Investigative journalist Shane Bauer spent four months working as a guard at a private prison in Louisiana, which provided him with a narrative around which to tell the history of for-profit prisons in the US, all the way back to the Civil War. American Prison shows how corrupt, abusive, and criminal the prison industrial complex has always been, and how it is one of the most urgent human rights issues of our present moment.
The Stonewall Reader
The Stonewall uprising—during which police raided the gay-friendly establishment Stonewall Inn and riots ensued, sparking the LBGTQ+ rights movement—is a pivotal moment in 20th-century American history, and The Stonewall Reader, curated by the New York Public Library, is an excellent primer and celebration of the brave souls who fought and changed everything.
Transgender activist Leslie Feinberg’s seminal work Transgender Warriors set the standard for nonfiction on transgender terminology. Moving through history to showcase memorable and important transgender figures Feinberg’s 1996 book introduced the mainstream world to a (still) overlooked and dismissed community.
The Muslims Are Coming
In the name of the “War on Terror,” the US and the UK have secretly kept tabs on thousands and thousands of “domestic terrorists,” Muslim citizens suspected of being al-Qaeda “sympathizers.” Arun Kundani’s impeccably researched The Muslims Are Coming shines a terrifying light on the government’s selective and repressive reach.
Women, Race, & Class
Angela Y. Davis
Angela Y. Davis’s hugely influential 1983 book Women, Race, & Class told the history of the women’s liberation movement in the US, but with an emphasis on the racial and classist elements that hindered its progression. A world-renowned activist and writer, Davis’s monumental study is still relevant and insightful almost four decades after its initial publication.
Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol’s devastating critique of America’s public school system, was the result of two years of investigating. His earth-shattering exposé unequivocally demonstrated the enormous inequities between wealthy and poor schools. A tragic and vital document, Kozol’s book shocked America with its unprecedented look at how race and class determine our children’s educations and, subsequently, their futures.
The Fire Next Time
One of the most important works of criticism in the 20th century, James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time contains two essays: one on race in American history; the other on race and religion. Baldwin’s inimitable writing and his scathing intelligence made this 1963 book a landmark in American literature in particular and literature in general.
Social justice is a concept with many branches, but ultimately it is the harbinger of progress, the engine of civic betterment, and the hallmark of vital causes. Encompassed within the term are movements and moments like civil rights, feminism, LGBTQ+ advancement, women’s and African American’s suffrage, Brown v. Board of Education, Roe v. Wade, Black Lives Matter, the Stonewall uprising, and numerous examples of changed legislation. Here are seven books that cover different aspects of social justice, for a better understanding of who we have to thank for progress.
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