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20 Books for Budding Activists

Our top 20 books on activism and anti-capitalist resistance, the perfect introduction to left politics.

Verso Books15 December 2020

20 Books for Budding Activists

The uprisings against racist police violence have been some of the largest mass protests the world has seen in a generation. Calls to defund the police, to abolish prisons and to tax the rich to fund universal healthcare, education, affordable housing and a Green New Deal are more popular than ever.

This collection of important voices on activism and resistance features Angela Davis, Nick Estes, Jane McAlevey, Dean Spade, Nancy Fraser, the one and only Karl Marx, and more.

We have 40% off ALL our print books and 60% off ALL our ebooks until January 4th, 23:59 EST. See more information here and our end of year highlights as well as Gift Guide. We have lots more reading lists to help navigate our entire catalog of books here!

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Nick Estes traces traditions of Indigenous resistance that led to the #NoDAPL movement. Our History Is the Future is at once a work of history, a manifesto, and an intergenerational story of resistance.

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Recent years have seen an explosion of protest against police brutality and repression. Among activists, journalists and politicians, the conversation about how to respond and improve policing has focused on accountability, diversity, training, and community relations. Unfortunately, these reforms will not produce results, either alone or in combination. The core of the problem must be addressed: the nature of modern policing itself.

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A Planet to Win explores the political potential and concrete first steps of a Green New Deal. It calls for dismantling the fossil fuel industry, building beautiful landscapes of renewable energy, and guaranteeing climate-friendly work, no-carbon housing, and free public transit. And it shows how a Green New Deal in the United States can strengthen climate justice movements worldwide.

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Jane McAlevey argues that labor can be revived, but only if the movement acknowledges its mistakes and fully commits to deep organizing, participatory education, militancy, and an approach to workers and their communities that more resembles the campaigns of the 1930s—in short, social movement unionism that involves raising workers’ expectations (while raising hell).

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One of America’s most historic political trials is undoubtedly that of Angela Davis. Opening with a letter from James Baldwin to Davis, and including contributions from numerous radicals such as Black Panthers George Jackson, Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seale and Erica Huggins, this book is not only an account of Davis’s incarceration and the struggles surrounding it, but also perhaps the most comprehensive and thorough analysis of the prison system of the United State.

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This anthology, global in scope, presents voices of dissent from every era of human history: speeches and pamphlets, poems and songs, plays and manifestos. Every age has its iconoclasts, and yet the greatest among them build on the words and actions of their forerunners. The Verso Book of Dissent should be in the arsenal of every rebel who understands that words and ideas are the ultimate weapons.

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“This book is hard to put down and contains a challenge that is impossible to turn away from: We could create a better world—peaceful, egalitarian, even joyful—if we are willing to learn from Red Rosa.” – Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Living with a Wild God

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In Revolting Prostitutes, sex workers Juno Mac and Molly Smith bring a fresh perspective to questions that have long been contentious. Speaking from a growing global sex worker rights movement, and situating their argument firmly within wider questions of migration, work, feminism, and resistance to white supremacy, they make clear that anyone committed to working towards justice and freedom should be in support of the sex worker rights movement.

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In this landmark collection spanning three centuries and four waves of feminist activism and writing, Burn It Down! is a testament to what is possible when women are driven to the edge. The manifesto—raging and wanting, quarreling and provoking—has always played a central role in feminism, and it’s the angry, brash feminism we need now.

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“Samuel Stein’s lucid explanation for how we got to where we’re at shines urgent light on the origins and development of what he incisively calls ‘the Real Estate State.’ Capital Cityplaces gentrification in a structurally extensive and intensive urban geography of dispossession. All who struggle for the right to the city should read this book, and realize afresh how capitalism saving capitalism from capitalism must provoke our political imagination.” – Ruth Wilson Gilmore, author of Golden Gulag

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A longtime movement insider's powerful account of the origins of today's protest movements and what they can achieve now.

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Combining firsthand accounts from activists with the research of scholars and reflections from artists, Policing the Planet traces the global spread of the broken-windows policing strategy, first established in New York City under Police Commissioner William Bratton. It’s a doctrine that has vastly broadened police power the world over—to deadly effect.

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As Eric Hobsbawm argues in his acute and elegant introduction to this modern edition, in such times The Communist Manifesto emerges as a work of great prescience and power despite being written over a century and a half ago. He highlights Marx and Engels’s enduring insights into the capitalist system: its devastating impact on all aspects of human existence; its susceptibility to enormous convulsions and crises; and its fundamental weakness.

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Unaffordable housing, poverty wages, inadequate healthcare, border policing, climate change—these are not what you ordinarily hear feminists talking about. But aren’t they the biggest issues for the vast majority of women around the globe? Taking as its inspiration the new wave of feminist militancy that has erupted globally, this manifesto makes a simple but powerful case: feminism shouldn’t start—or stop—with the drive to have women represented at the top of their professions. It must focus on those at the bottom, and fight for the world they deserve. And that means targeting capitalism. Feminism must be anticapitalist, eco-socialist and antiracist.

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In this short and accessible book, Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite the Union, presents the case for joining a trade union. Drawing on anecdotes from his own long involvement in unions, he looks at the history of trade unions, what they do and how they give a voice to working people, as democratic organisations. 

