The best books about the working class 📚

Browse the best books on the working class as recommended by authors, experts, and creators. Along with notes on why they recommend those books.

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Book cover of Joe

Joe

By Larry Brown

Why this book?

Fiction as literature of the resistance? Larry Brown’s Joe is a top candidate for what I’d call The Great American Novel. There are many entries, of course: as many stories as there are communities, past, present, and even future. 

What I love about Joe is the simplicity of metaphor. A backwoods ne’er-do-well, Joe Ransom makes his living killing—literally—the great wild biodiversity hardwood powerhouse forests of the Mississippi bottomlands by injecting them with poison so that they die, and the rich forest can be converted to the homogenous, fast-growing, essentially sterile monoculture of southern yellow pine. His way of life—wild, reckless,…

From the list:

The best books to read about resistance

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Book cover of Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class

By Eric Lott

Why this book?

A highly opinionated, and thus sometimes frustrating, analysis of the pre-Civil War minstrel show, and how it impacted both oppressed African-Americans and the working-class whites who made the shows so popular. This was the first major book to advance the idea that the minstrel show was not only an exploitation of black culture (the “theft”), but also appreciated that culture and began its integration into the American musical mainstream (the “love”), which would prove to have profound implications in decades to come. An influential book that has been frequently cited in subsequent works.

From the list:

The best books to understand the minstrel show

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Book cover of The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner

The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner

By Alan Sillitoe

Why this book?

A non-runner begins running in prison and discovers its therapeutic benefits that help him do his time and start him on a journey of self-discovery. Having been an early morning runner for many years, I appreciated the protagonist’s descriptions of frosty early morning runs, which I think are some of the best in literature.
From the list:

The best books that describe the discovery & experience of running

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Book cover of Detroit: I Do Mind Dying: A Study in Urban Revolution

Detroit: I Do Mind Dying: A Study in Urban Revolution

By Dan Georgakas, Marvin Surkin

Why this book?

The name “Detroit” too often conjures images of poverty-porn: gorgeously crumbling buildings, post-apocalyptic urban decay, lost souls wandering cracked streets. Detroit: I Do Mind Dying shatters this image with unfettered energy. It chronicles the League of Revolutionary Black Workers in the auto plants of the 1960s-1970s, a refreshing reminder of the power of intersectional labor organizing; a raw look at the racism of the mainstream labor movement; and a very human chronicle of the struggles and flaws of courageous everyday workers at this critical time and place in history.
From the list:

The best books about labour and workers fighting against all odds

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Book cover of Sex in an Old Regime City: Young Workers and Intimacy in France, 1660-1789

Sex in an Old Regime City: Young Workers and Intimacy in France, 1660-1789

By Julie Hardwick

Why this book?

This book brings to light the intimate relationships of ordinary young men and women as opposed to those of powerful, public women. While royal women endured contemporary surveillance of their sexuality, pregnancies, and childbirths, the intimate lives of ordinary women must be wrested from archival records. Harwick’s exploration of legal records concerning unmarried pregnant women reveals the various range of strategies they adopted as well as the extensive support, both emotional and financial, they received from their community—clergy, lawyers, midwives, parents, etc.—to the benefit of both mother and child. Such support may well have reduced child abandonment and infanticide.

Hardwick…

From the list:

The best books on the power, sex, and influence of women in early modern France

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Book cover of The Profit Paradox: How Thriving Firms Threaten the Future of Work

The Profit Paradox: How Thriving Firms Threaten the Future of Work

By Jan Eeckhout

Why this book?

This book addresses another highly charged topic, the exorbitant profits of tech and internet giants. The focus is on the consequences of the huge profits on competition, economic policy, and society at large. 1% of the world’s largest companies reap 36% of global so-called economic profit, that is the profit that exceeds the cost of capital. The book, which is punctuated with juicy examples, is very didactic as well as rigorous, and will appeal not only to those versed in economics but to the enlightened public in general. It is, however, not a book on how to manage profit, but…

From the list:

The best books on how to manage profit and survive

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