The most recommended books on social issue

Who picked these books? Meet our 20 experts.

20 authors created a book list connected to social issues, and here are their favorite social issue books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of social issue book?

Loading...
Loading...

Book cover of A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream

Grayson Slover Author Of Middle Country: An American Student Visits China's Uyghur Prison-State

From Grayson's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Editor Journalist China Racism Human Rights

Grayson's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Grayson Slover Why did Grayson love this book?

I’ve recently been particularly interested in the sharp decline of trust that Americans feel in our institutions. As I see it, for all their flaws, our country cannot survive without functioning institutions, so we must find a plan to restore them in a way that Americans across the political spectrum can get behind.

A Time to Build provides the most compelling blueprint I’ve yet encountered for that restoration. In accessible language and convincing (and at times surprising) arguments, Yuval Levin reminds us why these institutions are so central to our lives (though it may not always seem so) and shows us how the seemingly small actions we take in our own communities can have a significant impact on institutional trust on a national scale.

By Yuval Levin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Time to Build as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Americans are living through a social crisis. Populist firebrands - on left and right alike - propose to address the crisis through acts of tearing down. They describe themselves as destroying oppressive establishments, clearing weeds, draining swamps. But, as acclaimed conservative intellectual Yuval Levin argues, this is a misguided prescription, rooted in a defective diagnosis. The social crisis we confront is defined not by an oppressive presence but by a debilitating absence of forces that unite us and militate against alienation.

Both Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly respond to crisis by threatening to dismantle institutions that they perceive as belonging to…


Book cover of Tyranny in America: Capitalism and National Decay

Elizabeth Duquette Author Of American Tyrannies in the Long Age of Napoleon

From my list on thinking about what tyranny means today.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have studied nineteenth-century American literature and culture for more than thirty years. My friends roll their eyes when I excitedly share a passage from Charles Chesnutt, Henry James, Herman Melville, or Kate Chopin. I wrote this book because I realized that nineteenth-century thinkers and writers have a lot to teach us about tyranny, particularly the dangers it presents to our nation. I hope you’ll find the challenge of these books as important as I do!

Elizabeth's book list on thinking about what tyranny means today

Elizabeth Duquette Why did Elizabeth love this book?

This little book packs a punch!

Neal Wood was a respected scholar of political thought and he wrote this book to be accessible to many readers, motivated by his conviction that the thorough embrace of capitalist competition was degrading the character and culture of the United States.

When reading this, I could not help but think about the writings of Black Americans in the nineteenth century, who argued that greed was one of the main reasons for slavery. Wood offers a sober reminder that it is useful to think about the consequences, intended and not, of our nation’s choices and priorities.

By Neal Wood,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tyranny in America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The US has been subjected to the ruthless and unrelenting tyranny of the world's most advanced capitalism, permeating every aspect of American life. The chief difference from other tyrannies is its facelessness, its dependence on impersonal coercive power more than on direct violence and terror against its subjects.
A frightening irony of this new tyranny, dissected by the distinguished historian of political thought Neal Wood, is that it is producing a degenerating society and a politics headed toward collapse. All world empires have decayed from within and eventually fallen. The new tyranny's demise may long be hidden by a sophisticated…


Book cover of We the Presidents: How American Presidents Shaped the Last Century

Christopher Beauregard Emery Author Of White House Usher: "Who Killed the President?"

From my list on presidents from a White House insider’s perspective.

Why am I passionate about this?

During my twenty-nine nears in the federal government, I maintained a Top Secret clearance while being a CIO, Chief Architect, & Director of various things with the White House, US Congress, Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice, where I served in a senior management role for the National Security Division, the agency responsible for serving as the liaison between the Attorney General and the Intelligence Community. Today, my passion is writing about my White House experiences, in both fiction and non-fiction.

Christopher's book list on presidents from a White House insider’s perspective

Christopher Beauregard Emery Why did Christopher love this book?

Having spent over eight years in the White House, I was very interested to read We the Presidents: How American Presidents Shaped the Last Century. The book is exceptionally well written. Author Ronald Gruner uniquely relates the various issues and challenges faced by select presidents and then details how those issues and their outcomes impacted and influenced America. I found the book to be very well researched, and applaud Gruner for how he painted a sobering reality of Presidents, especially the seven that I had personally met. I highly recommend this book!