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This book is about mutual aid: why it is so important, what it looks like, and how to do it. It provides a grassroots theory of mutual aid, describes how mutual aid is a crucial part of powerful movements for social justice, and offers concrete tools for organizing, such as how to work in groups, how to foster a collective decision-making process, how to prevent and address conflict, and how to deal with burnout. 

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A remarkable book on the international operations of racism and the global meaning of Black Power.

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Red State Revolt is a compelling analysis of the emergence and development of the historic teachers' strike wave, with an eye to extracting its main strategic lessons for educators, labor organizer, and radicals across the country. A former high school teacher and longtime activist, Eric Blanc embedded himself into the rank-and-file leaderships of the walkouts, telling a story populated with the voices of school workers who are winning the fight for the soul of public education—and redrawing the political map of the country at large.

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In a time when activists in Ferguson, Palestine, Baltimore, and Hong Kong immediately connect across vast distances, this book makes clear that new Black radical politics is thoroughly internationalist and redraws the links between Black resistance and anti-capitalism. Featuring the key voices in this new intellectual wave, this collection outlines one of the most vibrant areas of thought today.

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Drawing on the words and deeds of black revolutionary theorists, Asad Haider argues that identity politics is not synonymous with anti-racism, but instead amounts to the neutralization of its movements. It marks a retreat from the crucial passage of identity to solidarity, and from individual recognition to the collective struggle against an oppressive social structure.

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Dynamic and beloved American radical, labor leader, and socialist Eugene Victor Debs led the Socialist Party to federal and state office across the United States by the 1920s. Imprisoned for speaking out against World War I, Debs ran for president from prison on the Socialist Party ticket, receiving over 1 million votes. Debs’s life is a story of labor battles in industrializing America, of a fighting socialist politics grown directly out of the Midwest heartland, and of a distinctly American vision of socialism.

Our History Is the Future
In 2016, a small protest encampment at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, initially established to block construction of the Dakota Access oil pipeline, grew to be the largest Indigenou...
Hardback (2019)
The End of Policing
The massive uprising following the police killing of George Floyd in the summer of 2020--by some estimates the largest protests in US history--thrust the argument to defund the police to the forefr...
A Planet to Win
All politics are climate politics in the twenty-first century - and this bold book argues for a Green New Deal that confronts both climate change and inequalityThe age of climate gradualism is over...
Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell)
In 1995, in the first contested election in the history of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney won the presidency of the nation’s largest labor federation, promising renewal and resurgence. Today, less than ...
If They Come in the Morning
The trial of Angela Davis is remembered as one of America's most historic political trials, and no one can tell the story better than Davis herself. Opening with a letter from James Baldwin to Ange...
The Verso Book of Dissent
Throughout the ages and across every continent, people have struggled against those in power and raised their voices in protest-rallying others around them or, sometimes, inspiring uprisings many y...
Red Rosa
A giant of the political left, Rosa Luxemburg is one of the foremost minds in the canon of revolutionary socialist thought. But she was much more than just a thinker. She made herself heard in a wo...
Revolting Prostitutes
How the law harms sex workers - and what they want insteadDo you have to endorse prostitution in order to support sex worker rights? Should clients be criminalized, and can the police deliver justi...
Burn It Down!
Burn It Down! is a testament to what is possible when women are driven to the edge. Collecting over seventy-five manifestos from around the world, Burn It Down! is a rallying cry and a call to acti...
Capital City
Our cities are changing. Global real estate is now a $217 trillion dollar industry, 36 times the value of all the gold ever mined. It makes up 60 percent of the world's assets, and the most powerfu...
Direct Action
A vibrant, groundbreaking history of American radicalism since the SixtiesWhat happened to the American left after the Sixties? This engrossing account traces the evolution of disruptive protest ov...
Policing the Planet

Policing the Planet

Combining firsthand accounts from activists with the research of scholars and reflections from artists, Policing the Planet traces the global spread of the broken-windows policing strategy, first e...
The Communist Manifesto
In the two decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall, global capitalism became entrenched in its modern, neoliberal form. Its triumph was so complete that the word “capitalism” itself fell out ...
Feminism for the 99%
Unaffordable housing, poverty wages, healthcare, climate change, border policing; not the issues you ordinarily hear feminists talking about. But don’t these issues impact the vast majority of wome...
Why You Should be a Trade Unionist
In this short and accessible book, Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite the Union, presents the case for joining a trade union. Drawing on anecdotes from his own long involvement in unions, he...
Mutual Aid
Around the world, people are faced with crisis after crisis, from the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change-induced fires, floods, and storms to the ongoing horrors of mass incarceration, brutal imm...
The Groundings With My Brothers
In his short life, the Guyanese intellectual Walter Rodney emerged as one of the leading thinkers and activists of the anticolonial revolution, leading movements in North America, South America, th...
Red State Revolt
Thirteen months after Trump allegedly captured the allegiance of “the white working class,” a strike wave—the first in over four decades—rocked the United States. Inspired by the wildcat victory in...
Futures of Black Radicalism
Black rebellion has returned, with dramatic protests in scores of cities and campuses, bringing with it a renewed engagement with the history of Black radical movements and thought. Here, key schol...
Mistaken Identity
Whether class or race is the more important factor in modern politics is a question right at the heart of recent history’s most contentious debates. Among groups who should readily find common grou...
Paperback (2018)
Eugene V. Debs
Eugene Victor Debs led the Socialist Party in the early twentieth-century to federal and state office across the country, helped to pioneer a fighting union politics that organized all workers, and...
Paperback

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