Reading is essential to our understanding of the world. It introduces us to new perspectives, new ideas and new ways of life. It allows us to learn important life lessons without having to make the mistakes to learn them, and to travel to other countries, continents, and even different times. For self-acclaimed activists, idealist and general do-gooders, reading is especially functional. Learning about the experiences and knowledge of others helps us grasp abstract issues, such as racism, injustice and inequality. Reading about the lives of changemakers and influential figures can inspire us to take action, or to formulate our own plans of action.

Even though there are millions of books out there, it can sometimes feel as if there are no new books to read. So, dear Idealists, to make sure your bookshelves are stocked for the next few months, we composed a list of books we think every Idealist should read.


Justice and poverty

Just Mercy - Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption – by Bryan Stevenson

Bryan Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in the USA. This book is about his career challenging bias against the poor and minorities in the criminal justice system, specifically focusing on children and the death penalty. This book gives a thorough insight into the bias encountered by people of colour in the criminal justice system and the difficulties in challenging this system. Despite the heavy subject matter, it is an easy read. This book will leave you outraged and with a thorough understanding of one of the most significant issues of our time.


From Outrage to Courage - Anne Firth Murry

From Outrage to Courage – Anne Firth Murry

In From Outrage to Courage, activist and professor in international women’s health and human rights Anne Firth Murry sets out the many issues that girls and women in developing countries face during their lives. These topics vary from sexual violence to being denied access to education, and from gender-selective abortions to arranged marriage. All of the information is backed up by scientific evidence and Anne’s own experiences in developing countries. To keep readers from losing all hope, every chapter ends with examples of organisations and groups that successfully fight for women’s rights, and their accomplishments.


I’m judging you: The Do-Better Manual - Luvvie Ajayi

I’m judging you: The Do-Better Manual – Luvvie Ajayi

In this collection of essays, Luvvie Ajayi, the owner of AwesomelyLuvvie.com, addresses a range of issues, varying from light subjects such as guidelines for pleasant use of social media to racism and media representation. With her razor-sharp wit and smart insights into society, Luvvie has the ability to engage the writer in both light and serious matter. This definitely is a fun and valuable read!


The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness - Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – Michelle Alexander

When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, many people took this as a sign that new era of colourblindness had started. Michelle Alexander challenges this notion by laying out how the criminal justice system has adopted the function of racial control in the USA. This systems specifically targets black men through the War on Drugs, decimates communities of colour, and relegates millions of people to a permanent second-class status.


White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White - Daniel Hill

White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White – Daniel Hill

Trying to understand the notion of white culture and the effect it has on other cultures, Daniel Hill began a journey to understand the white identity. The book explains the seven stages that people go through in their cultural awakening. Moreover, it empowers white people to be agents of reconciliation in a world where the focus seems to be on differences instead of similarities.


The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege - Ken Wytsma

The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege – Ken Wytsma

Ken Wytsma examines the notion of privilege and discusses whether it is real or imagined. He explains the foundations and background of inequality and privilege. Moreover, he equips the reader with the information needed to effectively take part in the discussion about race-related issues. An essential book for white people to read, as it opens the reader’s eyes to daily realities and privileges that mostly go unnoticed.


Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement- Angela Y. Davis

Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement- Angela Y. Davis

Angela Davis takes the reader with her in the exploration of the foundations of previous liberation struggles. This journey covers, amongst others, movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Anti-Apartheid Movement. She highlights the connections between different movements and connects past movements to today’s struggles.

Photo of person reading a book

Equality, feminism and LGBTQI

Nasty Women - by Samhita Mukhopadhyay & Kate Harding

Nasty Women – by Samhita Mukhopadhyay & Kate Harding

As President Trump’s proclamations about ‘nasty women’ became known all over the world, feminists decided to reappropriate the phrase. Samhita Mukhopadhyah and Kate Harding published the work of inspiring women who are not afraid to state their opinion. Nasty Women features essays of a diverse group of female writers about the state society is in today, how we got there, and what is now needed to move forward.


