27 Best Books to Understand the Costs of Discrimination

Is there a way to measure racism or misogyny? Is there a way to demonstrate that bias leads to death and destruction? How to present proof to those who insist that unless someone is physically injured, no real harm comes through language, or those who claim that racism is a thing of the past?

The twenty-seven books introduced here all concern the impact of prejudice. They offer proof of the end result of a speech act, or the consequences of inequality. Rather than operating as if discrimination is an abstract idea that is difficult to prove, these books all offer the evidence of what happens when prejudice interferes with real lives.

  • The cover of the book On the Other Side of Freedom

    On the Other Side of Freedom

    The Case for Hope

    DeRay McKesson makes the case for hope as he examines the current landscape. McKesson guides his reader through the lessons he has absorbed from disparate locations and sources: the streets of Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting death of Michael Brown and the resultant demonstrations on behalf of justice; from the wisdom of his family members who taught him how to confront bullies; and from his study of the various ways that Whiteness has to perform in order to hold on to its power. McKesson has produced the memoir of an activist that also works as a handbook for those readers wanting to learn how to talk to power. But he has also written a poignant collection of reflections on love and forgiveness, on how to acknowledge the pain that some of our closest family members have inflicted while still making room for us to love them again. This is a profound piece of work.

  • The cover of the book Rising Out of Hatred

    Rising Out of Hatred

    The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist

    Rodgers and Hammerstein explained prejudice as something “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught.” No one was more carefully taught than Derek Black, who learned to hate anyone who was not white or Christian from his father, the founder of the extremist hate group, Stormfront. The younger Black was homeschooled to avoid any possible counter-information than that received at home, although Derek also learned the standard subjects, especially when it was discovered that he loved physics. When Derek wanted to pursue his studies, he started attending college, and, as Saslow demonstrates, his interaction with his peers and falling in love with his girlfriend gave him the opportunity to see how his father’s views were not reflected among the people he met. Saslow argues that Black has been redeemed by his rejection of his father’s views and his denunciation of Stormfront. Readers may be left with questions about whether Derek Black should be held accountable for actions committed when he was a young adult.

  • The cover of the book There Will Be No Miracles Here

    There Will Be No Miracles Here

    A Memoir

    Casey Gerald begins his powerful memoir on New Year’s Eve of 1999. For months prior to January 1, 2000, the newspapers had been full of stories about the possibilities of a “Y2K” computer bug that could set off nuclear holocaust if programmers couldn’t figure out how to change the internal clocks. On that night, Gerald huddled with his mother in a church in Dallas, waiting for the end to come. Years later, Gerald would go to Yale and to Harvard Business School, and by all economic measures, he would be regarded as a success. But as a gay man of color, Gerald had struggled with his observations about how power operated in the enclaves to which he now belonged, and those who permanently had the door shut in their faces. In his provocative work, Gerald makes an argument that each of us have a moral obligation to confront the problems that we see. Not only to acknowledge their existence, but to actively work to fix those problems and prevent them from being passed along to someone else. Along such a path, he shows, each of us discover the purpose of a life.

  • The cover of the book The Farewell Symphony

    The Farewell Symphony

    In mid-1981, the New York Times reported that a “rare cancer” had been detected among gay men in San Francisco and New York. Ronald Reagan had just been elected to the White House. It would not be until 1986 that Reagan would instruct his Surgeon General to prepare a report on the cluster of opportunistic infections caused by HIV. In the exquisite novel, The Farewell Symphony, Edmund White writes about his life with his partner in the 1960s and 1970s, and how, as AIDS moved through their community, they lost friends one-by-one. As friends die, so too does the community. White writes with passion and pain about a place that once existed, but which was diminished each time the bell tolled. It is hard to comprehend sometimes just how much was lost during the “Plague Years.”

  • The cover of the book Joe Hill

    Joe Hill

    A Biographical Novel

    At the beginning of the 20th Century, workers in the traditional trades formed collective bargaining units in order to agitate for their economic rights. What were called “unskilled” workers were not eligible for union memberships. The union that welcomed them was The International Workers of the World, the I.W.W., which recognized that many of the issues afflicting factory workers were the same regardless of where the factories were located. The IWW was branded as a “violent” organization whose members wished to overturn governments and its members were denounced by police and factory owners. In places such as Everett and Centralia, both in Washington, workers were massacred by law enforcement. Joe Hill was a writer and IWW activist whose songs were used to buoy workers and to spread the message of the IWW. In his novel, Wallace Stegner tells the inspiring, tragic story of Joe Hill, and why folk singers in the future would sing that “I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night.”

