17 Books to Build Your Social Justice Knowledge

In light of our current climate, I wanted to share some of my favorite books to up your social justice knowledge and walk in someone else’s shoes for a while. This is in no way a complete list. But all these books influenced my thinking and life.

Social Justice books


Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks

1) This book is FREE, so download it now. 2) hooks addresses intersectional feminism, and her whole entire mission as a feminist is to make previously academic-level rhetoric accessible to everyone. This book is short, easy to read, and speaks to everyone.

Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women by Susan Faludi

I read this book when I was 11 or 12, and it changed my life. Backlash isn’t perfect. It’s two biggest flaw are 1) those born after 1991 (when it was published) will not necessarily understand all the references; and 2) this is very much about white middle class women. It is, however, one of the first books that examined the effects of media portrayals of women and how it intertwines with politics.

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde

This book may have come out before Blacklash, but Lorde’s words could’ve been written today. (Except for the first essay about her time in the USSR.) An alarming reminder that no matter how far we go, we still have miles to go when it comes to intersectional justice.

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen

Since school history books teach a white supremacist patriarchal worldview, Loewen deconstructs and examines some of the most well-known parts of American history. For example, you may have known Christopher Columbus was the worst, but he’s actually in top 10 worst people in history bad. Loewen’s particular specialty is African American history. This text breaks down a lot of racist American mythology.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Gay’s book is highly personal, but also political. She writes about trauma, feminism, and pop culture. Gay focuses on how no feminist is perfect because we live in a problematic society, and yes, you can like trashy reality TV and still be a feminist.

The Butterfly Mosque: A Young American Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam by G. Willow Wilson

Wilson’s memoir is beautifully written. It covers her journey from white suburban Colorado to Egypt where she converts to Islam and also meets and falls in love with her husband.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

Reprinting her Dear Sugar advice column, Strayed argues that we should have radical empathy to ourselves and to each other. Each column is a different person’s story, and some will make you laugh and others make you cry. All of them will fill your heart.

Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Ever been told if you were just happier, life would be better? Ehrenreich debunks all the myths about positive attitudes and success. She starts with her personal journey through breast cancer and its happy industry, then digs into where these ideas came about. Yay science!

Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More by Janet Mock

Mock’s memoir is all about the intersections of her life and her public coming out as a transwoman. Her story is a powerful one about gender, race, class, and different parts of America.

Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse

Cruse’s graphic novel describes his life as a young white gay man in the South during the 60’s Civil Rights movement. Due to his sexuality and interest in music, Cruse goes to clubs and places run by African Americans. His story is both about his sometimes very reluctant journey into anti-racism work and the perils of coming out in the ’60s.


The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A dystopian feminist classic, Atwood describes patriarchy in extreme and the life of Offred, a breeder for the upperclass. Offred’s journey takes you through what life could look like when women don’t have reproductive or personal freedoms. I picture Trump in that brothel.

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

A beautiful and heart wrenching tale of black women in the South during Jim Crow 30s. These characters jump off the page, including their love for each other and the harsh realities of the world they inhabit.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore

Moore’s famous graphic novel — seriously read the book, don’t just watch the movie — about anarchist resistance against fascism and propaganda by mass media. It reminds us again and again to question everything we think we know. If only more people watching CNN or Fox News thought twice about what they heard.

Bitch Planet, Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, and Robert Wilson IV

The patriarchy decides that all non-compliant women need to be shipped off a prison planet nicknamed Bitch Planet. This graphic novel and ongoing comic series is as intersectional feminist as fuck, and it’s wonderful.

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu and Sana Takeda

Set in a steampunk, art deco fantasy land Asia, Liu describes this graphic novel and ongoing comic series as a story about surviving. These characters in particular are survivors of war. The text takes on issues of racism, slavery, and class.

Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, edited by Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha

First read some Octavia Butler. Then come back and read Octavia’s Brood where activists and organizers who are people of color write their own sci-fi stories inspired by Butler. Brilliant. A rare anthology where I found almost 100% of the stories engaging and well-done.

Lazarus, Vol. 1: Family by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark

Think corporations won’t slowly takeover the world? This dystopian graphic novel and ongoing comic book series explores a world run by corporate families where the rest of us are serfs.

What books would you add to this list? What should I read next? Tell me by replying to this post, and I’ll include them in my next newsletter.

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