By Jonathan Calvert, George Arbuthnott,

Book cover of Failures of State: The Inside Story of Britain's Battle with Coronavirus

Why this book?

The authors work for the Sunday Times Insight team and the book they have produced is, you might say, a public inquiry of the kind we won’t be getting from any government, now or in the future. We’ve all been living through this nightmare and the concept of journalism being a first rough history of events is more than adequately demonstrated by this excellently researched text.

Unless you’ve been asleep, or visiting another planet during the past 15 months, you’ll be painfully aware of how badly the pandemic has been handled in the UK. Coming on the back of Brexit, the big event that caused the Government to never have its eye on the Coronavirus ball at the critical moments in January and February, 2020, the pandemic was at first ridiculed, then fatally downplayed by Boris Johnson.

Worse, as we all know to our personal and collective cost, was to follow (and it ain’t over yet, by a long margin). The book charts in gripping, gory detail mistake after mistake (it’s still happening, folks), by a prime minister who, by background and character, could not be worse fitted to deal with a pandemic. He has surrounded himself with weak yes-men (and very few women) who have all contributed to the UK having an appalling death toll, and an equally bad record on testing and tracing. Such testing and tracing is the sine qua non for getting and keeping any virus under some form of control. 

Gloomy reading, yes. Vital to understand what’s been going on: most assuredly.


The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception

By David Michaels,

Book cover of The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception

Why this book?

If Oreskes & Conway documented the historical trend, Michaels shows what the daily battle over the implications of science for governance is like from within. As former Assistant Secretary for Labor for OSHA, he recounts the never-ending combat over how science is generated and interpreted when it comes to the safety and comprehension of the American public. From dark money to hired guns to compromised scientists, he puts names and faces to the war on science, with truth as the first casualty.


Mining the Sky: Untold Riches From the Asteroids, Comets and Planets

By John S. Lewis,

Book cover of Mining the Sky: Untold Riches From the Asteroids, Comets and Planets

Why this book?

This book is about the positive side of Near-Earth Objects – that is, they can benefit mankind as well as threaten it. Lewis explains how asteroids are chock full of valuable minerals – iron, nickel, platinum, iridium, and so on – that are either rare or difficult and messy to extract on Earth. Lewis persuasively argues that it’s not just possible but almost inevitable that Earthlings will eventually start extracting those space rock riches -- not so much to bring them back to Earth but to use them for manufacturing industries in space, thus sparing our planet from much of the pollution that threatens our world. It’s not just futuristic day-dreaming; already private companies are spending big money to develop space-mining technologies. The bottom line of this fascinating book is that there’s gold in them thar hills – or rather, in them thar far reaches of space. And sooner than you think, we’ll be out there looking for it.     


American Dementia: Brain Health in an Unhealthy Society

By Daniel R. George, Peter J. Whitehouse,

Book cover of American Dementia: Brain Health in an Unhealthy Society

Why this book?

This book explains the tight connection between Alzheimer’s disease and education, health, income, and environment, and why the rate of Alzheimer’s disease in the population actually decreased in the decades following the most important societal changes enacted after World War II. Social safety, environmental protections, and income inequality have had far greater impact than any of the pharmacological approaches ever attempted. The authors make the compelling case that brain health is intimately connected to societal health.


Canada and immigration: Public policy and public concern

By Freda Hawkins,

Book cover of Canada and immigration: Public policy and public concern

Why this book?

This book, which was written when serious questions were being asked about Canadian immigration, is a gold mine of information on this delicate and emotional subject. The research is both extensive and meticulous. Moreover, the author does not just cite and explain facts about events and circumstances, she also provides clues as to what she feels constitutes an immigration policy.


Border Wars: Inside Trump's Assault on Immigration

By Julie Hirschfeld Davis, Michael D. Shear,

Book cover of Border Wars: Inside Trump's Assault on Immigration

Why this book?