  • The cover of the book Insurrecto


    The Ghanaian proverb reminds us that “Until the lion tells their side, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” The skewed view of history is often taught in schools is told from the perspective of the ‘winners’. In the case of the Philippines, the story is that the islands were “liberated” when the Americans defeated Spain in their war. But in Insurrecto, Gina Apostol has written a novel about the events at Balangiga where, after being ambushed by Filipino revolutionaries, American troops retaliated. In her novel, Apostol tells the story from the perspective of two women who, in the process of revealing what happened there, also tell the story of other women whose stories from those days have never been told.

  • The cover of the book The Far Away Brothers

    The Far Away Brothers

    Two Young Migrants and the Making of an American Life

    The rancor over immigration, which appears to have sharpened in the past few years, has always been there. Those seeking to foment social discord have always found barreled fish who respond to being poked from above by biting the last fish into the mix. So it’s not surprising that a politician who was elected on a tide of such resentment has continued to agitate the waters. But these actions inevitably claim victims, and in The Far Away Brothers, Markham details the stories of young brothers who sought to join their older brother in America. Markham introduces readers to the boys’ families and communities, and also details the legal maneuvers used in the immigration courts to prevent a family reunion. Markham provides a thoroughly researched account that looks at the immigration debate by focusing on its impact on one family.

  • The cover of the book Can We All Be Feminists?

    Can We All Be Feminists?

    New Writing from Brit Bennett, Nicole Dennis-Benn, and 15 Others on Intersectionality, Identity, and the Way Forward for Feminism

    In a series of collected essays, women who struggle with oppressions other than those based strictly on gender, put forward their arguments for why “feminism” must become intersectional or risk dying. “Intersectionality,” a theory first written about by Kimberlé Crenshaw, argues that women may face intersecting oppressions as a consequence of being women of color, or lesbian, or have disabilities, or because of class, for example. Thus a woman who is black and Deaf may find bias that is based on her deafness, or her race, or her gender, and all of them present barriers. Feminists must not think that gender bias is the most important of intersecting oppressions in a woman’s life.  It is the task of feminism to challenge all of these oppressions collectively, rather than to assume that by overcoming gender bias, other forms of oppression are also overcome.

  • The cover of the book A False Report

    A False Report

    A True Story of Rape in America

    In these days following the hearings by the Senate Judiciary Committee on the subject of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, this book, which examines how the judicial system responds to victims of rape, is necessary. Miller and Armstrong recount the story of a rapist who struck in Washington State but was allowed to escape after pressure was put on one of his early victims to recant her testimony. When a pattern of rapes in Colorado turned out to resemble the first victim’s initial report, detectives in Colorado were able to build a case by examining what Washington detectives had dismissed. Miller and Armstrong write about a phenomenon that is common in American jurisprudence, and is rooted in a history in which women’s testimony regarding rape has been treated as suspect in law manuals and case studies used by those learning to be lawyers.

  • The cover of the book What the Eyes Don't See

    What the Eyes Don't See

    A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City

    The events that bias set in motion in Michigan in 2014 have resulted in irreparable losses. The impact on children’s health of consuming water containing lead has been documented many times, and yet, in order to “save money” the city of Flint made the decision to switch its water supply. Nearly half of the city lives in poverty, and the majority of its citizens are black. The switch introduced lead into the water supply and residents complained immediately that they had detected a drop in the quality of the water. Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha worked as a pediatrician at the city’s public hospital, and she was lied to by city officials who told her that the water was safe, despite symptoms that she was seeing among Flint’s most vulnerable residents. What she uncovered after the initial lies will shock anyone, especially those who believe that no one would purposefully privilege profits above human lives. Dr. Hanna-Attisha’s courage shines in this account.

  • The cover of the book The Little Book of Feminist Saints

    The Little Book of Feminist Saints

    Modeled on Catholic books of the saints that provide believers with information on the saints for whom a particular day is dedicated, this book offers to women a number of  “saints” who have shown the same level of dedication to improving the lives of others as those who receive official recognition. In Pierpont’s collection, you’ll find women who stood up to other religious authorities, such as Malala, when she demanded the right for women to read. You’ll find artists like Frida Kahlo, who painted images that offered women representations of their own lives. You’ll find Ruby Bridges, who braved phalanxes of hateful, angry white people who objected to a black girl going to school with their kids. You’ll find Lise Meitner, the physicist who co-discovered nuclear fission, but who refused to use it to develop an atomic bomb. Instead, the Nobel Prize went to her co-discoverer, and she was ignored. This handbook would make a wonderful gift for a girl or woman in your life who seeks to be inspired by real-life women.

