In today’s world, there are a thousand ways to resist, and it’s becoming more and more mainstream. No matter your perspective, and no matter what you speak up for—health care, civil rights, gender equality, or local government—there’s one thing we all can agree on: protest can change the world. Here is a list of books set against unrest—varying in place, time, and perspective—that will entertain and enlighten even the most apolitical of readers.
The Power of the People: 9 Protest Books You Have to Read Right Now
Sunil Yapa’s debut novel takes place during the World Trade Organization riots in the 1990s, when a young boy, his police chief father, a group of protesters, political leaders, and bystanders all converge in the streets of Seattle. As heartbreaking as it is heart pounding, this book asks profound and important questions about the role of empathy in anger, compassion in conflict, and the hyperconnectivity of our modern world.
The lives of seven disparate strangers are changed during the dramatic and historic 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. Vivid, electric, and brimming with heart, YOUR HEART IS A MUSCLE THE SIZE OF A FIST explores the power of empathy and how far we will go for family, justice, and love. —Taylor (Seattle, Washington)
Protest serves as the backdrop for this novel, which is set in Tokyo in the late 1960s. But even as a backdrop, protest plays an important role, as this book explores both its positive effects and its potential for problems. The protagonist is Toru Watanabe, a college student more interested in Western culture than with the events unfolding outside his front door. What results is a poignant and intense coming-of-age story that’s not to be missed.
Taking place over the course of one day in London, Ian McEwan’s novel follows neurosurgeon Henry Perowne as he encounters a large demonstration against the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq. As Henry goes about his day, he thinks about the protest and the problems that inspire it, both globally and locally, until it’s disrupted by a violent and troubled man. The novel is stunning and a lovely meditation on how large-scale events affect the ordinary individual.
Based on true events, MARCH is a vividly illustrated retelling of Congressman John Lewis’s lifelong struggle for civil and human rights. The first in a series of three, this book focuses on Lewis’s upbringing in rural Alabama, the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and his life-changing meeting with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Moving and powerful, MARCH culminates in a stunning moment on the steps of city hall.
Congressman John Lewis is an American icon. His commitment to justice and nonviolence took him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president. Rooted in his personal story, this vivid firsthand account also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.
Madeleine Thien’s novel is centered around two generations of an extended family in China—those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and their children, who gather in Tiananmen Square on that fateful day in 1989. Though linked to specific events, the novel is universal in its themes of family, society, and politics and how they shape not only one group but many.
The year is 2011, and Cairo is burning. The government is crumbling; the people are in open revolt; and two members of the political underground, Mariam and Khalil, are determined to change the world as the meaning of revolution evolves in front of them. The novel progresses as the uprising does, featuring tweets, headlines, and newscast transcripts alongside the main narrative, and is a powerful story of modern protest.
In Sunnyside Gardens, Queens, self-proclaimed Communist Rose Zimmer is known for her fierce and unyielding political beliefs. When her equally outspoken daughter, Miriam, flees their home for the growing counterculture in 1950s Greenwich Village, a family saga begins that explores the bonds of family through activism. It’s a vivid, page-turning look at how the personal affects the political and vice versa.
Perfect for fans of The Wire, Ryan Gattis’s novel is set against the 1992 Los Angeles riots, after three white police officers are acquitted of using excessive force against Rodney King and the city was plunged into six days of violence and chaos. Told through 17 points of view, from gang members, firefighters, nurses, to neighborhood kids, ALL INVOLVED is a powerful look at community response and resistance.
In a sequence of interconnected chapters, a young student’s death at a protest in South Korea is explored through its effect on his friends, family, and even strangers. This astonishing portrait of civil unrest and the struggle for justice deals not only with protest and confronting oppression but also with the people who are left behind to deal with the aftermath.