Men Explain Things to Me - by Rebecca Solnit

Men Explain Things to Me – by Rebecca Solnit

In one of the essential reads to understanding feminism, Rebecca Solnit introduces the term ‘mansplaining’, and lays out other phenomena such as rape culture, global inequality and marriage equality. Rebecca manages to explain heavy material in a light and easy-to-read fashion, and thereby to make feminism accessible for a wide variety of people.


Dear Madam President - by Jennifer Palmieri

Dear Madam President – by Jennifer Palmieri

Jennifer Palmieri, former Communications Director of Hillary Clinton, wrote this book as a letter to the first female president and to all women working to succeed in any field. Jennifer lays out frameworks for women to take control of their lives, workplaces, and their country.


Full Frontal Feminism: a Young Women’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters - by Jessica Valenti

Full Frontal Feminism: a Young Women’s Guide to Why Feminism Matters – by Jessica Valenti

Jessica Valenti, the founder of feministing.com, wrote this guide for young women to support them with issues they face, such as health, reproductive rights, violence, and pop culture. The book has been so influential for feminism, that the Washington Post even wrote that much of the credit of the revival of feminism among young women should go to this book.


Feminist Fight Club: a Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace - Jessica Bennett

Feminist Fight Club: a Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace – Jessica Bennett

In Feminist Fight Club, Jessica Bennett describes common biases and problems that women encounter in the workplace and lays out frameworks to tackle these problems. With wit, Jessica talks about issues such as pay inequality and being ‘manterrupted’ and ‘himitated’, and provides fight moves to tackle these problems in the future. Feminist Fight Club is one of those books that every woman, especially young women, should read.


Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done - Susan J. Douglas

Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done – Susan J. Douglas

A situation every feminist has experienced at least once or twice: ending up in a discussion about why feminism is not needed anymore since nowadays women are entirely equal to men. Using examples of how women are portrayed in popular culture, Susan J. Douglas illustrates how sexism is still very present in today’s society. She explains how these portrayals keep us from tackling the challenges that women are facing and drive wedges between generations of women.


The Guy’s Guide to Feminism - Michael Kaufman & Michaell Kimmel

The Guy’s Guide to Feminism – Michael Kaufman & Michaell Kimmel

In probably one of the only guides on feminism written by male authors, Michael Kaufman and Michael Kimmel write about the changes in feminism over the last decades, and how these changes affect women and men.


On Being Different: What It Means To Be a Homosexual - Merle Miller

On Being Different: What It Means To Be a Homosexual – Merle Miller

In On Being Different, Merle Miller describes what it is like to be homosexual in the US. The book was first published in 1971 but is still very relevant today. It presents the struggle that gay people have gone through over the last decades, many of which are still relevant today.


Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial - Kenji Yoshino

Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial – Kenji Yoshino

In Speak Now, Kenji Yoshino described the events surrounding Hollingsworth v Perry. This was the trial that legalised same-sex marriage in 2010 in California. During this trial, the nature of marriage, the political status of gays and lesbians, the ideal circumstances for raising children, and the ability of a democracy to protect fundamental rights were thoroughly examined. The abstract and legal reality of the trial is made comprehensive though Kenji’s account of his own experiences in finding love, marrying, and having children as a gay man. This book is an absolute must-read to understanding one of the most significant victories of the LGBTQ-community in recent years.


Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality - Jo Becker

Forcing the Spring: Inside the Fight for Marriage Equality – Jo Becker

In Forcing the Spring, Jo Becker describes the five year battle for marriage equality in the US. This started with the 2010 trial in California challenging the ban on same-sex marriage. She was given free rein in legal and political war rooms where the strategy for marriage equality was plotted, such as the Oval office, the chambers of federal judges, and into the mindset of Supreme Court judges. Not only does Jo give an excellent insight into the fight for marriage equality, she also manages to do this with a talent for storytelling that would be fitting for a great thriller.


Person reading a book on bed

Biographies & Inspiring people

Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World - Sarah Prager

Queer There and Everywhere: 23 People Who Changed the World – Sarah Prager

In this book for young adults, Sarah Prager writes about 23 people who have two things in common. They belong to the LGBTQ-community, and they have had a significant impact on the world. While the book features some well-known people such as Abraham Lincoln and Frida Kahlo, it also includes lots of people who are yet to get the attention they deserve.