  • The cover of the book Antisemitism


    Here and Now

    When Professor of History Deborah Lipstadt wrote her book on those who deny the holocaust, she named David Irving as one of its worse offenders, a man who has built his career on denying that the holocaust happened. Irving, insulted by her meticulous study, sued Lipstadt for “libel” in a British court. It is just one of the ways that antisemites have tried to disrupt Lipstadt’s work. In her newest book, Antisemitism, Lipstadt discusses the seeming resurgence of antisemitism in Europe and the United States. She frames her arguments in letters and provides context and details that makes for enlightening — and passion-inducing  — reading.

  • The cover of the book Rescue Board

    Rescue Board

    The Untold Story of America's Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe

    While all of us know the horrific story of how Nazi Germany sought to eliminate Jewish people from Europe, they may not be familiar with the story of how even during World War II, efforts were still being made to transport Jews within Nazi-occupied countries to safety. While isolationist Americans had rejected American intervention against Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, one of the impacts of such views was the hesitance to increase the number of refugees entering America from Europe. A fear that entering refugees might actually be “spies” led to the refusal of appeals for help. But, in 1944, Franklin Roosevelt approved the funding for the War Refugee Board. In its twenty months of operation, the board was able to rescue and provide safety to over 200,000 Jews who might otherwise have perished in concentration camps. Erbelding demonstrates in her research how the power of individuals to move their government to do good was the driving force behind the creation of the board.

  • The cover of the book The Girl Who Smiled Beads

    The Girl Who Smiled Beads

    A Story of War and What Comes After

    The Rwandan genocide had its roots in artificial distinctions introduced by the Belgian colonists who controlled Rwanda in the nineteenth century. The Belgians created distinctions by which the Hutus could be distinguished from the Tutsis, both resident groups on the land, and then further distanced the two by denying rights to the Hutu and privileging the Tutsis by making them part of the ruling elite. When the Belgians left, they left behind hatreds that they had created. In April of 1994, after a plane crash killed the country’s president, Hutus slaughtered over 800,000 Tutsis in a period of three months. Clemantine Wamariya escaped Rwanda with her elder sister, and lived in refugee camps until she was given the opportunity to be fostered by a family in Chicago, Illinois. In her memoir, Wamariya discusses the impact of prejudice on her own life, and she disputes interpretations of the slaughter as “genocide,” arguing that such a distinction distances it from Americans. By insisting on the humanness of both murderer and victim, she forces readers to acknowledge how easy the slide into chaos can be and its possibility anywhere.

  • The cover of the book Brown



    Kevin Young has produced two extraordinary works in these past months. Bunk is his compendium of the various ways that hoaxes and forgeries have contributed to the belief that “alternative facts” present equal versions of the truth. But Young is primarily known as a poet, and in his latest collection, Brown, readers experience the ways that the color “brown” has been used as a quality to be celebrated but also a color bar to prevent a people from rising. Poems such as “Open Letter to Hank Aaron,” immerse readers in the gloop of late-summer racism as white people threatened Aaron for nearing Babe Ruth’s record, while “James Brown at B.B. King’s on New Year’s Eve” may make readers jump up and dance remembering how Brown’s performances could make even the “walls sweat.” While the outside world may attempt to impose its hatred and sadness on those that Young writes about, inside his poems the joy and human spirit jumps over obstacles and makes them part of the dance.

  • The cover of the book Mean Little deaf Queer

    Mean Little deaf Queer

    A Memoir

    Terry Galloway was nine when she lost the ability to hear. And, as she moved into her teen-aged years, her developing awareness that she was a lesbian, she discovered, gave others more excuses to put barriers up against her. But Galloway does not shy away from uncovering that many of the platitudes about disability society uses to make itself comfortable are, in fact, are the layering of nice words onto mean behavior. Galloway offers readers access to her experiences and thoughtful reflections on what it means to be deaf and queer in hearing culture. But she is also willing to show that the desire for “saint-like” behavior from her is one of the cruelties of the mean world in which she moves.

