I need more books to read.
March 3, 2010 4:26 PM   Subscribe

What are the best books about civic engagement, activism, community organizing and social issues?

I realized recently that while I have a lot of opinions about the problems in the world, I actually don't know all that much about the theory behind the subjects mentioned above or the practical grassroots-level work that people are doing. So, I'm taking recommendations for my spring and summer reading list.

So far, people have recommended these to me:

Dry Bones Rattling: Community Building to Revitalize America by Mark Warren
Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals by Saul Alinsky
To Heal a Fractured World - The Ethics of Responsibility by Jonathan Sacks

Can you think of any more? I'm looking for interesting books written more for a general audience and not really textbooks. I am interested in multiple viewpoints on any of these issues, so don't hesitate to recommend books that disagree vehemently with the ones listed above.
posted by pecknpah to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Civil Disobedience.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:34 PM on March 3, 2010

Best answer: Comeback Cities: A Blueprint for Urban Neighborhood Revival is the best I've read, and although it's not a textbook, we used it as the basis for my Neighborhood Development class. You'd probably also be interested in the Harlem Children's Zone. I'll find you links to the rest of the really awesome books we read for that class when I get home.
posted by a.steele at 4:42 PM on March 3, 2010

Best answer: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by Robert D. Putnam. A fantastic book about the dramatic and rapid decline in social engagement in the United States in the 60s, 70s, and 80s; Americans used to belong to clubs, debating societies, civic groups, and all sorts of other social circles, but somehow during that period we just... stopped. We stayed home. We quit the bowling leagues and the book clubs and just watched television. This book is also fantastic in that it is detailed and rigorous enough to be a textbook, but engaging, interesting, and well-written enough to be read for fun. So if you want to skip the charts, you can, but you'll notice that the text in between is actually enjoyable and easy reading.
posted by koeselitz at 6:58 PM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Revolution of the Heart - Bill Shore
Fostering Sustainable: An Introduction to Community Based Social Marketing - Doug McKenzie Mohr
posted by mulkey at 7:42 PM on March 3, 2010

Best answer: Taking on the System: Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Age by Markos Moulitsas Zuniga of Daily Kos, comes at this question from the perspective of what Internet-based activism can accomplish compared to traditional methods.
posted by Jaybo at 8:23 PM on March 3, 2010

Best answer: The best book I know with practical, effective examples may not be up your alley but it really illustrates how a social movement with complex, often conflicting sectors has actually created change. Plus just a great book blending theory with practical activism.
Feminism and the Women's Movement: Dynamics of Change in Social Movement Ideology and Activism by Barbara Ryan

Something more broad and much more theory-laden that was a supplement to my Social Movements class.
Social Movements in Advanced Capitalism: The Political Economy and Cultural Construction of Social Activism by Steven M. Buechler
posted by Juicy Avenger at 10:37 PM on March 3, 2010

Best answer: Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken
posted by gompa at 12:00 AM on March 4, 2010

Best answer: The social sciences division at my university just added Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life to our slate of candidates for the Freshman Reading course.
posted by brozek at 6:24 AM on March 4, 2010

Best answer: Great question! I have a few suggestions that are more narratives in which there is some community change element - hope that's also of interest.

Common Ground, by J. Anthony Lukas, is the story of school integration in Boston told from the persepective of three different families affected by it in different ways.

Best of Enemies, by Osha Gray Davidson, is a great book about a civil rights activist and an ex-Klan member in Durham NC who became friends via finding common cause in labor organizing.

Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America, by Beryl Satter recounts attempts to combat the huge racial inequity in Chicago in mortgage lending policies. It nicely sets up the campaign for the passage of the CRA, about which I feel like I should be able to think of a book & can't. Try looking around for a book on Gale Cincotta and the passage of the CRA.

And for more of an overview - this is a bit dated now but a nice history. Includes a good section on the Office of Economic Opportunity, which was a Great Society program that funded a lot of grassroots organizations. Nixon killed it pretty quickly but many current orgs (particularly ones that have Community Action Agency in their name) have their origins in that time. America's struggle against poverty in the twentieth century by James T. Patterson
posted by yarrow at 7:26 AM on March 4, 2010

Oh, one more thought - if you like Comeback Cities, this Going Comprehensive booklet goes into a lot more detail about some of the approaches that were used in the South Bronx in the 90s.
posted by yarrow at 7:48 AM on March 4, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, everybody. I marked best answers for the books I could get from my library and that I hadn't read before.
posted by pecknpah at 12:41 PM on March 4, 2010

Best answer: Okay, here's the rest of the reading list for that class. Sorry I'm not able to link to them:

Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America by Paul Tough (this is the one about the Harlem Children's Zone)

Streets of Hope: the Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood by Peter Madoff and Holly Sklar

Upon This Rock: The Miracles of a Black Church by Samuel G. Freeman

The Working Poor: Invisible In America by David K. Shipler

I'd say the first two are probably more aimed at what you're looking for (I especially liked Streets of Hope), but the latter two are also good reading.
posted by a.steele at 1:20 PM on March 4, 2010

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