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No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it pays to be well informed.
From criminal justice and civil rights to environmental policy and freedom of speech, the following 13 books of fiction and nonfiction span a wide range of genres and topics.
One thing they all have in common is that they speak to core liberal beliefs in one way or another, and provide a formidable well of knowledge and perspective for budding young progressives everywhere.
Here are the 13 books every young liberal should read:
1984 by George Orwell
When counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway spawned the phrase “alternative facts” in 2017, sales of George Orwell’s dystopian classic “1984” skyrocketed. Some people found parallels between our current reality and the one depicted in the 1949 novel.
In the book, a tyrant named Big Brother reigns supreme, rewriting history, spewing propaganda, and oppressing the populace via constant surveillance and the Thought Police.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
While some believed that Barack Obama’s presidential win marked a new era of racial equality, Michelle Alexander posits in “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” that the caste system hasn’t ended — it has just been “redesigned”.
In this bold and important 2010 book, she explores how the US criminal justice system, which has targeted black men and crippled communities of color, is one of the biggest perpetrators of systemic racism.
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Focusing on the meat-packing industry in Chicago, Upton Sinclair’s 1906 novel, “The Jungle,” explores the plight and exploitation of immigrant workers in the early 20th century.
The best-selling account, which describes seven weeks of graphic health violations and hard working conditions in stockyards and slaughterhouses, actually compelled President Theodore Roosevelt to pass food safety legislation that very year.
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
Based on her own experiences as an isolated suburban housewife, Betty Friedan penned the landmark 1963 book “The Feminine Mystique,” which helped kick-start second-wave feminism in the United States.
The nonfiction work argues that women could and should have a meaningful place in society outside of the home and traditional gender roles.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
In “Fahrenheit 451,” Rad Bradbury presents a dystopian future in which books are outlawed and firemen are tasked with torching any surviving books in an effort to censor ideas and eradicate knowledge.
The 1953 novel, which follows a book-burning fireman who becomes disillusioned, is thought to be a response to McCarthyism and state-based censorship.
Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky
One of the greatest thinkers of our time, Noam Chomsky channels his knowledge and experience as a philosopher, historian, scientist, activist, and social critic to examine three decades of US history in “Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky.”
The 2002 book, which contains an assortment of his lectures on the politics of power, makes connections between foreign policy and domestic social services while outlining necessary steps for social change.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
In 1952, an unknown author published what would become a major milestone in American literature. Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” centers on a nameless African-American narrator who is invisible due to the color of his skin.
The novel plumbs the depths of the country’s racial divide; explores the nature and effects of bigotry (both on the victim and the perpetrator); and touches on fundamental issues of the time, such as black nationalism and reformist racial policies.
An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore
Al Gore caught the attention of the world with his 2006 book, “An Inconvenient Truth,” which he later turned into two movies.
Based on his lecture tour on global warming and released in conjunction with the movie of the same name, the work explains climate change in a user-friendly way and opened the public’s eyes to the plight of our planet.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Even if you’ve seen the Emmy-winning Hulu show based on Margaret Atwood’s seminal 1985 novel, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the book is still a must-read.
Yes, it’s another dystopian story, but its warnings about women’s rights — particularly reproductive rights — are prescient. The story is set in a conservative, patriarchal society where infertility runs rampant, and fertile young women are held captive and used for breeding.
A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Howard Zinn asks readers to forget what they learned in school in “A People’s History of the United States.”
In the 1980 best-seller, he tells the story of our nation from the bottom up — via the experiences of the working poor, women, minorities, and immigrant laborers — instead of the official, government-issued version of events
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
When John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962, he was praised for his realistic and imaginative writings, including “The Grapes of Wrath.”
The powerful 1939 epic centers on a family of Oklahoma tenant farmers who are forced off their land during the Great Depression. While it touches on timely issues such as labor unions and agricultural industry changes, it also explores universal themes of power, family, self-interest, and dignity.
War is a Racket by Smedley D. Butler
After earning two Medals of Honor and retiring from the US Marine Corps, Major General Smedley D. Butler put pen to paper to inform the public of the commercial nature of war.
“War is a Racket,” a short book published in 1935, outlines how the military industrial complex works and who benefits financially when war is waged. Many consider it a work of anti-war treatise.
The Conscience of a Liberal by Paul Krugman
Economist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman takes on 80 years of US history in “The Conscience of a Liberal,” which examines the fall (after the Roaring Twenties) and subsequent rise (in the 1970s) of economic and political inequality.
Many believe the 2007 book was a clear and urgent call for progressives to take the reins of the country’s economic future.