The best books about welfare

2 authors have picked their favorite books about welfare and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Royal Bounty

By Frank Prochaska,

Book cover of Royal Bounty: The Making of a Welfare Monarchy

This is the first history that details how the late nineteenth-century monarchy became an engine of philanthropy. As kings and queens were sidelined, or reduced to insignificance, in political transactions, they increased their role in assisting non-profit institutions that contributed to the public good. They gave their patronage, for example, to hospitals, veterans’ associations, and civic charities. This gave the royal family an outsized influence in the do-good world, and this itself increased the respect in which the monarchy was held by people of all parties. Frank Prochaska is an American historian of Great Britain, so he brings a healthy objectivity to literature about royalty that is sometimes too credulous and deferential.


Who am I?

I’m an American who was taken by his parents to live in England for a year when he was a kid of eleven. The accents? The traditions? The school uniforms? All the traffic tangled up for a day because the Queen was riding to the State Opening of Parliament? It frightened me. It repelled me. I ended up loving it. I wrote my PhD thesis on the Victorian monarchy. A substantial part of all three of my first nonfiction books are about it. My novel on the current Queen of England has been a bestseller. It’s all about setting out to master what first strikes you as incomprehensible.


I wrote...

Mrs Queen Takes the Train

By William Kuhn,

Book cover of Mrs Queen Takes the Train

What is my book about?

Elizabeth II, Queen of England and all she surveys, is feeling low. The Diana debacle has shown her just how much the British public rates her lifetime of service. As a cure for her depression, she decides to make an impromptu outing to Scotland. She’s going all by herself on a public train. A mismatched group of staff members are on her trail and following close behind. They’re trying to bring her back before the tabloids find out what’s happened. In the course of her journey she makes a surprising rediscovery, her vocation.

Women Build the Welfare State

By Donna J. Guy,

Book cover of Women Build the Welfare State: Performing Charity and Creating Rights in Argentina, 1880-1955

My first choice is a book about the origins of the welfare state. If many see the Great Depression as the catalyst of the welfare state, Donna Guy traces it back to the social policies and institutions of the nineteenth century. Looking at the case of Argentina, she tells the story of how philanthropic, immigrant, and women groups assisted the needy, especially children and mothers.

Who am I?

I’m a historian of Latin America and a professor at California State University, Los Angeles. I write about Chile’s labor and social history in the twentieth century. As a historian, I am especially interested in understanding how working people relate with public institutions and authorities, what they expect from the state, and how they have organized and expanded social and economic rights. While my research centers in Chile and Latin America, I also look to place regional debates in a transnational framework and see how ideas and people have moved across borders. I like books that bring working people’s diverse voices and experiences. 


I wrote...

Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile

By Ángela Vergara,

Book cover of Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile

What is my book about?

In Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile, Ángela Vergara narrates the story of how industrial and mine workers, peasants and day laborers, as well as blue-collar and white-collar employees earned a living through periods of economic, political, and social instability in twentieth-century Chile. The Great Depression transformed how Chileans viewed work and welfare rights and how they related to public institutions. Influenced by global and regional debates, the state put modern agencies in place to count and assist the poor and expand their social and economic rights.

Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile contributes to understanding the profound inequality that permeates Chilean history through a detailed analysis of the relationship between welfare professionals and the unemployed, the interpretation of labor laws, and employers’ everyday attitudes.

Inventing the Needy

By Lynne Haney,

Book cover of Inventing the Needy: Gender and the Politics of Welfare in Hungary

This is a fantastic book to understand how welfare institutions work. Lynne Haney, a sociologist, looks at the state from the bottom up and analyzes the relationship between welfare recipients and caseworkers in Hungary. It is a book rich in stories that place people, especially women, at the center of debates about welfare and social rights.

Who am I?

I’m a historian of Latin America and a professor at California State University, Los Angeles. I write about Chile’s labor and social history in the twentieth century. As a historian, I am especially interested in understanding how working people relate with public institutions and authorities, what they expect from the state, and how they have organized and expanded social and economic rights. While my research centers in Chile and Latin America, I also look to place regional debates in a transnational framework and see how ideas and people have moved across borders. I like books that bring working people’s diverse voices and experiences. 


I wrote...

Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile

By Ángela Vergara,

Book cover of Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile

What is my book about?

In Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile, Ángela Vergara narrates the story of how industrial and mine workers, peasants and day laborers, as well as blue-collar and white-collar employees earned a living through periods of economic, political, and social instability in twentieth-century Chile. The Great Depression transformed how Chileans viewed work and welfare rights and how they related to public institutions. Influenced by global and regional debates, the state put modern agencies in place to count and assist the poor and expand their social and economic rights.

Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile contributes to understanding the profound inequality that permeates Chilean history through a detailed analysis of the relationship between welfare professionals and the unemployed, the interpretation of labor laws, and employers’ everyday attitudes.

Rethinking the Welfare Rights Movement

By Premilla Nadasen,

Book cover of Rethinking the Welfare Rights Movement

It is difficult to find an accessible and comprehensible history of the welfare state in the United States. But this book does exactly that. Premilla Nadasen writes an engaging overview of the welfare rights movement and the role played by radical Black feminist organizations. By analyzing the primary campaigns of the movement for welfare reform throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the reader gets a complete picture of the main actors involved and their political demands.

Who am I?

I’m a historian of Latin America and a professor at California State University, Los Angeles. I write about Chile’s labor and social history in the twentieth century. As a historian, I am especially interested in understanding how working people relate with public institutions and authorities, what they expect from the state, and how they have organized and expanded social and economic rights. While my research centers in Chile and Latin America, I also look to place regional debates in a transnational framework and see how ideas and people have moved across borders. I like books that bring working people’s diverse voices and experiences. 


I wrote...

Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile

By Ángela Vergara,

Book cover of Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile

What is my book about?

In Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile, Ángela Vergara narrates the story of how industrial and mine workers, peasants and day laborers, as well as blue-collar and white-collar employees earned a living through periods of economic, political, and social instability in twentieth-century Chile. The Great Depression transformed how Chileans viewed work and welfare rights and how they related to public institutions. Influenced by global and regional debates, the state put modern agencies in place to count and assist the poor and expand their social and economic rights.

Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile contributes to understanding the profound inequality that permeates Chilean history through a detailed analysis of the relationship between welfare professionals and the unemployed, the interpretation of labor laws, and employers’ everyday attitudes.

New book lists related to welfare

All book lists related to welfare

Bookshelves related to welfare