Although Trump is out of the White House (for now) and the pandemic has taken center stage politically, this book by two New York Times reporters remains invaluable. It analyzes the origins of the xenophobic immigrant-bashing that paved the way for Trump’s election in 2016, as well as the ways in which his administration systematically sought to restrict both unauthorized and legal immigration. Hirschfeld Davis and Shear document in chilling detail the machinations of Stephen Miller, a senior Trump advisor and the administration’s point person on immigration policy. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the power of populist anti-immigrant politics in the U.S. as they unfolded in the 2010s, a phenomenon that may well re-emerge in the years to come.


The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet

By Michael E. Mann,

Book cover of The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet

Why this book?

Enough science to understand the problem and see that the solution is eminently doable. But it's really about politics, how the fossil fuel industry and its paid lackeys are blocking climate action, but in a new way. The old climate war was straight-up science denial. Since that won't fly anymore, the industry has retreated to its fallback position: acknowledging that climate change is real but finding ways to defer action by deflecting responsibility on consumers or dividing the movement against itself, like vegans vs meat-eaters. Once we know the con, we can avoid it and push for real climate solutions by the government that will keep fossil fuels in the ground and build clean energy capacity as quickly as possible.


Nationalizing the Russian Empire: The Campaign against Enemy Aliens during World War I

By Eric Lohr,

Book cover of Nationalizing the Russian Empire: The Campaign against Enemy Aliens during World War I

Why this book?

A variety of factors in the 1990s (most notably the break-up of the Soviet Union and the war in Yugoslavia) saw historians re-evaluate both nationalism as a concept and nationalism within the Russian context. Several historians working in the field of Russian and East European history observed that World War I was a particularly important period for the evolution of Russian nationalism. Lohr’s book is critical for this re-evaluation. It focuses not only on the (mis) treatment of foreign subjects in Russia during the war, but also the large political consequences of the “nationalization” of the empire in terms of eroding concepts of personal inviolability and property rights.


The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives

By Bryant Simon,

Book cover of The Hamlet Fire: A Tragic Story of Cheap Food, Cheap Government, and Cheap Lives

Why this book?

Though this book is not a study of movement organizing, it shows just how necessary the task of political and economic empowerment remains, if people are to escape cycles of low wages, dangerous work, persistent racism, and public neglect. This book inspired me, and even more so my students, for the connections it uncovered in a declining North Carolina railroad town: a growing, fiercely competitive, and radically unsafe poultry processing industry; persistent neighborhood segregation and racial disrespect, despite the widespread integration of Blacks and women into workplaces; the exclusion of Blacks and poor whites from local political power; the growth of mother-only and time-pressed poor families increasingly reliant on low wages and cheap food to get by. These are only a few of the topics Simon compressed into his lucid and readable portrait of the tragedy of chicken and the unfinished business of our time.


In the Name of Terrorism: Presidents on Political Violence in the Post-World War II Era

By Carol K. Winkler,

Book cover of In the Name of Terrorism: Presidents on Political Violence in the Post-World War II Era

Why this book?

While not a book about the Middle East per se, Winkler’s In the Name of Terrorism traces the rise of terrorism as a concern in U.S. politics and charts the narratives, frames, metaphors, and rhetoric used by presidents to make sense of terrorism to the American people. Focusing specifically on the evolution of “terrorism” as a concept in the leadup to the 9/11 attacks, this book provides vital background for those who wish to understand, as George W. Bush put it, why “they” hate “us.” A wide-ranging volume that effectively bridges the Cold War and the War on Terror, readers will better appreciate the importance of the president’s language choices after finishing this captivating book.


The Ethics of Immigration

By Joseph H. Carens,

Book cover of The Ethics of Immigration

Why this book?

