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12 Books You Need to Decode the Headlines in Your Facebook Feed

Now's the time to put your world into context. Here's what to read to broaden your perspectives and get up to speed on today's most critical topics.
by Caitlin Schiller | May 15 2019

We might all be biased. Publishers might all might all have their own agenda. And you might already have the feeling that you need to brush off your close reading skills just to tackle the headlines on your timeline and Twitter.

It’s never been a more important time to read—critically, empathetically, and broadly—so you can make up your own mind about the truth and where it comes from.

These twelve books on current critical issues come from writers and researchers who do the fieldwork, nab the interviews, trawl primary sources, and in some cases, risk their lives to uncover the “more” to the stories in your social feeds. So, just for a minute, forget about Facebook, tap out of Twitter, and get familiar with resources on Russia, race in the US, dealing with China, climate change, feminism, and everything else you need to know about, now.

1. On the importance of a free press

Written by a former investigative journalist, The War on Journalism explores the challenges journalists face while seeking the truth amid increasing state control and private sector criticism. Even though the internet has allowed those in the media unprecedented access to people and information, equally technology and new rules of the game have made fact-seeking a far more problematic pursuit.

2. On trolls destroying the internet

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things explores the subculture of trolling: where it came from, who does it, why they do it and what exactly it is they do. The book examines the blurred line between a malicious online attack and revealing social commentary, and shows how trolling and mainstream culture have come to form a close bond. Whitney Phillips earned her PhD in communications at the University of Washington. Her work on trolling has appeared in numerous publications, including Scientific American, NYMag, The Atlantic, VICE and The New York Times.

3. On China’s rise to superpowerdom

In just a smidge over 30 years, China’s risen from obscurity to become the second largest economy in the world. How it happened and what it will mean for the rest of the world are the questions on everybody’s mind. Henry M. Paulson offers an analysis of what transformed China’s primarily centralized communist economy, how the USA’s communication strategy with China has evolved over the years, why it’s bad policy to turn a blind eye to China’s internal problems, and where China’s meteoric course might take it.

4. On America’s systemic race problem

Thanks to the Civil Rights act of 1964, discrimination based on “race, color, religion, or national origin” has been illegal in the United States. But spend five minutes with a newspaper or the television and the story that’s playing out across the nation looks very different. People of color are being stopped, shot, incarcerated by the thousands, and killed. In an age of supposed civil rights, why? Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow identifies the psychological, cultural, and political forces that are renewing and reaffirming the racial caste in America.

5.On the conservative position

This is classic offers insights into the beliefs that underpin modern conservative thought by examining conservatism’s historical roots. Written by Russell Kirk, an American author, historian, and political theorist, the 1953 book was hugely influential in shaping the conservative movement following World War II. This is a smart read for anyone interested in politics and American history or invested in getting out of their own bubble.

6. On liberalism and democracy

Philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill is one of the most influential liberal political theorists and moral philosophers in the history of Western thought. His iconic political tract, On Liberty, delves into questions of how to balance authority, society, and individuality. Combining abstract philosophical reasoning and concrete examples, On Liberty provides a thoughtful and vivid defense of personal liberty and self-determination that has made a huge impact on our liberal societies and political thought today.

7. On climate change

Are the ice caps shrinking? What’s the deal with carbon emissions? Should we be worried about the Ozone layer? These are good questions, but they might not be the best ones to ask, now. This book outlines exactly how humans are harming the planet, and why, so far, we’ve failed to stem our destructive behavior. Author and activist Naomi Klein also points out how some early movements are meaningfully fighting climate change and what more needs to be done to prevent global disaster.

8. On Mexican-American relations

Two Nations Indivisible tells the story of the United States’ relationship with its neighbor to the south: Mexico. Written by a specialist in Latin America from the Council on Foreign Relations, the book explores connections between the two countries as well as the misunderstandings that keep them apart, with an emphasis on political and economic relations.

9. On Russia’s head of state

Who is Vladimir Putin, really? This biography of the Russian President illuminates one of contemporary history’s more shadowy political figures, charting Putin’s almost accidental rise to Russia’s highest office. Masha Gessen, a Russian-American journalist and activist, starts with Putin’s humble beginnings in the state secret police and follows the timeline through to contemporary Russia, where Putin’s disregard for democratic norms continue to transform the country.

10. On why feminism matters

Chimamanda Adichie, novelist and recipient of a MacArthur fellowship, expands on her acclaimed TEDx talk to address the deepest misconceptions about feminism. By masterfully interweaving personal anecdotes, philosophy, and her talent for turning a phrase, she explains how men and women remain on unequal ground, the quiddities of systemic discrimination, and what we can do about it.

11. On inner-city policing

Ghettoside unflinchingly examines the high rates of homicide in black communities to spotlight the failure of inner-city American police to protect the very people they are meant to serve. Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy’s book provides historical background, grapples with the social implications of violence, and attempts to find a practical solution. This writer knows of what she speaks: in 2007, Leovy started The Homicide Report, a blog that, unlike any other before it, attempted to report on every single murder incident in Los Angeles with as much personal detail as possible.

12. On vaccinations

Until recently, unless you were vacationing somewhere exotic or making preventative health decisions for a new child, immunizations probably weren’t at the top of your mind. But in recent years, the media has erupted with controversy over whether vaccinations are needed or not, whether they mean damnation or salvation, and whether or not communities should be required to vaccinate their young. This book by essayist, Guggenheim fellow, professor, and editor Eula Biss explores the construct of the inoculation, both beneath the skin and in the mind’s eye.

Now that you know where to start, go a little deeper with the books-in-blinks—basically, trailers (spoilers included) for nonfiction books—on Blinkist. You’ll get the critical ideas from these best-selling books on climate change, commerce in China, Russian politics, race issues in the US, and everything else you need to know from the news in 15-minute doses in audio or text.

Now’s the time to put your world into context. We’ll help you do it.

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