What To Read on Your Summer Vacation

Our list of beach reads for the social justice set.

In These Times Staff

Let’s start with a stiff dose of reality: the United States is notoriously stingy when it comes to vacation. The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that the United States is alone among 21 wealthy nations in requiring that employers provide not a lick of paid vacation. It should come as no surprise, then, that 23 percent of all U.S. workers — and 51 percent of low-wage workers — are granted no paid leave at all.

These reading recommendations may not give you a tropical contact high, but we promise they will sharpen your awareness of injustice and even provide you with some new tools to fight it.

For the lucky 77 percent of Americans who do get some form of leave, the amount ain’t much — 8.1 days on average after a year of work — and we’re even luckier if we’re allowed to take it. In our precarious, mostly non-unionized workplaces, where we’re constantly reminded of our replace-ability, we’re often too afraid of being fired (or losing a raise or a promotion) to take the leave we’re entitled to. Thirty-nine percent of Americans have not taken a vacation in two years.

If you do have the time and hard-earned money to take a vacation, there’s still the question of enjoying it — not always an easy task for In These Times readers, who have been known to spend their visit to SeaWorld interviewing the orcas about their working conditions. Sometimes it’s easiest to just hide under a blanket with a book — especially if your vacation” is an hour in your bed between shifts. To help you make sure you use that time wisely, we’re offering our take on which books to read this summer (and which to avoid), alongside suggestions from some of our favorite authors. These reading recommendations may not give you a tropical contact high, but we promise they will sharpen your awareness of injustice and even provide you with some new tools to fight it.


Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism 

By David Harvey (Oxford University Press)

Ok, this one came out in April. But if you still haven’t gotten a chance to read Marxist geographer Harvey’s critique of the foundations of contemporary capitalism, now’s the time.

An Untamed State

By Roxane Gay (Grove Press)

Already adored around the internet for her experimental short fiction and essays, Gay breaks into the novel game with this story of sexual violence and resistance. Look out, too, for her essay collection Bad Feminist, out in August from Harper Perennial.

Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal

By Aviva Chomsky (Beacon Press) 

Immigration wasn’t always illegal, and in this fiercely argued book, immigrant rights activist Chomsky explains how that changed and why it matters.

Mining Capitalism: The Relationship Between Corporations and Their Critics 

By Stuart Kirsch (University of California Press)

Through a detailed depiction of a fight over a mine in Papua New Guinea, Kirsch, an anthropologist at the University of Michigan, analyzes the methods corporations use to silence critics and advance their agendas.

Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America 

By Miriam Frank (Temple University Press)

The author of The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter brings us an inclusive history of the convergence of labor and LGBT interests.

Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy

By Dave Zirin (Haymarket)

The author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States compiles some of the innumerable tales of forced evictions, whitewashing and militarization in the lead-up to the world’s most-hyped sporting event.

[Un]Framing the Bad Woman’: Sor Juana, Malinche, Coyolxauhqui, and Other Rebels with a Cause

By Alicia Gaspar de Alba (University of Texas Press)

Activist and scholar Gaspar de Alba confronts the negative depictions of women of color who challenged the patriarchy, including 17th-century nun, poet and child prodigy Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.

Feminism Unfinished: A Short, Surprising History of American Women’s Movements

By Dorothy Sue Cobble, Linda Gordon, and Astrid Henry (Norton)

In an attempt to rewrite a century of U.S. women’s history, Cobble, Gordon and Henry challenge the framing of the feminist movement as a set of competing waves.”


This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate 

By Naomi Klein (September, Simon & Schuster)

Solving climate change requires many sacrifices, but Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, argues that the challenge offers our best hope for a more economically just future.

Comradely Greetings: The Prison Letters of Nadya and Slavoj

By Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Slavoj Žižek (September, Verso) 

What happens when an imprisoned Russian punk rocker (Pussy Riot’s Tolokonnikova) and a Slovenian philosopher become penpals? Turns out they talk a lot about revolution, democracy and Laurie Anderson.

Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United

By Zephyr Teachout (September, Harvard University Press)

Teachout, a law professor who’s challenging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo from the left, has written 384 pages on the history of corruption in politics. If every candidate did that before running for office, the world would be a much better place. 

A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir

By Daisy Hernández (September, Beacon Press)

The co-editor of Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism makes the political personal with her memoir about growing up in an immigrant Cuban community in New York City and discovering her queer identity.

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

By Edward E. Baptist (September, Basic Books)

The Cornell history professor takes a unique look at the history of slavery, arguing that the united states’ future economic prosperity and global influence cannot be understood apart from the violent institution that made it possible.

The Case Against the Supreme Court

By Erwin Chemerinsky (September, Viking) 

Constitutional law professor Chemerinsky argues that the court is — and always has been — too political to function fairly.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States 

By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (September, Beacon Press)

In an effort to fill the gaps in traditional U.S. history lessons, Dunbarortiz offers a bottom-up history of imperialism and colonial resistance.

The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Worker’s Movement

By Stanley Aronowitz (October, Verso) 

The man Cornel West calls the most important scholar” on the American working class argues that the collapse of the labor movement of old opens up possibilities for a new revival.

Doing History From the Bottom Up: On E.P. Thompson, Howard Zinn and Rebuilding the Labor Movement From Below 

By Staughton Lynd (October, Haymarket) 

Lynd revives the historiographical tradition of Howard Zinn and E.P. Thompson to recount the decline of the American labor movement through the eyes of the rank-and-file worker.

Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Labor Movement 

By Thomas Geoghegan (November, The New Press)

Geoghegan, a labor attorney and activist, makes the case for a total renewal of the American labor movement.

Contributors: Jessica Stites, Carlos Ballesteros, Ethan Corey

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