This is the single best book on the political philosophy of immigration. Canadian political philosopher Joseph Carens makes a wide-ranging philosophical defense of  “open borders” migration rights – not just from the standpoint of some one particular political theory, but from that of many. Whether you are a free-market libertarian, an egalitarian liberal, or a moderate, Carens has a case to make to you. He also has compelling responses to a variety of objections. A key strength of the book is that Carens defends his seemingly radical conclusion based on relatively uncontroversial premises of liberty and equality that are widely accepted by supporters of liberal democracy around the world.


Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration

By Bryan Caplan, Zach Weinersmith (illustrator),

Book cover of Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration

Why this book?

Before reading this book, I would never have believed that you can effectively address an important political issue by writing a… graphic novel. But economist Bryan Caplan did just that. Whereas Carens’ book makes a philosophical case for open borders, Caplan excels at addressing a variety of practical policy issues. With a combination of eloquent words and powerful images, he shows how immigration can greatly expand freedom and prosperity for migrants and natives alike. He also effectively goes over a wide range of potential downsides of immigration, such as overburdening the welfare state, environmental damage, and much else. 


Patients of the State: The Politics of Waiting in Argentina

By Javier Auyero,

Book cover of Patients of the State: The Politics of Waiting in Argentina

Why this book?

What does remain of the old welfare institutions of the mid-twentieth century? How has neoliberalism cut social infrastructure? Javier Auyero looks at welfare and public services in present-day Argentina, a system that, despite the crisis, continues to offer some form of protection to impoverished working families. The book is fascinating and demonstrates how “waiting” has come to define how poor people relate to the state and access rights and benefits.


The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy

By Ninette Kelley, Michael Trebilcock,

Book cover of The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy

Why this book?

Canadian immigration policy has always been a subject of fierce political and public debate and in this authoritative work Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock examine the interests, ideas, institutions, and rhetoric that have shaped it. The authors begin their study in the pre-Confederation period and interpret major developments in the evolution of Canadian immigration policy. Among the shameful episodes they describe are the deportations of the First World War and Great Depression and the uprooting and internment of Japanese Canadians after Pearl Harbour.


Youth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use It

By Jamie Margolin,

Book cover of Youth to Power: Your Voice and How to Use It

Why this book?

Ignore the word “youth” in the title, because this is not just a book for kids and teens! Jamie is a young, queer activist who has achieved some impressive activism victories at a young age, but best of all, she combines real activist know-how with a sense of hope and optimism that’s hard to find in older activists. This book is an excellent guide to getting involved and staying involved anywhere from the local level up to a global scale. This is a must-read for people who are fired up to take action but don’t know where to start.


Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism

By Harsha Walia,

Book cover of Border and Rule: Global Migration, Capitalism, and the Rise of Racist Nationalism

Why this book?

Walia’s Border and Rule expands the framework to think globally about the role of borders in fracturing the global working-class to the benefit of corporations and states and to the detriment of ordinary people and the planet. She helps us see that there is in fact no migrant crisis, but multiple crises of racism, capitalism, and imperialism that converge at national borders. The fact that people move across borders is a symptom of these convergent crises. So, again, if we want to get serious about addressing border violence, targeting migrants (the symptom) makes no sense. Instead, we must address the root causes in vastly unequal life chances spread across the globe that borders enforce. She ultimately argues that we must abolish capitalism and imperialism in order to achieve a world without borders and their violence. 


The Apache Diaspora: Four Centuries of Displacement and Survival

By Paul Conrad,

Book cover of The Apache Diaspora: Four Centuries of Displacement and Survival

Why this book?

When we think of slavery in American History, we mostly think of African Americans enslaved by white settlers. Paul Conrad tells a different story. Focusing on the Apache and through the often poignant stories of particular Apache women and men over the course of four centuries, he details their experience as shifting webs of alliance led to their enslavement by the Spanish and the Mexicans on the North American mainland and Cuba, and imprisoned and held in unfreedom by the United States through the 1880s, and yet still holding onto their identity as a distinct people with a distinct culture.


Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

By Marc Reisner,

Book cover of Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water

Why this book?

