Reading the resistance
10 books to educate and inspire you to action
It's nearly six months into the current presidential regime and, let's be frank, things feel worse than ever. Trumpcare remains a dire threat. Reproductive and LGBTQ rights are in peril. People of color and those who are—or appear to be—Muslim live their lives in constant danger. Meanwhile, our continued abuse of the environment produces real consequences, and every time you turn on a TV, a bunch of talking heads are yelling political nonsense. It’s difficult to tell alternative facts from fiction, much less stay focused on figuring out real change.
And yet, you’ve tried to stay on point. You check your confirmation biases, have devoured Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and George Orwell’s 1984 and subscribed to the Washington Post, the Atlantic and Teen Vogue. Still emotionally, intellectually and spiritually exhausted? Here are 10 must-read books to renew your commitment to the resistance.
1Sinclair Lewis, It Can't Happen Here
(Signet Classics, $9.99)
Read it because: The New Yorker called Lewis’ 1935 novel “one of the most important books ever produced in this country” and that assessment still holds true today. Lewis’ book tells the story of a fascist politician who stirs up fears, foments distrust and, basically, promises to make America great again and accordingly defeats Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It once seemed like a chilling glimpse at an alternate American reality; now it reads like a primer on the last election and current administration.
Recommended if you like: Philip K. Dick’s terrifyingly prescient The Man in the High Castle, Orwell’s 1984 or not sleeping thanks to crippling anxiety.
2Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities
(Haymarket Books, $15.99)
Read it because: Solnit writes smartly on myriad topics—feminism, climate change, art—and this book is no exception. Hope in the Dark, originally published in 2004, is just that: a guiding spotlight on activism and commitment in a time of despair. Placing personal experiences against the broad tapestry of history, Solnit makes a case for optimism and action as the path to real, transformational change. “Your opponents would love you to believe that it’s hopeless, that you have no power, that there’s no reason to act, that you can’t win,” Solnit writes in the foreword to the book’s latest edition. “Hope is a gift you don’t have to surrender.”
Recommended if you like: Naomi Klein’s No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, Amanda Sussman’s The Art of the Possible, calling your senators and marching in the streets.
3Brooke Gladstone, The Trouble with Reality: A Rumination on Moral Panic in Our Time
(Workman Publishing Group, $8.95)
Read it because: Fake news, alternative facts and other lies make it difficult to parse real life from politics. Gladstone, who co-hosts On the Media, a weekly radio news magazine show with Bob Garfield, lays out Trump’s authoritarian communication strategy, including a look at his beloved Twitter account. Whether he’s pushing send on “trial balloon tweets,” “deflection tweets” or “diversion tweets,” Gladstone posits that when it comes to the current president, “lying is the point.” Still, she adds, we’re part of the problem, too: “If fake reality is the problem, the logical first step is to track down its sources,” she writes. “But that is a very short, very frustrating expedition, because fake reality begins at home. In your head.” Oof.
Recommended if you like: Gladstone’s graphic nonfiction book, The Influencing Machine, Hannah Arendt’s 1973 classic The Origins of Totalitarianism or yelling at TV news.
4 Nancy Isenberg, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
(Penguin Books, $17)
Read it because: You want to get a better understanding of at least part of Trump’s base but found J.D. Vance’s much-praised memoir Hillbilly Elegy to be myopic and frustratingly superficial. Published just months before the 2016 election, Isenberg’s book deconstructs this country’s class system with a precise eye. And, looking back on the contentious 2008 election that wrought Sarah Palin, she cements the future, writing, “When you turn an election into a three-ring circus, there’s always a chance that the dancing bear will win.”
Recommended if you like: Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? and a better understanding of the inevitable arguments you’re going to have at the family holiday dinner table.
5Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution
(Simon & Schuster, $20)
Read it because: Faderman’s 2015 book offers a bird’s-eye view of the LGBTQ community and its struggle for basic rights and safety from the 1950s to the present. Whether it’s the Stonewall riots, the misguided “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” legislation or the lengthy fight to legalize same-sex marriage, Faderman writes with the unflinching eye of a historian and the dramatic elegance of a novelist.
Recommended if you like: Michael Bronski’s A Queer History of the United States and, of course, advocating for love.
6Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
(Spiegel & Grau, $25)
Read it because: Coates’ slim collection of essays, written as letters to his young son, make for a brutally honest read on race in America. Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin live in these pages as does an argument for the Black Lives Matter movement and an examination of this country’s ongoing and systematic mistreatment of black people. Not an easy read, but an essential one.
Recommended if you like: James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son or facing your own inherent prejudices.
7 Bill McKibben, Wandering Home: A Long Walk Across America's Most Hopeful Landscape
(St. Martin's Griffin, $16.99)
Read it because: You’re worried about Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, which aims to fight climate change. McKibben, an environmentalist and journalist, writes about the planet in a way that takes the universal and makes it personal. Told through the lens of a long hike through the Northeastern United States, the book brings the physical world to life on the page.
Recommended if you like: Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and saving the planet.
8America's Working Women: A Documentary History, 1600 to the Present
(W. W. Norton & Company, $22.95)
Read it because: This collection of stories, poems and essays (edited by Rosalyn Baxandall and Linda Gordon) was penned by working women across the country. Originally published in 1976, it makes for a feminist history that transcends generations, cultures, race and class.
Recommended if you like: Anything by Bell Hooks, Susan Faludi and Virginia Woolf, or borrowing dusty books from your mom’s shelf.
9Saul Alinsky, Rules for Radicals
Read it because: You’re overwhelmed, you don’t know where to start and you’re mad as hell at the current administration. Originally published in 1971, Alinsky’s book remains relevant as a guide on how to get past talk to effect real social, cultural and political change through community organizing, sacrifice and tangible action.
Recommended if you like: Noam Chomsky, getting off your ass and meaningful conversations that actually lead to action.
10Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
(Beacon Press, $16)
Read it because: You’ve already read several other “alternative” U.S. histories and now want one told from the perspective of this country’s first inhabitants. Dunbar-Ortiz, the daughter of a farmer father and Native American mother, challenges myths about European settlers and their impact on millions of indigenous people.
Recommended if you like: Dunbar-Ortiz’ 1977 book The Great Sioux Nation or zealously picking apart Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.