By Ronald Gruner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Imagine a non-partisan presidential history that never mentions Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. Rather than politics, WE THE PRESIDENTS focuses on the issues which affect Americans today. Soaring inflation, resurgent nativism, income inequality, budget deficits, the Ukraine crisis and other critical issues, all have their roots in presidential administrations over the past century. For example:

President Harding's treasury secretary, Andrew Mellon, promoted radical, new tax policies which slashed the national debt during the nineteen-twenties and decades later emerged as today's supply-side economics. President Clinton's encouragement of NATO's eastward expansion after the end of the Cold War contributed to Russia's…


Book cover of Micromotives and Macrobehavior

Shikha Basnet Silwal Author Of The Economics of Conflict and Peace: History and Applications

From my list on the foundations of conflict, war, and peace economics.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm Associate Professor of Economics at Washington and Lee University in Virginia, USA. My expertise is in conflict, war, and peace economics. I'm deeply motivated to understand the broader impacts of violent conflicts in low-income countries with the hope that doing so will pave the way for us to live in a more harmonious world. Recently, I've been interested in economics of cultural heritage destruction during violent conflicts. My aim is to understand patterns of heritage destruction in the past such that we can incorporate heritage destruction in atrocity forecasting models of today. I'm just as passionate to teach what I have learned over the years and what I'm curious to explore in the future.

Shikha's book list on the foundations of conflict, war, and peace economics

Shikha Basnet Silwal Why did Shikha love this book?

In this book we learn that our actions are shaped by that of others or by our expectation of what others will do.

If, for example, a white neighbor leaves the neighborhood upon seeing a minority family move in, other white neighbors are likely to follow suit if they expect more white neighbors to move out and more minorities to move in. If a critical mass of white neighbors adopts this behavior, the result is a segregated neighborhood.

Applied this idea to the study of mass atrocities, we understand mass participation in mass atrocities as not a result of moral failure, but a social phenomenon driven by imitating nature and belonging need of the humankind. This understanding humanizes the mass perpetrators of an atrocity and opens space for reconciliation.

By Thomas C. Schelling,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Micromotives and Macrobehavior as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Schelling here offers an early analysis of 'tipping' in social situations involving a large number of individuals." -official citation for the 2005 Nobel Prize

Micromotives and Macrobehavior was originally published over twenty-five years ago, yet the stories it tells feel just as fresh today. And the subject of these stories-how small and seemingly meaningless decisions and actions by individuals often lead to significant unintended consequences for a large group-is more important than ever. In one famous example, Thomas C. Schelling shows that a slight-but-not-malicious preference to have neighbors of the same race eventually leads to completely segregated populations.

The updated…


Book cover of Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression

Shirin M. Rai Author Of Depletion: The Human Costs of Caring

From my list on social reproduction and the costs of maintenance of life.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an academic and writer based in the UK. I have always wondered why capitalism claims to know the price of everything but the costs of nothing, unless it gets in the way of increased profit. I have been puzzling over gender inequalities in the political economy of our global society for many years now. This is not only an academic interest but a personal one; the rich buy in the labour of others and the poor get depleted more and faster. I wonder what our world would feel like if this labour of life-making was equally distributed, and valued as it should be.

Shirin's book list on social reproduction and the costs of maintenance of life

Shirin M. Rai Why did Shirin love this book?

This is a great book for understanding the concept of social reproduction, the maintenance of life itself.

Many well-known and thoughtful authors have contributed chapters to this book, explaining different aspects of social reproduction–which can be understood as the production and maintenance of life itself–and the consequences of its unequal distribution. 

I enjoyed reading this book, even though, at times, I felt that it needed to broaden its approach to social reproduction to include insights from how this work affects people in the Global South. 

By Tithi Bhattacharya (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Social Reproduction Theory as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This groundbreaking collection explores the profound power of Social Reproduction Theory to deepen our understanding of everyday life under capitalism. While many Marxists tend to focus on the productive economy, this book focuses on issues such as child care, health care, education, family life and the roles of gender, race and sexuality, all of which are central to understanding the relationship between economic exploitation and social oppression.

In this book, leading writers such as Lise Vogel, Nancy Fraser, David McNally and Susan Ferguson reveal the ways in which daily and generational reproductive labour, found in households, schools, hospitals and prisons,…


Book cover of The Good Country Equation: How We Can Repair the World in One Generation

Robert Govers Author Of Imaginative Communities: Admired Cities, Regions and Countries

From my list on managing the reputation of cities and countries.