“In the west, it is said, water flows uphill towards money.” With that line, Marc Reisner captures all of the absurdity of the economic development of the arid lands west of the 100th meridian. First published in 1986, Cadillac Desert remains indispensable in understanding the hubris, greed, and stupidity that has marked so much of that development. Exhaustively researched and reported, and seasoned with the perfect amount of moral indignation, it is timeless. With the water crisis only deepening as climate change brings devastating droughts—reservoirs are at record lows and the Colorado River runs dry long before it reaches the sea— understanding how we got here is more important than ever. 


Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea's Elite

By Suki Kim,

Book cover of Without You, There Is No Us: Undercover Among the Sons of North Korea's Elite

Why this book?

In 2011, novelists and journalist Suki Kim spent six months teaching English to young members of the North Korean elite at the all-male Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, and this is her account of that experience. Where Demick’s book is an unparalleled insight into the life of ordinary North Koreans, Suki Kim lays bare the denial and self-deception required of her students, and the claustrophobia and absurdity of living in the “upper classes” of North Korea’s supposedly egalitarian society.


Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-De-Siècle Paris

By Vanessa R. Schwartz,

Book cover of Spectacular Realities: Early Mass Culture in Fin-De-Siècle Paris

Why this book?

Among so many brilliant authors on city life – if I could have chosen 10 books, I would have surely also have given you books by critics like Walter Benjamin and Marshall Berman, and writers like James Joyce, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Charles Baudelaire. One of the pleasures in reading Vanessa Schwartz’s book is that she knows and draws on so much of this older work to think about the astonishing spectacle of late 19th-century Paris. Here is life on its boulevards; sensational stories of the city as presented in mass-circulation newspapers; the morgue (!) as a place for both science and entertainment; the wax museum, the panorama, and the cinema. A sensationalized version of everyday life is what most fascinates the author, and us as readers, making us think about what is “real” and what is important to understand, public and private life, commercialism, modern ways of seeing and judging, and ourselves as moderns.


Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed

By Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, Michael Patton

Book cover of Getting to Maybe: How the World Is Changed

Why this book?

This was the book that introduced me to complex systems. Many people have become familiar with complex systems in recent years as we’ve been exposed to talk of feedback loops and probability through discussions on climate change. Little inputs can make a big difference and big inputs sometimes collapse under the weight of their own inertia. This book has one of those titles that work their way into your imagination – getting to maybe?

It does not suggest you set goals and work, head down, towards your personal mission. It suggests that you take a look around, gather with others, invite ideas based on people’s passions, and get started. It is all about experimenting and learning together. Then, maybe, something will good will happen. The book offers plenty of inspiring examples of significant social change as a result of genuine innovation and listening to many voices.


This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook

By Extinction Rebellion,

Book cover of This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook

Why this book?

Subtitled An Extinction Rebellion Handbook, this is a fascinating and informative read on how communities can come together to take action. Extinction Rebellion may have sparked controversy, but it is undeniable that their tactics have brought them to the forefront of news channels, ultimately bringing climate change into conversations more than ever before. 


Wretched Refuse?: The Political Economy of Immigration and Institutions

By Alex Nowrasteh, Benjamin Powell,

Book cover of Wretched Refuse?: The Political Economy of Immigration and Institutions

Why this book?

Perhaps the strongest argument against expanded migration rights is the fear that too many of the “wrong” kind of immigrants might kill the goose the laid the golden egg that makes a country attractive to migrants in the first place. If immigrants have harmful cultural values, vote for dangerous political leaders, or otherwise undermine the political and economic system, they could degrade the host nation’s institutions. In the extreme case, they might even replicate the same awful conditions that led them to flee their country of origin. Wretched Refuse is the most thorough analysis and refutation of such concerns. Nowrasteh and Powell use both historical and modern evidence to show that institutional concerns about immigration are largely misplaced and that migrants strengthen liberal democracy far more than they undermine it.


Immigration and Democracy

By Sarah Song,

Book cover of Immigration and Democracy

Why this book?

