13 Thoughtful Books Covering Important Societal Issues

From environmental crises to systematic social inequality, there are many urgent issues facing today's society. If you want to learn more about these large-scale problems and the things that can be done to address them, consider picking up one of the thoughtful works listed here. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Books About Issues Facing Society: Our 13 Picks

Title Author(s)
1. Chasing the Scream Johann Hari
2. Virtual Unreality Charles Seife
3. Unfair Adam Benforado
4. Half the Sky Nicholas D. Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn
5. The Future Al Gore
6. Righteous Dopefiend Philippe Bourgois & Jeffrey Schonberg
7. Expulsions Saskia Sassen
8. The Next One Hundred Years Jonathan Weiner
9. What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear Danielle Ofri
10. Testosterone Rex Cordelia Fine
11. Another Fine Mess Pope Brock
12. Data and Goliath Bruce Schneier
13. The Post-American World Fareed Zakaria

Issues That Affect the Modern World

5 Ways to Get the News

Articles your friends share on social media aren't always reliable, so it's important to go to trusted sources that will actually give you the facts. Here are a few that can help you stay informed:

  1. NPR: Radio programs, podcasts, and online articles
  2. The New York Times: Print & online journalism
  3. BBC: Good source for international news
  4. The Wall Street Journal: Breaking news and economic coverage
  5. Associated Press: Investigative reporting and trusted facts

You Don't Have to be an Expert to Solve Big Problems

In Depth

Tackling some of the most significant issues facing society today, the titles included on this list consider everything from climate change to data mining with the same level of incisiveness. For those seeking thought-provoking reads, here, in no particular order, are thirteen books that embark on fascinating and challenging explorations of our contemporary world.

Coming in at #1 is "Chasing the Scream" by Johann Hari. Driven by his own family's history of addiction, award-winning journalist Hari embarked on a quest around the world to understand the global consequences of the war on drugs. His findings, presented here through accounts of various people affected by these harsh policies, reveal wide-ranging examples of how the systems put in place to criminalize drugs have caused damage potentially greater than the drugs themselves. Highlighting countries that have benefited from legalizing everything from marijuana to cocaine, Hari argues that the way we think about addiction needs to change, as do our laws.

For #2 we get "Virtual Unreality" by Charles Seife. A multifaceted look at digital age dishonesty, Seife's book explores how information on the internet has the tendency to mislead or blatantly deceive users. Analyzing social media as well as the online operations of major corporations, the author demystifies the various cyber tactics that have increasingly made the internet a dangerously unreliable space. In addition to warning about all the ways one can be manipulated online, Seife provides actionable tools and tips to help readers enhance their understanding of how they can safely use the web.

A multifaceted look at digital age dishonesty, Seife's book explores how information on the internet has the tendency to mislead or blatantly deceive users.

Arriving at #3 is "Unfair" by Adam Benforado. Turning his attention away from the justice system's oft-explored corruption and racism, law professor Benforado instead focuses on the lesser understood psychological factors that create inequity in our judicial processes. Employing historical accounts as well as cognitive and neurological studies, Benforado reveals how the most seemingly innocuous of details, from a camera angle to a vocal inflection, can unjustly influence cases and determine people's fates. Although he sees this as a fundamental obstacle to an impartial legal system, the author nevertheless offers solutions for trying to overcome it.

For #4 we find "Half the Sky" by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. In this sobering and empathetic examination of a humanitarian crisis, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists Kristof and WuDunn showcase the stories of women struggling to survive under oppressive conditions. Their subjects range in location from the Middle East to Africa and Asia, and they include young girls, teens, and women who have suffered from sexual violence, poverty, and dehumanization. Rather than wallow in their tragedies, the book demonstrates the effects of philanthropy in not only helping women achieve economic progress, but empowering them to improve the world.

At #5 is "The Future" by Al Gore. Technological and economic developments are transforming the world at a radical pace, and Al Gore is here to dissect the ramifications. In his sweeping study, the former vice president takes a long-term survey of all the social, political, and ecological changes we've facilitated, identifying six forces in particular that he believes will reshape our world in the coming decades. Among these are globalization, digital telecommunications, and climate change. Addressing both the exciting possibilities and threats posed by such forces, Gore paints an eye-opening picture of civilization traveling headlong into an uncertain future.

Among these are globalization, digital telecommunications, and climate change.