Why am I passionate about this?

Driving cars through Europe and the Sahara Desert to sell them in Niger and exploring China and Russia on the Trans-Siberia Express (1992) as a student, I quickly realised that what we think we know about the world is very superficial, cliché, and stereotype. This made me embark on a PhD supervised by Erasmus University Rotterdam professor Frank M. Go (may he rest in peace), to whom I am forever grateful for suggesting the classic literature on this page. Now I advise governments, I am founding chairman of the International Place Branding Association, co-editor of the journal of Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, and a passionate visiting scholar in Beijing, London, Milan, Rotterdam, and Turin.  

Robert's book list on managing the reputation of cities and countries

Robert Govers Why did Robert love this book?

My dear colleague Simon Anholt is the founding father of the idea of the city, region or nation as brand.

He created the Anholt Ipsos Nation Brands Index and the Good Country Index; has written extensively on the subject; and has inspired me throughout my career. In his latest book The Good Country Equation he clearly proves – through the data that he’s collected – that for places to be admired, they have to be admirable.

In other words, places are respected for what they contribute to humanity and the planet, not for their propaganda. This is obviously an important discovery that forces governments and their stakeholders to focus on meaningful strategy, policy and cooperation as opposed to image promotion.

I also enjoyed reading Simon’s book as he shares his personal experiences as a government advisor.

By Simon Anholt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Good Country Equation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Not only does Anholt explain the challenges facing the world with unique clarity, he also provides genuinely new, informative, practical, innovative solutions. . . . The book is a must-read for anyone who cares about humanity's shared future."
--H. E. Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmaajo), President of the Federal Republic of Somalia

Why doesn't the world work? Why, despite all the power, technology, money and knowledge that humanity has accumulated, are we are still unable to defeat global challenges like climate change, war, poverty, migration, extremism, and inequality?

Simon Anholt has spent decades helping countries from Austria to Zambia to improve…


Book cover of The Age of Acrimony: How Americans Fought to Fix Their Democracy, 1865-1915

Deborah Lincoln Author Of An Irish Wife

From my list on the glittering gilded age and its seamier side.

Why am I passionate about this?

I write historical fiction based on the lives of my ancestors: Agnes Canon’s War is the story of my twice-great grandparents during the Civil War. An Irish Wife is based on their son. I write about the Gilded Age, which is only now drawing the attention of historical novelists and the wider public: the vast wealth of industrialists contrasted to the poverty of the lower classes, scandalous politics, environmental degradation, fear of and prejudices about immigrants. My ancestors lived through those days; I want to imagine how that tumultuous society affected them, how they managed, what they lost and gained, and to memorialize those stories as a way to honor them.

Deborah's book list on the glittering gilded age and its seamier side

Deborah Lincoln Why did Deborah love this book?

And now to nonfiction. For anyone who savors the study of history as a prelude to the present, this is the book to read. The Gilded Age, rife with economic and technologic disruptions and the clash between the ever-richer and the always-poor, driven by industrial juggernauts and riven by raucous, violent politics—to understand the era and see the roots of many of today’s issues, this book is a must.

By Jon Grinspan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Age of Acrimony as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A penetrating, character-filled history “in the manner of David McCullough” (WSJ), revealing the deep roots of our tormented present-day politics.

Democracy was broken. Or that was what many Americans believed in the decades after the Civil War. Shaken by economic and technological disruption, they sought safety in aggressive, tribal partisanship. The results were the loudest, closest, most violent elections in U.S. history, driven by vibrant campaigns that drew our highest-ever voter turnouts. At the century’s end, reformers finally restrained this wild system, trading away participation for civility in the process. They built a calmer, cleaner democracy, but also a more…


Book cover of Abolition Revolution

Anitra Nelson

From Anitra's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Chai-tea-addict Anti-economist Human

Anitra's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Anitra Nelson Why did Anitra love this book?

Abolition sounds destructive, obliterating. But abolition has always been about liberation and change, indeed revolution.

This is the core message of this illuminating manifesto written as if on the barricades: ‘Abolition is a tool to re-imagine revolutionary politics.’ In a wide-ranging set of arguments (theses) and countless stories of transformative activities, Aviah Sarah Day and Shanice Octavia McBean show us how revolutionary we might all become.