Another book I don’t agree with, that is nonetheless invaluable. Traditional defenses of migration restrictions assert either that the right to exclude belongs to a specific ethnic or cultural group or that nations are entitled to exclusion rights analogous to those enjoyed by homeowners or members of private clubs. Song takes a very different tack, by arguing that exclusion is inherent in the nature of democratic “self-determination,” regardless of whether current voters are an ethnically or culturally distinct group or not. I think she’s wrong and explain why in my own book, Free to Move. But hers is an important contribution to the debate.


The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths

By Mariana Mazzucato,

Book cover of The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths

Why this book?

Mariana Mazzucato is a heterodox economist who writes about and advises global policymakers on innovation-driven inclusive growth. In this provocative book, she seeks to dispel the notion that governments are sluggish and inept, and that only the private sector can innovate. Through cases of companies like Apple and sectors like biotechnology she seeks to show that the state is, and has often been, our boldest and most valuable innovator. Moreover, believing that the state is inept results in a self-fulfilling prophecy. It leads governments to disinvest from innovation, which in turn results in them playing less of a role in driving innovation. While I don’t agree with much she says, her book is nevertheless a source of inspiration for my own book. In my book, I do not view the public and private sectors as adversarial (as Mazzucato does). Instead, I look at how governments can partner with the private sector to create better and more vibrant innovation ecosystems by building on their respective strengths.


Inventing Stanley Park: An Environmental History

By Sean Kheraj,

Book cover of Inventing Stanley Park: An Environmental History

Why this book?

Stanley Park occupies such a giant place in the city’s imagination. Most Vancouverites well remember the devastating windstorm that blew through the city in 2006 – it tore down several trees in my own neighbourhood and scared me witless – leveling great swathes of the park. Historian Sean Kheraj uses the storm as a jumping-off point to reflect on the park’s history and its complicated relationship with the citizens of the city.


Precarious Childhood in Post-Independence Ireland

By Moira J. Maguire,

Book cover of Precarious Childhood in Post-Independence Ireland

Why this book?

Moira J. Maguire has written a book that could be used by academics yet still fascinates a curious reader. Precarious Childhood in Post-Independence Ireland gives a full view of the system implemented to care for needy children. The study examines the roles of religion and state involved in providing services. Maguire references documents and quotes from reports to give the reader an authentic view of how destitute, abused, and illegitimate children were cared for. 


Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United States and Canada, 1880 1940

By Ian Robert Dowbiggin,

Book cover of Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United States and Canada, 1880 1940

Why this book?

It is important when trying to understand eugenics in Canada to compare how it played out in this country to its trajectory elsewhere. This helps us understand what the commonalities were in the ideas and also to see how and where specific environments resulted in local incarnations of these ideas. Dowbiggin does this for us with great insight by writing comparatively about psychiatry and eugenics in Canada and the U.S. I knew that psychiatrists had enthusiastically taken up the eugenic cause but this book explains really well how and why this happened on both sides of the border, showing us that the profession’s general support for eugenics was not necessarily (or only) because of the ideas themselves, but for professional and status-building reasons.


Water for Food Security, Nutrition and Social Justice

By Lyla Mehta, Theib Oweis, Claudia Ringler, Barbara Schreiner, Shiney Varghese

Book cover of Water for Food Security, Nutrition and Social Justice

Why this book?

Climate change will pose great challenges to people across the world – especially for poorer communities and less privileged nations. These challenges will require new policy approaches that address food security. This will be especially critical when the imbalances produced by economic growth and climate change intensify demands on water. This book makes us think about how we need to change agricultural practices. Land, water, and food are connected and we will need to grapple with these connections in new ways in the context of climate change.


Undocumented Lives: The Untold Story of Mexican Migration

By Ana Raquel Minian,

Book cover of Undocumented Lives: The Untold Story of Mexican Migration

Why this book?

