The most recommended books on social issue

Who picked these books? Meet our 17 experts.

17 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?


Hard Times

By Charles Dickens,

Book cover of Hard Times

Jake Bittle Author Of The Great Displacement: Climate Change and the Next American Migration

From the list on modern society’s relationship with nature.

Who am I?

My name is Jake Bittle, and I’m a staff writer at the environmental magazine Grist, where I cover climate change and energy. I’m also the author of The Great Displacement: Climate Change and the Next American Migration, published by Simon & Schuster. In that book I try to explore how human beings interact with nature, and how we try to control nature by building a systematic and inflexible society. This is a theme that has always captivated me, ever since I moved as a teenager to a Florida subdivision built on the edge of a swamp, and it’s something I’m always on the lookout for in fiction as well as nonfiction.

Jake's book list on modern society’s relationship with nature

Why did Jake love this book?

This atypically slim Dickens novel is set not in London but in the fictional city of “Coketown,” a mill-town that is on the verge of industrialization.

It features some of Dickens’s most memorable characters, including the draconian schoolmaster Gradgrind, but also contains profound descriptions of the damage that industrial civilization was already wreaking on the English countryside, such as when Dickens describes a set of factory machines as “melancholy mad elephants” that eventually consume the industrial baron who owns them.

By Charles Dickens,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else'

Dickens's novel honouring the value of the human heart in an age of materialism centres on Coketown, where Mr Thomas Gradgrind, school owner and model of Utilitarian success, feeds his pupils and his family with facts, banning fancy and wonder from young minds. As a consequence his obedient daughter Louisa becomes trapped in a loveless marriage, and his son Tom rebels to become embroiled in crime. As their fortunes cross with those of a free-spirited circus girl and…

Micromotives and Macrobehavior

By Thomas C. Schelling,

Book cover of Micromotives and Macrobehavior

Jurgen Brauer Author Of War and Nature: The Environmental Consequences of War in a Globalized World

From the list on unusual stories about conflict, war, and peace.

Who am I?

Born of refugee parents, I grew up stateless in occupied, cold war-era Berlin, Germany. It is perhaps not surprising that the how and why of war, and the economic deprivation and poverty it produces, came to be my professional interest. I earned a doctoral degree in economics from the University of Notre Dame (USA) and became a professor of economics with specialties in development economics and the economics of conflict, war, and peace. I like “grazing” along disciplinary boundaries and have written on economic aspects of military history, the economics of the firearms market, the impact of war on nature, and the economics of genocides and other mass atrocities.

Jurgen's book list on unusual stories about conflict, war, and peace

Why did Jurgen love this book?

This is the most unusual among my unusual books. On the surface, this is not even a book about conflict. (For his research on conflict, especially his 1960 book The Strategy of Conflict, Schelling would later be awarded the Nobel Prize in economics.)

But if you think of conflict as being unwilling or unable to cooperate, then a study of cooperation is, simultaneously, a study of conflict. In this book Schelling asks what are the principles by which people’s individual choices coalesce into society-wide, seemingly cooperative, aggregate outcomes. A master observer of human behavior and master storyteller, Schelling’s answers will amuse and surprise you.

By Thomas C. Schelling,

Why should I read it?

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

Stephan Lewandowsky Author Of The Debunking Handbook 2020

From the list on the perils facing democracy.

Who am I?

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

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…

Sojourner Truth's America

By Margaret Washington,

Book cover of Sojourner Truth's America

Leigh Fought Author Of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass

From the list on iconic American women.

Who am I?

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

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…

We the Presidents

By Ronald Gruner,

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

Who am I?

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

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…

A Time to Build

By Yuval Levin,

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

Patrick M. Garry Author Of The Power of Gratitude: Charting a Path Toward a Joyous and Faith-Filled Life

From the list on gratitude and how it can uplift your life.

Who am I?

I have published more than twenty books and hundreds of articles. But not one of those books and articles inspired the kind of devotion I felt toward The Power of Gratitude. In a way, this book encapsulates a lifetime of writing. It is the book I believe I was called to write.

Patrick's book list on gratitude and how it can uplift your life

Why did Patrick love this book?

Yuval Levin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is a nationally recognized commentator on culture and society. 

He has written about gratitude as a foundation for our political agendas and cultural values. In A Time to Build, Levin shows how gratitude might be an essential starting point for reinvigorating all aspects of our society and culture.

By Yuval Levin,

Why should I read it?

1 author 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…

Season of the Witch

By David Talbot,

Book cover of Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love

Elizabeth Linhart Veneman Author Of Moon: Northern California

From the list on San Francisco’s idealism, power, grit, and beauty.

Who am I?

My early memories of San Francisco in the late 1970s are anything but glamorous. We lived in a crummy apartment down the street from the People’s Temple, and my preschool, in the always gray Sunset, served carob, not chocolate. Despite decamping for the greener pastures and white sands of Carmel-By-The-Sea, I was forever hooked by the gritty magic of San Francisco. I eventually returned to the city’s foggy Richmond District, where now I ruminate on past adventures, plot new ones, and write about the place I love. I'm the author of Moon Napa Sonoma, Moon California, and Moon Northern California, and my work has appeared in 7x7, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Alaska Magazine

Elizabeth's book list on San Francisco’s idealism, power, grit, and beauty

Why did Elizabeth love this book?