  • The cover of the book Heavy


    An American Memoir

    In 2011, Gawker published Kiese Laymon’s essay, “How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others,” in which he wrote of the several times in his life when others had wanted to kill him because of his race. The impact of that essay was like a blow to the chest. Re-reading it now, its descriptions of drunken frat boys may feel like a warning about the activities exposed by the Kavanaugh hearings. In Heavy, Laymon has written a memoir that feels like a body blow. He writes of being a young kid at a neighborhood swimming pool and realizing that older boys abused girls because they could get away with it. He writes in haunting ways of the physical abuse inflicted by his mother and her boyfriend and his mother’s confused attempts to keep Kiese safe by making him afraid. And he writes too of the support of his grandmother, who demonstrated to him how her love could push him forward when a lifetime of anxiety and fear wanted to hold him back. Through it all, Laymon’s love for language and words drives his intellectual curiosity. Laymon’s reputation as a writer grows with each piece he produces. Heavy will cement his reputation as one of America’s best writers.

  • The cover of the book Good and Mad

    Good and Mad

    The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger

    How has cultural conditioning about the “proper” way for women to behave worked to erase women’s anger? Why is an angry woman the focus of derision, or, in the case of angry women of color, racist stereotypes that further dehumanize them? What is it about women getting mad that causes the methods of social control to clamp down on them? Rebecca Traister turns her prodigious intellect and research skills to investigating how angry women are received in our culture, and why now, 2018, may be the year that angry women become the force for social and political change that has scared those in power for centuries.

  • The cover of the book Wolf Boys

    Wolf Boys

    Two American Teenagers and Mexico's Most Dangerous Drug Cartel

    At what age does society give up on young men? On the continent of Africa, confronted with male teenagers who were kidnapped and forced to become child soldiers in gangs and militias, enormous efforts have been poured into rehabilitating these young men and returning them to society. But in America, what happens to young boys who are forced to participate in the drug trade from an early age? How is it possible that teenaged boys have been arrested and jailed for life for crimes committed while members of gangs? Do they deserve the same chances? In his harrowing account of two American teenagers, Dan Slater presents readers with brutal accounts of the crimes the young men committed, but he also forces readers to acknowledge the circumstances by which they were inducted into their lives of crime. Slater isn’t interested in producing easy answers, but readers will gain more complex understandings of the War on Drugs.

  • The cover of the book Indian Horse

    Indian Horse

    Most are aware of policies in the United States, Canada, and Australia in which new white settlers wishing to expand those countries’ territories were given military support to remove the native peoples from their lands. The history of genocide against aborigines and American Indians are a common shame. But, other policies shared among these countries include the desire to eliminate the cultures of surviving native peoples. Part of this policy involved the kidnapping of youth and placing them in English-speaking schools where the native language could be beaten out of the children. In his novel, Indian Horse, the late Richard Wagamese writes about Saul Indian Horse and his family, who retreat to the woods in an attempt to evade the authorities who were kidnapping Ojibway children. When Saul is eventually sent to one such school, readers witness his struggle to grow to be a man while also fighting to hold onto the identity that links him to his parents, grandparents, and brother.  The powerful writing of Wagamese riveted me.

  • The cover of the book So Lucky

    So Lucky

    The breadth of Nicola Griffith’s fiction is impressive, and for her talent, she has previously been awarded multiple Lambda Literary Awards, plus the Tiptree, the Nebula, and the World Fantasy Award. In So Lucky, Griffith has written a scary thriller that pulled me along, both intrigued and afraid of what would be revealed. Her novel contains within it the experiences of a powerful woman — Mara — who discovers that each of us are vulnerable to stalkers we cannot see. Mara is the head of an agency that is doing good in the world. She runs an AIDS charity. But when she begins to feel that her body is working against her and is no longer under her control, she will discover that the people she thought would help her have disappeared. Griffith has written a tremendous book about revealing the monsters that live inside.

  • The cover of the book The Reckonings

    The Reckonings


    Women know many stories about the ways women can be physically harmed by a man exercising power over her. But not many of us know stories about how someone reckons with what the appropriate punishment is for one of these men who has been caught and convicted. In The Reckonings, Johnson takes the extraordinary steps of considering the life of the man who attacked her and reflecting on what should happen to him. But this collection of essays contains much more. She interrogates the “purpose” that art serves. She speaks to women who worked for change in their neighborhoods and the impact that such work had upon them. She questions the connections between men who joke about rape and men who rape. And she writes about mercy: what it means, who it serves, whether it must come with demands attached. The breadth of topics that Johnson takes on in response to this act of violence in her life is remarkable, and her answers present readers with a profile in courage that deserves wide recognition.