For readers interested in undocumented immigration, especially from Mexico, Minian’s book provides important and necessary historical context for present-day issues. In particular, the book explains how undocumented immigrants were caught in the middle of economic and political policies in the United States and Mexico. As the title implies, the lives of these immigrants are at the heart of the story, including how these much broader systems impacted their individual lives.


The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail

By Jason De Leon,

Book cover of The Land of Open Graves: Living and Dying on the Migrant Trail

Why this book?

Archaeologists don't always focus on the distant past, and they don't always excavate. They comb the surface of landscapes, picking up material clues to human experiences that are often left undocumented. None more willfully buried in plain sight than the hardships of undocumented migrants trying to make it across the Sonoran desert and the brutal politics of the U.S.-Mexico border. With poignant photographs by collaborator Michael Wells, De Léon's account is unapologetically factual and deeply moving.


The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire

By William Dalrymple,

Book cover of The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire

Why this book?

A close friend in Karachi, Pakistan, called to tell me a few years ago that she had attended a fascinating talk at the Sindh Club by William Dalrymple, a Scottish historian who had just published a definitive history of the East India Company from its founding in 1600 through its conquering of almost all of India as the Mogul Dynasty collapsed in the next two centuries. The history reads more like a novel, with graphic details of Indian and British personalities and the battles they fought for control of the subcontinent with its untold riches at stake. One will never think about the British Empire, or India, in the same light after reading this acclaimed history. The battlefields, the Indian forts, and the Mogul palaces scattered throughout North India are places I have visited, and because Dalrymple is such a skilled raconteur, I feel I have been with him in the battles he described in that exotic and blood-soaked country.


The Size of the Risk: Histories of Multiple Use in the Great Basin

By Leisl Carr Childers,

Book cover of The Size of the Risk: Histories of Multiple Use in the Great Basin

Why this book?

I suspect most people see much of the Great Basin—and Nevada specifically—as empty, uninteresting, and boring in its geographic features and history. I confess that I’ve been guilty of this. But in Leisl Carr Childers’s hands, I learned to recognize how full, fascinating, and insightful this place can be. She takes a key management idea that pervades public lands management—multiple use—and demonstrates what it means when the public and their representatives call for one stretch of land to be used for grazing and recreation and wildlife habitat and bombing ranges and mining and, seemingly, new things under the sun almost continuously. With a fragile ecosystem and a fractious political environment, Nevada offers many lessons that can only be taught when a careful writer digs as deeply as Carr Childers has. We’re lucky she rescued this place from relative obscurity.


Constructing Economic Science: The Invention of a Discipline 1850-1950

By Keith Tribe,

Book cover of Constructing Economic Science: The Invention of a Discipline 1850-1950

Why this book?

Tribe is a master of his subject, and this book has the feel of a magnum opus. It is densely packed and full of interesting tidbits, and you will be amazed at just how recent economics really is. The added bonus is all the insight into the development of the modern research university. I am in the middle of this book as it just came out, but the scale of the contribution (large) is already clear.


The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

By Daniel Ellsberg,

Book cover of The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner

Why this book?

Russia and the U.S. each possess a Doomsday Machine: a weapon that could wipe out our species. If either launched their thousands of nuclear ICMBs, that would probably doom us, even if the other did not retaliate. So argues Ellsberg, who confesses his role in creating the menace.  (None of the seven other nuclear nations have more than a few hundred, as a deterrent.) The book’s invaluable history includes multiple occasions when either Russia or the U.S. came perilously close to triggering Armageddon. When I was flying in the Strategic Air Command, we launched three times. Barely before it was too late, we were recalled. But that was before ICMBs; ICMBs can not be recalled. Read this book and spread its message.


FDR and the Jews

By Richard Breitman, Allan J. Lichtman,

Book cover of FDR and the Jews

Why this book?