100 Nasty Women of History - Hannah Jewell

100 Nasty Women of History – Hannah Jewell

Hannah Jewell tells the stories of 100 of the bravest and baddest women in history. Women from all over the world, from every race and discipline, often not recognised for their work, but all ‘nasty’ in the best sense of the word. Some of the women discussed are well-known such as Aretha Franklin and Coco Chanel. Others are not but genuinely deserve a spotlight.


The Book of Awesome Women - Becca Anderson

The Book of Awesome Women – Becca Anderson

This book about the accomplishments of women will not only inspire you and make you happy, but it will also teach you about essential parts of history and current affairs that are often underreported.


The Autobiography of Martin Luther King -Clayborne Carson

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King -Clayborne Carson

Martin Luther King is one of the most well-known and prominent activists and change makers for civil rights and equality in the US. This account of Martin Luther King’s professional and personal life will teach you about leadership, activism, and history, while increasing your understanding of the society we live in today.


Rosa Parks: My Story - Rosa Parks & Jim Haskins

Rosa Parks: My Story – Rosa Parks & Jim Haskins

In My Story, Rosa Parks tells us about the civil rights movement in the USA, in which she had a major part, and the turbulent times she lived in. Although she is most famous for refusing to give up her seat in a segregated bus and thereby sparking the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott, her life was filled with many more quiet but significant acts of resistance and activism.


I am Malala - Malala Yousafzai

I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai

In 2014, Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize for her relentless advocacy for girls right to education, freedom of terror, and female emancipation. In this biography, she tells the story of how she became an advocate for human rights, how she was shot in the head by the Taliban, and how, despite this, she never stopped advocating for human rights. If you ever doubt your potential to change the world, read this book, and you will be amazed by the impact one person can have.


50 Inspirational Bedtime Stories: 50 Amazing Black People Who Changed the World - L.A. Amber

50 Inspirational Bedtime Stories: 50 Amazing Black People Who Changed the World – L.A. Amber

While this book was actually written for children, adults will certainly enjoy reading it as well. The writer bundled the stories of 50 black people who had or have a profound influence on the world, ranging from Serena Williams to Michael Jackson to Barack Obama, and featuring many more stories.


Book shelves with beautiful light

Fictional

None of the above - I. W. Gregorio

None of the above – I. W. Gregorio

In this fictional story, Kristin Lattimer finds out that she is intersex. As if this situation is not complicated enough, her story is then leaked to the whole school. None of the Above explores what it means to be a boy, a girl, or something in between. It will make you think about gender norms that are present in our society, and give you an idea of what it is like to not entirely fit into one of the two dominant categories.


The Miseducation of Cameron Post - Emily M. Danforth

The Miseducation of Cameron Post – Emily M. Danforth

Cameron Post is gay but has not told anyone, when her parents die in a car crash. She comes to live with her old-fashioned grandmother and aunt Ruth and falls in love with her best friend. When she is eventually outed, she is sent to a religious conversion camp to “cure” her homosexuality and to teach her “appropriate gender roles”. By the way, in case you were feeling like having a movie night, the book was turned into a movie which was released in 2018.


To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

In this classic, Harper Lee tells the story of a black man who is being accused of raping a white woman during the Great Depression in Alabama, USA. The story is told from the perspective of Jean Louise Finch, whose father is the attorney who defends the suspect. It addresses issues such as racial injustice, the destruction of innocence, and gender roles. Let’s just say, there is a reason that this book is a must-read in practically every high school in the USA.


The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist is an enchanting tale about a young shepherd who gives up everything to follow his dreams, and the adventures and challenges he encounters along the way. This is the ultimate book to read when you long to follow your heart but are not quite ready to step out of your comfort zone.


The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

Based on real life and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, the book tells the story of Starr Carter, whose best friend Khalil is shot and killed by a police officer. Although he was not armed, he ‘probably was a drug dealer’ according to the police. Starr tries to pick up her life in a society torn of by inequalit. A contrast that becomes ever more clear as she lives in a poor neighbourhood while going to school in a wealthy neighbourhood.


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