It's #WorldBookDay. So here are 10 great books about global justice
05 March 2020
ON FIRE: THE BURNING CASE FOR A GREEN NEW DEAL
Allen Lane, 2019
This collection of essays written between 2016 and 2019 is filled with stories that don’t easily leave your mind. These are the words of someone who has moved past warning of future climate apocalypse to producing dispatches from the climate emergency as it hits across the globe today. The predominant feeling you get is no longer one of possible catastrophe – you realise our world is on fi re right now. But the book isn’t just about catastrophe. It’s about renewal and about recognising we are one of the most important generations who have ever lived. Why? Because we have the chance to end not only climate breakdown, but unequal societies and continuing colonialism – because we have no other choice. The urgency of the emergency means that we can’t put off much-needed change, the time is now. The message? It’s time to focus and push our governments for a Green New Deal.
HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT: HOW IMMIGRANTS BECAME SCAPEGOATS
This book's title is derived from the set of Tory policies intended to turn teachers, doctors and landlords into border guards. The author, Maya Goodfellow, interweaves interviews, political analysis, and personal stories to demonstrate how the hostile environment is the crystallisation of over 100 years of anti-migrant sentiment in the UK. One of the book’s central arguments is that we must not reduce migrants to their economic value, as Blair's Labour did, nor pander to the right and support controls on immigration (think back to Labour’s infamous mug). Though the majority of the book paints a grim picture of racism and xenophobia in Britain, Goodfellow's accounts of migrant solidarity action against the hostile environment gives us hope for the future. With human rights for migrants as a cornerstone we can successfully build a fairer system which puts people before profit and where we have freedom of movement for all.
INSURGENT EMPIRE: ANTICOLONIAL RESISTANCE AND BRITISH DISSENT
Priyamvada Gopal spent years researching into archives to tell the stories of empire that many of us have never heard and formulating an argument that many of us haven’t considered. This book is the result. By exploring various rebellions starting with the Indian mutiny in 1857 and ending with Kenya’s Mau Mau uprising in 1950, she recovers a complicated history of empire to explicitly highlight the long tradition of resistance to empire in Britain which was shaped by colonial rebels and their ideas of freedom and liberation. It’s easy to feel at a loss when the glorious days of empire is lauded by politicians and popularised in the media. That’s why this book is necessary. It’s a reminder that empire has always been resisted, led by those it tried to suppress with bloody wars and supported by a tradition of anticolonialism here in Britain.
AN EXTINCTION REBELLION HANDBOOK
Through a series of short essays Extinction Rebellion’s ‘handbook for the rebellion’ outlines why we are in a climate emergency and how we can work collectively to get ourselves out of it. Many of the essays highlight that system change is imperative for dealing with the climate crisis. In one section Carne Ross, the ex-diplomat turned anarchist, draws inspiration from the social ecology revolution in Rojava. In another, a technology expert exposes how the rich are planning their escape and proposes that workers must join together to distribute the wealth that has accumulated in the hands of a few. From prominent climate activists in the global south (the ex-President of the Maldives and environmental activist Vandana Shiva), to the voices of those who are currently facing the realities of climate breakdown (the Joshis in the Himalayas) this book does its best to centre black, brown and indigenous voices. Despite the valid criticism that Extinction Rebellion’s aims and actions fail to address systemic issues, their handbook successfully interweaves the need for a just transition to a carbon neutral world with instructions on how to do it.
INGLORIOUS EMPIRE: WHAT THE BRITISH DID TO INDIA
If, like me, the main thing you were taught at school about the British in India was ‘the Black Hole of Calcutta’, then this book is a vital corrective. It expands on a talk Tharoor gave in Oxford in 2015 on Britain’s vast moral debt to India for 200 years of colonialism, which to his surprise went viral. One by one Tharoor debunks the familiar arguments used by apologists for empire to argue that what the British did to India was A Good Thing – bringing political unity, the rule of law, a common language, even railways and cricket, as part of a civilising mission. Rather, Britain looted and deliberately deindustrialised India to finance its own Industrial Revolution, while its economic policies caused famines that killed 30-35 million Indians. Above all, Tharoor skewers the myth of British exceptionalism, that somehow Britain’s empire was not as brutal as all the others. In the aftermath of Brexit, he says, “the need to temper British imperial nostalgia with postcolonial responsibility has never been greater.”