Anytime I give a talk, someone asks, “Well, what was really going on with FDR? Why didn’t he do anything?” And the answer to that is always: it’s complicated. But Breitman and Lichtman do a great job explaining how FDR could be both beloved by the Jewish community in the 1930s and 1940s and blamed today for not welcoming Jewish refugees escaping Hitler. And the answer is partly our expectations. We want him to have been a humanitarian, but he was a politician who did some things when he could, but ultimately prioritized recovery from the Great Depression and victory in World War II. You’re going to leave the book more frustrated than when you started, but maybe that’s the answer? It was complicated.


Deport, Deprive, Extradite: 21st Century State Extremism

By Nisha Kapoor,

Book cover of Deport, Deprive, Extradite: 21st Century State Extremism

Why this book?

Over the last two decades, there has been a vast expansion in the legal powers available to government ministers, civil servants, and police, intelligence, and border officers. Directed primarily at those suspected of being involved in Islamic extremism, criminal gangs, unlawful migration, and asylum-seeking, these powers are inseparable from the racist stereotypes that accompany them. Kapoor’s book precisely, relentlessly, and fearlessly reveals an official but unacknowledged pattern of racist policy-making. She highlights how the home secretary can, without judicial authorization, cancel someone’s British citizenship, even if they were born in the UK – a power that is only ever used on those who are not white. This, she says, is “extremism” at the heart of government.


A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet

By Sarah Jaquette Ray,

Book cover of A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet

Why this book?

Ray is a colleague and an environmental studies professor at Humboldt State University. After witnessing firsthand the rising emotional distress in her students, she was compelled to respond with empathy and supportive resources. She began to recognize that teaching about climate impacts was not enough, and perhaps it even contributes to the problems if the emotional responses are not addressed in tandem. Written primarily with Gen Z in mind, I find the perspectives and resources are useful for anyone experiencing eco-anxiety, and she incorporates strong and insightful social justice perspectives.


Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928

By David Wallace Adams,

Book cover of Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875-1928

Why this book?

Adams’s book exposed the Indian boarding school agenda and system as genocide for many readers. His book was one of the first publications that I read about Indian boarding schools as it represents a significant historiographical shift and approach to Indigenous experiences in boarding schools since the first writings of Native American boarding school students such as Zitkála-Šá, Charles Eastman, and Luther Standing Bear. The revised edition of his book could not have come at a better time with the announcement of the Federal Indian Boarding School Truth Initiative that followed about a year later in June 2021.


The Heat Is On: The Climate Crisis, the Cover-Up, the Prescription

By Ross Gelbspan,

Book cover of The Heat Is On: The Climate Crisis, the Cover-Up, the Prescription

Why this book?

Climate change is difficult enough to address, even if everyone is on the same page. Unfortunately, climate change has become a very divisive issue in the United States. This book, by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, was maybe the first to comprehensively examine the source of this climate skepticism and how it manifested itself into our political system. Even though it was written about 25 years ago, the issues it raises are still with us today. Unless we can rise above them, getting sound climate policy implemented, which is essential to solving the problem, will be nearly impossible.  


Take Back the Land: Land, Gentrification & the Umoja Village Shantytown

By Max Rameau,

Book cover of Take Back the Land: Land, Gentrification & the Umoja Village Shantytown

Why this book?

The best book I’ve ever read about organizing. Max Rameau is a visionary organizer who, in the midst of the housing crisis of 2008, began seizing empty houses and helping homeless people move in. In this book, he goes into deep detail on a previous campaign to reclaim land and turn it into housing, explaining both the successes and failures, as well as the strategy and ideas behind the tactics. Read this to learn the fundamentals of how to plan, organize and win.


Civic Fusion: Mediating Polarized Public Disputes

By Susan L. Podziba,

Book cover of Civic Fusion: Mediating Polarized Public Disputes

Why this book?