For #6 we have "Righteous Dopefiend" by Philippe Bourgois and Jeffrey Schonberg. Over the course of twelve years, acclaimed ethnographer Bourgois and his anthropology student Schonberg accompanied two dozen heroin addicts living on the streets of San Francisco. The result is this unflinching study that mixes exhaustive field research with critical analysis of the social, ethnic, and sexual relations among the addicts' makeshift community. Resisting sentimentality, the book depicts this disenfranchised population's daily, practical struggles to survive, with Schonberg's striking black-and-white photography complementing and enhancing the text.

Showing up at #7 is "Expulsions" by Saskia Sassen. Organized around the notion of expulsion, a concept for understanding how people are excluded from the social order, Sassen's book trains a critical eye on the global-capitalist structures that rely on the subjugation of parts of the population for their endurance. With academic insight, the author details how our increasingly elaborate global economy exploits and displaces citizens, denying them the political agency they need to change the systems that oppress them. Her critique ultimately reveals how vast and unaccountable this network of power has become, and the devastating effects it has on society.

For #8 we come to "The Next One Hundred Years" by Jonathan Weiner. Originally published in the early 1990s, Weiner's account of global warming and ecological crisis is now more urgent and relevant than ever. Detailing the harmful effects of greenhouse gases and industrial waste on the environment, the illustrious science writer takes sobering stock of all the ways mankind is accelerating the earth's extinction. He also solicits the views of a variety of scientists, who weigh in on the future of the planet. Rather than leaving readers with a hopelessly grim picture, Weiner examines some ways we can combat climate change going forward.

Rather than leaving readers with a hopelessly grim picture, Weiner examines some ways we can combat climate change going forward.

Landing at #9 is "What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear" by Danielle Ofri. With candid insight, Ofri looks beyond technological innovations in the clinic to focus on the most important part of patient care: the open, face-to-face relationship between patient and doctor. Drawing on studies as well as interviews with medical professionals and academics, Ofri sheds light on how effective conversations at doctors' appointments are often hindered by poor communication, leading to potential diagnostic errors. To remedy this, she offers a multitude of strategies for changing the way we communicate to ensure improved health.

For #10 we get "Testosterone Rex" by Cordelia Fine. A welcome contribution to the field of gender studies, Fine's book debunks Western culture's entrenched, biologically essentialist notions of sexual difference. Sampling from a wide range of disciplines, including psychology, neuroscience, and philosophy, the author posits that it's social constructs that create the binary gendered categories of "man" and "woman," not the biology of sex. Looking especially askance at the idea that testosterone naturally makes men more aggressive, Fine takes apart widespread scientific myths to reveal the underlying societal structures that cause gender inequality.

Arriving at #11 is "Another Fine Mess" by Pope Brock. Humankind has long speculated about the possibility of colonizing the moon. Now, facing the planet-destroying threat of climate change, scientists are seriously considering what it would take to start civilization anew on the lunar surface. Brock's alternately witty and edifying series of essays picks up on this train of thought, hypothesizing how 21st-century technologies could help establish life away from Earth. Incorporating interviews with experts, Brock ponders not only whether this new society would be scientifically possible, but if humans would be up to the challenge of peacefully maintaining it.

Brock's alternately witty and edifying series of essays picks up on this train of thought, hypothesizing how 21st-century technologies could help establish life away from Earth.

For #12 we have "Data and Goliath" by Bruce Schneier. There are many civil dangers in our contemporary age, but few are as insidious as Big Data. In his frightening and enlightening look at mass cyber-surveillance, security expert and bestselling author Schneier describes the multiple, hidden ways governments and corporations track, save, and weaponize user information. Despite widespread knowledge of this fact, he shows how willing most people are to comply with this regime in the name of protection and expedience. With an activist's spirit, Schneier suggests ideas for reforming the system and taking back control of our data.

Finally, coming in at #13 is "The Post-American World" by Fareed Zakaria. With the rapid growth of countries such as China and India in the 21st century, the United States is increasingly becoming displaced from the center of the global economy. Instead of attributing this trend to America's fall from grace, Zakaria argues that it has more to do with the rising cultural and economic influences of developing nations. Examining the political dynamics that have emerged from this, the author ponders how the U.S might negotiate its position in a new world order, and what such a transformed, globalized market means for geopolitics on a macro scale.