RHODES MUST FALL: THE STRUGGLE TO DECOLONISE THE RACIST HEART OF EMPIRE
Rhodes Must Fall Oxford
ZED Books, 2018
When the Rhodes Must Fall movement began in South Africa in 2015, it made headlines. Protests focused on toppling the statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes led to a global movement to decolonise education and to end the glorified legacy of empire. These are the first-hand accounts of the students at the heart of it. Split into three parts – the Oxford University movement, sister movements in the UK and global reflections from Palestine to West Papua – this book connects what sometimes feels like separate challenges to empire into a collective struggle to decolonise not just our education, but our Institutions as a whole. Some of the most poignant parts are the reflections on who should lead the movement. From issues of anti-blackness to the systemic shutting out of queer black women, there are critical learnings. This book is self-reflective and self-critical. And that, to me, is how we start decolonising.
A HISTORY OF THE WORLD IN SEVEN CHEAP THINGS
Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore
Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore explain the history of capitalism, and provide radical alternatives, through the following ‘cheap things’: nature, money, work, care, food, energy – and lives. From the symbolic importance of the Chicken McNugget, to the expanding of empires, the authors give a detailed and engaging account of how colonialism and capitalism go hand in hand. It’s a stirring introduction to the damages the global north has inflicted on the global south. The book is also an essential read to understand how black, brown and indigenous people have always resisted and rejected systems of exploitation despite being treated as disposable objects in the name of profit. Patel and Moore not only lay out the history of the West’s capitalists past, but also provide a manual on how we can challenge climate change, capitalism and colonialism in the future. Through recognition, reparation, redistribution, reimagination and recreation of the current exploitative capitalist system, we can start to give things their proper value.
DOUGHNUT ECONOMICS: SEVEN WAYS TO THINK LIKE A 21ST-CENTURY ECONOMIST
Random House, 2017
What has a doughnut got to do with economics? The essence of Kate Raworth’s theory, put forward in a way that’s easy for the non-economist to grasp, is that there should be a social foundation ‘floor’ that no one should fall below, and an ecological ‘ceiling’ of planetary pressure that we can’t exceed. Between these inner and outer rings is a safe and just space for all: the ‘doughnut’. It is a call, in other words, for everyone’s human needs to be met while not destroying our shared habitat. Raworth shuns the usual mechanical economic models and their focus on GDP, instead seeing the economy as more like a living organism. Through examples from around the world, she shows what is possible if we change our current economic mindset. It’s a wide-ranging and optimistic book, emphasising that we really do have a choice of futures. But there is not much time left to make that choice!
Paul de Hoest
WHEN THEY CALL YOU A TERRORIST: A BLACK LIVES MATTER MEMOIR
Patrisse Khan-Cullors & asha bandele
When the year started I promised myself that before I got tempted by any new books, I’d get through the pile stacked up on my bedside table. Thanks to Patrisse Khan-Cullors that didn’t last long. Patrisse is one of the founders of Black Lives Matter but her book (co-written with journalist asha bandele) doesn’t start with that. It’s a story - a really painful but beautiful one - about her life. About her childhood, friends, family, and about the experiences that shaped her reality as a queer black woman in the US. It’s from this perspective that she goes on to write about the movement we know as Black Lives Matter. You’ll probably learn more about Black Lives Matter and its philosophy from Patrisse Khan-Cullors’ life than you will in any book about the tactics of activism. Because at the heart of it all is compassion - and this memoir is full of just that.
THE DIVIDE: A BRIEF GUIDE TO GLOBAL INEQUALITY AND ITS SOLUTION
Windmill Books, 2018
The mainstream development story is a con. That’s the contention at the heart of this compelling and accessible book. Jason Hickel sets out to explain the persistence of extreme poverty and the growth of inequality with an approach which will be familiar to many Global Justice Now supporters. After the end of colonialism, whose effects Hickel shows to have been devastating, there was a period of hope as former colonies adopted economic policies known as ‘developmentalism’. Incomes grew and countries started to prosper, but at the expense of Western corporate interests. In response, the US and other Western countries supported military coups. Then came the debt crisis, which allowed the imposition of ‘structural adjustment’, followed by the expansion of free trade. Hickel proposes a number of solid solutions to this accumulation of injustices, from debt cancellation to a global minimum wage. But he also warns that the environmental limits of the planet means there can be no return to developmentalism for the global south, and we in the global north need to embrace degrowth if we really want global justice.
These reviews first appeared in Ninety-Nine, the magazine for Global Justice Now members.
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