Susan has helped a lot of people come together to work out their differences and achieve a common goal, even in the face of deeply-held conflicting values. She calls the kinds of processes she helps to design: civic fusion. Because she is a skilled mediator who has worked in all kinds of situations in many places, she is able to explain and illustrate how adding a “neutral” facilitator can overcome fundamental obstacles to agreement. The cases that she talks about, like a city that has gone bankrupt, thrown out its elected leaders and had to write a new charter to redefine the kind of democracy it wanted to be, actually pulled that off. 

She played a role in bringing together pro-life and pro-choice leaders for a private dialogue in which they were able to find common ground. Passion, power and conflict generate energy; Susan describes ways of channeling that energy to achieve shared objectives even in the face of strongly held beliefs that run in opposite directions. 


Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

By Erik Larson,

Book cover of Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Why this book?

Dead Wake is a history lesson disguised as a thoroughly engrossing story. Larson skillfully tells the tragic tale of the British ocean liner and the German U-boat that torpedoed her. He paints a vivid picture of the 1915 era and the maritime tragedy that helped push the United States into World War One. I was struck by the many similarities between the sinking of the Lusitania and the 1994 B-52 crash at Fairchild, particularly the multiple warnings that went unheeded and the missteps that preceded the tragedy.  


Running on Empty: Canada and the Indochinese Refugees, 1975-1980

By Michael Molloy, Peter Duschinsky, Kurt Jensen, Robert Shalka

Book cover of Running on Empty: Canada and the Indochinese Refugees, 1975-1980

Why this book?

The fall of Saigon in 1975, inspired the largest and most ambitious refugee resettlement program in Canada’s history. In this compelling book, former Canadian immigration officers recount the experiences of a few dozen men and women who visited 70 remote refugee camps to arrange for the selection and resettlement of thousands of individuals displaced by oppression and war in eight different countries. The long days and humid and trying conditions under which these officers worked — sometimes sleeping on their work tables and subsisting on green tea and dried noodles – make for a gripping narrative. But the history also describes the 1976 Immigration Act, which established new refugee procedures and introduced private sponsorship. Ultimately, Canada accepted and resettled 60,000 refugees, half of whom were privately sponsored.


Tactical Urbanism: Short-Term Action for Long-Term Change

By Mike Lydon, Anthony Garcia,

Book cover of Tactical Urbanism: Short-Term Action for Long-Term Change

Why this book?

I remember talking to a prominent urban activist about tactical urbanism and being met with derision. “You can’t be serious,” he said. I absolutely am! Small projects as a way to demonstrate ideas and keep things moving ahead is a time-tested approach. I’ve seen millions in feasible studies wasted equivocating on the obvious. We should be spending that money as Lydon and Garcia suggest: testing to see if something works.


Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in an Era of Economic Integration

By Douglas S. Massey, Jorge Durand, Nolan J. Malone

Book cover of Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in an Era of Economic Integration

Why this book?

Drawing on original data collected by the authors, this book’s focus is Mexican immigration to the U.S. in the 1980s and 1990s, when the U.S. ramped up border enforcement to deter undocumented immigration. It illuminates the dysfunctionality of the U.S. immigration system, highlighting the unintended consequences of legislation like the 1986 Immigration Control and Reform Act (IRCA), which utterly failed to achieve its objectives. Rather than coming under “control,” the flow of undocumented immigrants across the U.S.-Mexico border instead skyrocketed after IRCA. The reason, the authors show, is that intensified border enforcement raised the costs and risks of crossing the border without authorization, leading many Mexican workers who once had gone back and forth across the border to permanently settle in the U.S., soon joined by family members.  


Streets of Gold: America's Untold Story of Immigrant Success

By Ran Abramitzky, Leah Boustan,

Book cover of Streets of Gold: America's Untold Story of Immigrant Success

Why this book?

When I began researching the economics of immigration, I expected to find that my prejudice in favor of immigrants needed more nuance. However, even more than I suspected, the economic literature is resounding in describing the many large economic benefits of immigration. Streets of Gold describes how essential immigration has been to American economic success, and it provides a strong argument for a more open immigration policy.