By Aviah Sarah Day, Shanice Octavia McBean,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

George Floyd's murder in Minneapolis triggered abolitionist shockwaves. Calls to defund the police found receptive ears around the world. Shortly after, Sarah Everard's murder by a serving police officer sparked a national abolitionist movement in Britain. But to abolish the police, prisons and borders, we must confront the legacy of Empire.

Abolition Revolution is a guide to abolitionist politics in Britain, drawing out rich histories of resistance from rebellion in the colonies to grassroots responses to carceral systems today. The authors argue that abolition is key to reconceptualising revolution for our times - linking it with materialist feminisms, anti-capitalist class…


Book cover of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia

Stephan Lewandowsky Author Of The Debunking Handbook 2020

From my list on the perils facing democracy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have had a lifelong interest in history and in particular the history of democracy. When I became a cognitive scientist, I initially studied basic memory processes using a mix of computer simulations and experimentation. I became interested in misinformation during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 when the purported “Weapons of Mass Destruction” never materialized but large segments of the American public continued to believe in their existence. Some 20 years later, misinformation has taken center stage in public life and has metastasized into a danger to democracy in many countries around the world. The books on this list should present a warning and inspiration to all of us.

Stephan's book list on the perils facing democracy

Stephan Lewandowsky Why did Stephan love this book?

This is a page-turner that I read in one go from front to finish. It reads like a thriller and keeps you hooked, although it is also a very serious analysis of contemporary Russia by one of the UK’s most skilled journalists and authors. It is as thrilling as it is frightening because there are so many signs that western countries are heading in a similar direction—a country that “is a dictatorship in the morning, a democracy at lunch, an oligarchy by suppertime, while, backstage, oil companies are expropriated, journalists killed, billions siphoned away”, as Peter put it in one of his memorable phrases.

By Peter Pomerantsev,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the new Russia, even dictatorship is a reality show. Professional killers with the souls of artists, would-be theater directors turned Kremlin puppet-masters, suicidal supermodels, Hell's Angels who hallucinate themselves as holy warriors, and oligarch revolutionaries: welcome to the glittering, surreal heart of twenty-first-century Russia. It is a world erupting with new money and new power, changing so fast it breaks all sense of reality, home to a form of dictatorship--far subtler than twentieth-century strains--that is rapidly rising to challenge the West. When British producer Peter Pomerantsev plunges into the booming Russian TV industry, he gains access to every nook…


Book cover of Sojourner Truth's America

Leigh Fought Author Of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass

From my list on iconic American women.

Why am I passionate about this?

Little House on the Prairie, Roots, the Bicentennial, family vacations, and an early childhood in New Orleans all shaped my perception of the world as a place overlaying history. Although I could not have completely articulated this then, I specifically wanted to know what women before me had done, I wanted to know about parts of the story that seemed to be in the shadows of the places where I consumed history, and I wanted to know “the real story.” The intensity of recreating a person’s world and their experience in it made me question how historians know what we know, and how deeply myth, nostalgia, or even preconceptions guide readings of the evidence. The authors here all show an awareness that re-telling a person’s life can move it away from the evidence and they try to return to that evidence and find the “real story,” or as near to it as possible.

Leigh's book list on iconic American women

Leigh Fought Why did Leigh love this book?

Find a performance of Truth’s speech, “A’rn’t I a Woman,” and the actress inevitably slips into a southern accent. Margaret Washington’s book, along with Nell Irvin Painter’s Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol, will tell you that Truth actually spoke with a Dutch accent and that the more famous version of that speech was a revision by a white abolitionist woman. Truth was born and raised in New York, not the south, and she slipped through the cracks of the state’s Emancipation laws, remaining a slave well into adulthood. Her life tells a national story of slavery and shows the complicated relationships of religion, abolition, women, and class.

By Margaret Washington,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sojourner Truth's America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This fascinating biography tells the story of nineteenth-century America through the life of one of its most charismatic and influential characters: Sojourner Truth. In an in-depth account of this amazing activist, Margaret Washington unravels Sojourner Truth's world within the broader panorama of African American slavery and the nation's most significant reform era. Born into bondage among the Hudson Valley Dutch in Ulster County, New York, Isabella was sold several times, married, and bore five children before fleeing in 1826 with her infant daughter one year before New York slavery was abolished. In 1829, she moved to New York City, where…