3 Books to Read on Independence Day if You’re Politically-Minded

Illustrations © Nathan Gelgud

Every Fourth of July, I’m reminded of Flavor Flav’s introduction to the Public Enemy track “Louder than a Bomb” from their 1988 masterpiece album “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back”:

They claim we’re products from the bottom of hell

Because the black is back and it’s bound to sell

Picture us coolin’ out on the Fourth of July

And if you heard we were celebratin’ that’s a worldwide lie!

That album turned thirty a few weeks ago, but it feels just as vital and incendiary as it did then. It’s is also a valuable reminder that before the current administration, suspicion of the CIA and FBI belonged to leftist revolutionaries like the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, and Public Enemy. On “Louder Than a Bomb,” PE frontman Chuck D raps about how the CIA murdered Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X and suspects that the FBI is tapping his own phone.July 4/Nathan Gelgud

If Independence Day has you thinking more about government-sponsored assassination than flag-waving and cookouts, I’ve got a short reading list — a political treatise, a biography, and a novel — to keep you occupied while you’re skipping the barbecues and fireworks.

  • The cover of the book Black Power

    Black Power

    Politics of Liberation in America

    Stokely Carmichael rose to prominence in the Civil Rights movement as an adherent to Martin Luther King’s doctrine of nonviolence. But he grew frustrated with the slow progress of the movement and with watching black people die at the hands of white cops. As he would say, “In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience.” His coinage of the term Black Power came at a time when much of the movement was careening towards more radical tactics.

  • The cover of the book On a Farther Shore

    On a Farther Shore

    The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson, Author of Silent Spring

    Listed as one of the 50 most influential progressives of the 20th century by The Nation, Rachel Carson was an environmentalist before there was such a thing. She’d written many books about the wonders of the natural world as a marine biologist before writing Silent Spring, one of the most important books of her time. Souder’s biography is an engrossing read about a thoughtful, determined woman who turned activist because there was no other ethical option.

  • The cover of the book The Jungle

    The Jungle

    (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)

    Sinclair went undercover in 1904 to work in Chicago’s meatpacking plants, and published “The Jungle,” based on his experiences there, as a serial in the socialist newspaper Appeal to Reason. Sinclair wrote it as an indictment of the exploitation of workers and immigrants, but its major effect was on government regulation of food safety. Sinclair was a devoted socialist and used the proceeds from “The Jungle” to start a utopian (but admittedly discriminatory) society in New Jersey, and in the 1920s he founded the California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.