  • The cover of the book Dead Girls

    Dead Girls

    Essays on Surviving an American Obsession

    Have you ever wondered how many raped and murdered women one would see depicted in a week’s worth of television programming? In prime time, many of the most popular crime shows begin each week’s installment with an act of brutality committed against a woman’s (or multiple women) body. In some of these shows, scenes are acted out over a battered naked woman, and, depending on its air time, viewers may see the victim’s naked breasts or pubic area — in order to provide verisimilitude supposedly — although the naked breasts depicted always seem to be idealized. On shows that pride themselves for being “realistic,” the coroner’s report about the horrors inflicted on the victim are provided in detail, a way of talking about the torture of women that is couched in scientific language but which sound more like one-upmanship among writers looking to shock viewers. The death and destruction of the female body is plot device, opportunity for titillation, and form of entertainment in TV shows, films, and books more numerous to count. What happens to girls and women who see that violence against them is one of the major forms of entertainment available any night of the week? Alice Bolin examines our preoccupations with dead women with a razor-sharp intellect and searing prose that will make readers pay attention.

  • The cover of the book White


    Few novels written by white authors wrestle with the ways in which “whiteness” is constructed and performed. For many, racial difference — race itself — is a naturally occurring phenomenon and being born into a particular race determines most everything about us. For decades, writers of color have questioned such narratives, arguing that race is a social construct, and that many of the differences ascribed to race are artificial. White, the new novel by Deni Ellis Béchard, is a thriller, an adventure story, a literary novel that interrogates what the possession of whiteness means to those seen as white. His novel also crosses the boundary of the what defines a novel. This is a work of fiction, and yet the fictional narrator’s name is Deni Ellis Béchard and he is a journalist. Traveling to the Congo to report on a man who has “gone Kurtz”, he meets an anthropologist who is on her way there to study a little black girl who believes herself possessed by a white demon. What they both find in the Congo is explored in this remarkable novel.

  • The cover of the book Amateur


    A True Story About What Makes a Man

    What is the relationship between masculinity and violence? Is the link the natural result of levels of testosterone or is the connection artificial and entirely dependent on cultural conditioning? Writers have addressed similar questions for centuries: Niccolò Machiavelli posited that masculinity was about possessing a quality he called Virtú, but he used metaphors of violence to demonstrate its powers. Thomas Page McBee is a trans man who opts to train as a boxer in order to fight in a charity match. The training sends him into uncomfortable territory as he works to unpack whether violence is a necessary component of the maleness to which he has transitioned. He provides readers with a fascinating, poignant account of his desire to push at the constructions of what it means to be a man in order to better understand himself.

  • The cover of the book So You Want to Talk About Race

    So You Want to Talk About Race

    If there is a more fraught conversation in America than the conversation about race, it may only be found in the conversations about gender. The difference is that because heterosexuality is so common, men and women have plenty of opportunities — taken or not — to discuss it. Race, on the other hand, may be more difficult because we still live in a largely segregated country. In 2014, the Washington Post reported that seventy-five percent of white people do not have any black friends, which may make such discussions impossible. Ijeoma Oluo has written a book that might have been titled, Everything You Wanted to Know About Race … But Were Afraid to Ask. She provides reader-friendly answers to questions that are often asked. These include addressing questions about what racism is, what intersectionality is, what privilege is, what microaggressions are, and “why can’t I touch your hair?” And “Why can’t I say the ‘N’ word.” For anyone who has ever wondered about the discussion but has been afraid to ask the questions, this book would be perfect. Rather than bringing yet another cranberry salad to the Thanksgiving dinner table, a copy of this book might provide a way for difficult topics to be introduced.

  • The cover of the book A Cruelty Special to Our Species

    A Cruelty Special to Our Species


    How can art be made about the horrors of the world? Perhaps that is the wrong question to ask. Perhaps it should be: How can art not be made about the horrors of the world? Art opens up our senses and in so doing allows our emotions and our intellects to interact with one another. A poem that makes me feel something gets me to think about something I may never have thought about before. Such a work of art is Emily Jungmin Soon’s collection of poetry, A Cruelty Special to Our Series, about the pain of sexual violence, especially the history of Korean “Comfort Women” during World War II. The work is extraordinary. It never feels exploitative of the women’s pain. In its attention to the details of their lives, it feels respectful and honoring of their whole lives, not just the parts that Japanese soldiers tried to exterminate. Each poem tests the ability of words to create a connection between human suffering and the human desire to understand.