Have you ever read a book and just thought “everyone needs to read this?” I’m typically a fiction reader and often find it hard to get into nonfiction books. Lately, however, I’ve become obsessed with reading about issues inherent in the American political system. Thankfully, there are tons of incredible writers out there who aren’t content to just sit back and do nothing. They are conducting research to get to the bottom of some of our issues and present real solutions. Here are my top four books that you (and everyone else) needs to read right now.
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
The New Jim Crow presents a very compelling case for the way in which racism has been systematically incorporated into the United States government. It traces a line from slavery to the Jim Crow Laws right up through the modern prison industrial complex. It shows how, into the present day, we have found a way to oppress minorities through completely legal means.
This book blew my mind wide open. I was aware that our criminal justice system had issues, but I didn’t quite realize the extent of it. What really amazed me was just how calculated the inequality inherent in the system was. This book will call into question everything you thought you knew about criminality in this country. It really forced me to take a second look at the language our politicians use and the way that racism has been embedded in our culture.
The Nordic Theory of Everything by Anu Partanen
I have always been struck by how much the European governments provide for their citizens during my travels. It seemed too good to be true. Surely the narrative that Americans tell you about Europe must be true—they are just “socialist nanny states” that coddle their people into complacency and hinder innovation.
This book, written by a Finnish woman who immigrated to America in 2010, will help you to reimagine this story. Partanen explains how, because Nordic countries provide free healthcare, education, and childcare to all their people, they actually facilitate a more free, content, and prosperous people. Contrary to the claim that these countries are socialistic, they are adamantly capitalistic. They help facilitate the growth of their economies by ensuring their people have the necessary resources to be productive members of society. This provides freedom from many economic worries. Even better, she provides insight on policy shifts that could help bring America into a more modern way of thinking about government.
Evicted: Poverty and the American City by Matthew Desmond
Evicted paints a stark picture of poverty in America. Matthew Desmond is a sociologist who immersed himself in two communities in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: a predominantly white trailer park and a black south side neighborhood. He follows a few families through the cycle of eviction and attempting to find housing for themselves and their families. They are working to get back on their feet but consistently struggling to overcome their eviction records. The book is utterly heartbreaking because the system seems completely stacked against these people.
Desmond details the challenges that the landlords face as well, to show how both sides fare poorly in the current system. He shows that the problem can’t be blamed on any one person or any single system or law, but is made up of a tapestry of issues that have been compounded over time. In addition to the evidence he presents, he offers real solutions to the problem. By explaining why previous efforts to address it have failed, he makes a compelling argument for policy changes that could actually create a real difference in the lives of Americans all across this country.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This book is a bit different than the other ones on the list, which present an issue, provide evidence of the issue in the United States, and then offer up solutions for ways to fix the problems. Coates wrote the book as a letter to his son. In this letter, he goes into great depth about the struggle of being a black man in this country. He talks about how the rules are different for them. How his son will have to conduct himself differently in order to not only succeed but simply survive. The book is beautifully written and heartbreaking, while offering an opportunity to really see the world from a different perspective. This, to me, is the real beauty of reading.
While these selections are just a few of the books that have recently come out in a wave to rethink and reimagine the way that America functions on a very large scale, they are all extremely important. I think that many Americans have started to feel that something in our system is broken, but feel at a loss of how to begin to make any change. These books provide a blueprint as to how to begin this fight and bring America into a new era.