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15 Summer Reads For Activists

Books to equip, nourish and inspire us to organise and keep fighting.

Sinead Wong | 06 Aug 2019

An illustration of a people lying on the beach reading.

Image credit: Ted Ideas.

1. Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World – Wangari Maathai

The generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price. That is the problem.

Wangari Maathai is the founder of the Green Belt Movement, an organisation dedicated to environmental conservation and women’s rights in Kenya. Her contributions to conservation have helped educate thousands in saving our planet. In this book, she teaches us the importance of conservation, looking after ourselves and finding harmony with the world around us.

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2. Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality – Sarah McBride

Being me appeared so impossible that changing the world seemed like the more realistic bet.

In 2016, Sarah McBride became the first transgender person to speak at a US national party conference. This is her heartwarming memoir of love, acceptance and courage. Sarah’s story begins with a struggle to come to terms with her identity and place in society. Before she gave her speech and before anyone knew her name, Sarah’s first triumph began while she was in college – finding the courage to come out as transgender. She is now on a mission to fight for transgender rights around the world.

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3. No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference – Greta Thunberg

Homo sapiens have not failed yet … there is time to turn things around.

In November 2018, following the United Nations Climate Change Conference, then 15-year-old Greta Thunberg initiated the school strike for climate movement. Over 50,000 people from 100 countries came together to join in the fight for climate justice. Four months later, 1.4 million students from around the world have participated in school strikes.

Greta’s speeches have now been collected in a single volume entitled No One is too Small to Make a Difference. A small and powerful manifesto calling us to act immediately and drastically on one of the most pressing issues of our time – in order to protect future generations.

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4. We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls Around the World – Malala Yousafzai

We were scared, but our fear was not as strong as our courage.

For Malala Yousafzai, life has not been easy. In this part autobiography and part collective storytelling, we learn of not only her struggle but also of the thousands of other refugee girls out there who have been displaced. During a current immigration crisis, this book is an important reminder of why it is more vital than ever to ensure everyone has equal human rights and the power to make a change.

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5. They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky – Alephonsion and Benson Deng, Benjamin Ajak and Judy Bernstein

You can tell if a person has come from the war: they are haunted from all the killing they have seen.

A story of the war in Sudan told through the eyes of three young boys.

Separated from their families and homes, they are forced to undergo an impossible journey with no idea if they will see each other again. With thousands of other young Sudanese children making this same journey, they eventually became known as the Lost Boys. This is the remarkable true story of a fight for survival and tells us that young people should never be underestimated.

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6. This Is Not A Drill: An Extinction Rebellion Handbook – Extinction Rebellion

The rebellion will not happen under anyone banner or anyone slogan. The future is going to be humble. Because, if this is going to work, then we will all have to work together.

— Sam Knights, Extinction Rebellion

Extinction Rebellion is a global movement promoting calling on all of us to act for our world and future generations at a time of imminent climate breakdown.

This book is a guide to help you become part of the rebellion, to show up and contribute to a powerful demonstration of what we can achieve when we all work together. Members from around the world provide testimony for their actions and will have you asking all the right questions: What can I do? How can I join? What is my contribution? And will provide you with some of the answers to help move others into action with you.

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7. Night – Elie Wiesel

Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.

A true story of one man and his fight for survival while being imprisoned in Nazi Germany.

Elie Wiesel recounts the time he spent in Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps and the horrors and hardships he endured along the way. His story provides hope for humanity even at a time when he was stripped of all dignity, rights and identity.

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8. Long Walk To Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela – Nelson Mandela

It was only when I began to learn that my boyhood freedom was an illusion when I discovered as a young man that my freedom had already been taken from me, that I began to hunger for it.

Nelson Mandela’s autobiography reveals the struggle behind what it takes to lead.

Mandela reflects on his home life and the innocence of childhood as a young boy, before embarking on a journey that had the power to change history as we know it. His story is one of hardship, bravery but ultimately triumph over seemingly impossible challenges. This book will uplift and inspire you to take action for what you believe in.

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9. Internment – Samira Ahmed

There are whispers of Muslims who have disappeared. Muslims like us, who answered the census truthfully when asked about our religion. Muslims who refused to hide.

A fictional story by Samira Ahmed set in the not so distant future. This book was born as part of a response to growing Islamophobia across the globe.

Muslims are forced into detention centres all across America and it is up to Layla Amin to uncover the truth. Placed in an internment camp with her family, Layla must find a way to spark an uprising from the inside with the help of some of her friends.

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10. The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living – The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.

A guide to overcoming those everyday challenges and achieve long-lasting happiness.

Through this narrative storytelling, The Dalai Lama provides endless wisdom for life’s problems to guide you in your moments of distress. Learn how to balance your spiritual and mental needs more effectively and find true happiness in a world that can sometimes appear dark.

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11. Between The World And Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates

What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.

In a letter addressed to his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates attempts to come to terms with race and racism in America.

We are given a glimpse into his experiences with racism and what it means to grow up black in a predominantly white society. From personal narratives to unforgotten history, Coates answers the questions of the past and introduces new ways forward for the younger generations.

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12. I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor’s Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope – Chessy Prout and Jen Abelson

There is a community out in the world that is ready to support survivors, no matter where you are. It may not be your immediate family or close friends, but there is a fierce group of advocates, lawyers, and fellow survivors ready, willing, and able to support their healing and pursuit of justice. There is power in our unity.

In 2014, Chessy Prout was sexually assaulted by a boy at her college. She refused to back down against those in her community who demanded she remain quiet and became an advocate for social change.

By sharing her experience and fighting for what she believed in, she empowered other victims to come forward and fight for justice. This is not just an account of a horrific event but calls into question the attitudes and values of our society and institutions that turn a blind eye when things go wrong.

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13. Born A Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood – Trevor Noah

The triumph of democracy over apartheid is sometimes called the Bloodless Revolution. It is called that because very little white blood was spilled. Black blood ran in the streets.

A dark, yet comedic approach to a coming of age story that spans the latter years of the apartheid and the uncertainty of freedom that followed.

Born A Crime reveals the hardships of Trevor Noah’s upbringing. Literally born a crime, as the son of a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother, during a time when such acts resulted in imprisonment. He spent most of his younger years hidden away to protect him from the government.

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14. The Bluest Eye – Toni Morrison

And twenty years later I was still wondering about how one learns that. Who told her? Who made her feel that it was better to be a freak than what she was? …I focused, therefore, on how something as grotesque as the demonisation of an entire race could take root inside the most delicate member of society: a child; the most vulnerable member: a female.

This book was inspired by a conversation Morrison had with an elementary school friend who prayed for blue eyes.

The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison’s first novel. Set in Morrison’s hometown of Lorain, Ohio, it tells the story of black, eleven-year-old Pecola Breedlove. Pecola prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be as beautiful and loved as all the blond, blue-eyed children in America. Morrison shows the vulnerability of children, the violence of racism, and the consequences of parents not being honest about the racist world around them – forcing children often to come to their own devastating conclusions.

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15. How I Resist: Activism and Hope for a New Generation – Maureen Johnson

Resistance isn’t a set of steps – it is an ecosystem in which all the different creations live and help one another grow.

How I Resist is a book of collective works featuring numerous writers and activists with one goal: To inspire the younger generations.

At a time when young people can often feel overlooked or unheard, Maureen Johnson has provided the answer. With step-by-step guides to get you into action or stories to inspire hope, this book is for anyone who is willing to listen, learn and turn even the smallest change into big action.

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Let us know what else we should be reading this summer.