The myths of San Francisco loom large in our cultural imagination, but as David Talbot writes in Season of the Witch, the truth is far more interesting, disturbing, grotesque, and beautiful than even the most cinematic retelling. Between 1967-1983, the city was the epicenter of several countercultures, and home to multiple serial killers, political assassinations, bombing attempts, kidnappings, drug and viral epidemics; all of which unfold in heart-stopping quick succession. You’ll watch situations shift from exuberant to deadly in a matter of years, months, or weeks. You’ll also see how small the city really is; familiar names popping up in seemingly unrelated places; events linked by surprising characters. Talbot’s one point of levity is the carnivalesque sideshow of Anton LaVey and his Church of Satan. That tells you something.

By David Talbot,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Season of the Witch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The critically acclaimed, San Francisco Chronicle bestseller—a gripping story of the strife and tragedy that led to San Francisco’s ultimate rebirth and triumph.

Salon founder David Talbot chronicles the cultural history of San Francisco and from the late 1960s to the early 1980s when figures such as Harvey Milk, Janis Joplin, Jim Jones, and Bill Walsh helped usher from backwater city to thriving metropolis.

Progressive New World

By Marilyn Lake,

Book cover of Progressive New World: How Settler Colonialism and Transpacific Exchange Shaped American Reform

Judith Brett Author Of From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting

From the list on politics in Australia.

Who am I?

I'm a political historian who writes for my fellow citizens and I have chosen books by writers who do the same. Books which are written with passion and purpose: to shift political understanding, to speak truth to power, to help people understand their country and the world, and to inspire a commitment to improving them.

Judith's book list on politics in Australia

Why did Judith love this book?

Australia, like Canada, the United States, and New Zealand, was settled as a White Man’s land, where the inequities and corruption of the Old World would be replaced by the egalitarianism and democratic commitments of New World progressivism. But there was no place for Indigenous peoples who were deemed backward and primitive. Lake explores the links between American and Australasian reformers at the turn-of-the-twentieth-century and the way they combined racial self-confidence with a commitment to forging an ideal social order. Lake shows that race and reform were mutually supportive as Progressivism became the political logic of settler colonialism.

By Marilyn Lake,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Progressive New World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The paradox of progressivism continues to fascinate more than one hundred years on. Democratic but elitist, emancipatory but coercive, advanced and assimilationist, Progressivism was defined by its contradictions. In a bold new argument, Marilyn Lake points to the significance of turn-of-the-twentieth-century exchanges between American and Australasian reformers who shared racial sensibilities, along with a commitment to forging an ideal social order. Progressive New World demonstrates that race and reform were mutually supportive as Progressivism became the political logic of settler colonialism.

White settlers in the United States, who saw themselves as path-breakers and pioneers, were inspired by the state experiments…

The Age of Acrimony

By Jon Grinspan,

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

Deborah Lincoln Author Of An Irish Wife

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

Who am I?

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

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…

Abolition Revolution

By Aviah Sarah Day, Shanice Octavia McBean,

Book cover of Abolition Revolution

Anitra Nelson

From Anitra's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Chai-tea-addict Anti-economist Human

Anitra's 3 favorite reads in 2023

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 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 the list on managing the reputation of cities and countries.

Who am I?

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

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…

In Praise of Idleness

By Bertrand Russell,

Book cover of In Praise of Idleness: The Classic Essay with a New Introduction by Bradley Trevor Greive

Carl Honoré Author Of In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed

From the list on slowness.

Who am I?

Writer, broadcaster, speaker. I used to be stuck in fast forward, rushing through life instead of living it. I finally realised I needed to slow down when I started speed reading bedtime stories to my son: my version of Snow White had just three dwarves in it! I went on to slow down – and became, in the words of CBC Radio, “the world's leading evangelist for the Slow Movement.”

Carl's book list on slowness

Why did Carl love this book?

Published in 1932, this essay hails from an era long before side hustles, smartphones and social media. And yet it still feels fresh and relevant today. Russell saw the cult of work as a form of social control – you keep people down by keeping them working. His view that more time for leisure would create a kinder, gentler society chimes with the Slow philosophy. In Praise of Idleness is a delicious paean to the art of doing things – or nothing at all – for the sheer joy of it.

By Bertrand Russell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Bertrand Russell is considered “the Voltaire of his time,” and Bradley Trevor Greive is considered one of the funniest people of his. Russell was a Nobel Laureate, and Greive is a New York Times bestselling author. Together, with Russell bringing the philosophy and Greive bringing the hilarious commentary, this book is a classic.

In his celebrated essay, In Praise of Idleness, Russell champions the seemingly incongruous notion that realizing our full potential―and thus enjoying the greatest possible success and happiness―is not accomplished by working harder or smarter, but through harnessing the extraordinary power of idleness.

Russell’s penetrating insights and exquisite…