Summer Reading

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1) Isabel Wilkerson: The Warmth of Other Suns (Vintage, 2011)

In this Pulitzer Prize–winning epic, author Isabel Wilkerson chronicles one of the great untold stories of American history: the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities, in search of a better life.

2) Matthew Desmond: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Crown, 2016)

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today, and bears witness to the human cost of America’s vast inequality.

3) Sonia Nazario: Enrique’s Journey (Random House, 2007)

In this astonishing true story, award-winning journalist Sonia Nazario recounts the unforgettable odyssey of a Honduran boy who braves unimaginable hardship and peril to reach his mother in the United States. Based on the Los Angeles Times newspaper series that won two Pulitzer Prizes.

4)  Mark K. Shriver: A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver (St. Martins Griffin, 2012)

After a lifetime searching for the path to his father, Sargent Shriver’s, success in the public arena, Mark turns to a search for the secret of his father’s joy, his devotion to others, and his sense of purpose. In the process, Mark discovers much about himself, as a father, as a husband, and as a social justice advocate.

5) Alex Kotlowitz: There are No Children Here (Doubleday, 1992)

This is the moving and powerful account of two remarkable boys struggling to survive in Chicago’s Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex disfigured by crime and neglect.

6) Michelle Alexander: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (The New Press, 2012)

This NY Times best-selling book takes a look at the system of mass incarceration in America and its devastating effects on black Americans. Contrary to the rosy picture of race embodied in Barack Obama’s and Oprah Winfrey’s success, legal scholar Alexander argues that we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.

7) Sudhir Vankatesh: Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets (Penguin, 2008)

In the late 1980s and 90s, rogue sociologist Venkatesh infiltrated the world of tenant and gang life in Chicago’s Robert Taylor Home projects. He found a complex system of compromises and subsistence that makes life (barely) manageable. Venkatesh illustrates the resourcefulness of impoverished communities and reveals the symbiotic relationship between the community and the gangs that helps sustain each.

8) The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Image, 2011)

For almost 50 years, Dorothy Day offered an example of the gospel in action. The publication of her diaries, sealed until 25 years after her death, offers a uniquely intimate portrait of her struggles and concerns. A story of faithful striving for holiness and the radical transformation of the world, Day’s life challenges readers to imagine what it would be like to live as if the gospels were true.

9) Rev. Bryan Massingale: Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Orbis, 2010)

A leading black Catholic moral theologian addresses the thorny issue of racial justice past and present. Fr. Massingale writes from an abiding conviction that the Catholic faith and the black experience make essential contributions in the continuing struggle against racial injustice. The author’s moving personal reflections add a human face to his message, which readers who have a heart for social justice will find prophetic.

10)  Rev. Leo Mahon & Nancy Davis: Fire under my Feet, A Memoir of God’s Power in Panama (Orbis, 2007)

An autobiography of an Irish-Catholic priest. In 1963, Fr. Leo Mahon was sent to build an experimental church in Panama. He was unaware that he would later be threatened by a vicious dictator and punished by a Cardinal for establishing a Christian community known throughout the world as a model of faith, justice and peace. A dramatic story which reveals how a vibrant and happy church can survive despite external threats.

11) Thomas Piketty: The Economics of Inequality (Belknap, 2015)

Piketty begins by explaining how inequality evolves and how economists measure it. With characteristic clarity and precision, he introduces key ideas about the relationship between labor and capital, the effects of different systems of taxation, the impact of education and technological change, the nature of capital markets, the role of unions, and apparent tensions between the pursuit of efficiency and of fairness.

12) Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson: Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (Crown Business, 2013)

Brilliant and engagingly written, Why Nations Fail answers the question that has stumped the experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine? The authors conclusively show that it is man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success (or lack of it).

13) Oscar Romero: The Violence of Love (Orbis, 2004)

These selections from the sermons and writings of Archbishop Oscar Romero share the message of a great holy prophet of modern times. Three short years transformed Romero, archbishop of San Salvador, from a conservative defender of the status quo into one of the church’s most outspoken voices of the oppressed.

14) Kwame Anthony Appiah: Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (W.W. Norton, 2007)

Appiah, a Princeton philosophy professor, articulates an ethical manifesto for a world characterized by unthinkable interconnection but riven by escalating fractiousness. He attempts to steer a course between the extremes of liberal universalism, with its tendency to impose our values on others, and cultural relativism, with its implicit conviction that gulfs in understanding cannot be bridged.

15) Michael Sandel: What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013)

In recent decades, market values have crowded out nonmarket norms in almost every aspect of life. In this New York Times bestseller, popular public philosopher Michael Sandel takes up one of the biggest ethical questions of our time: Isn’t there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? If so, how can we prevent market values from reaching into spheres of life where they don’t belong? What are the moral limits of markets?

16) Ta-Nehisi Coates: Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015)

In a series of essays to his teenaged son, Coates confronts the notion of race in America and how it has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives. Thoughtfully exploring personal and historical events, the author asks and attempts to answer difficult questions that plague modern society. He explains that the tragic examples of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and those killed in South Carolina are the results of a systematically constructed and maintained assault to black people—a structure that includes slavery, mass incarceration, and police brutality as part of its foundation. #1 New York Times bestseller, National Book Award Winner, and Pulitzer Prize Finalist

17) Nicholas Kristof an Sheryl WuDunn: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Vintage, 2010)

New York Times columnist Kristof and his wife, WuDunn, a former Times reporter, make a brilliantly argued case for investing in the health and autonomy of women worldwide. Far from merely making moral appeals, the authors posit that it is impossible for countries to climb out of poverty if only a fraction of women participate in the labor force.

18) Jonathan Kozol: Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools (Broadway Books, 2012)

From 1988-90, Kozol visited schools in neighborhoods across the country. He spoke with teachers, principals, superintendents, and, most important, children. He found not only that schools for rich and poor blatantly unequal, but that the gulf between the two extremes is widening. Kozol delivers a searing examination of the extremes of wealth and poverty and calls into question the reality of equal opportunity in our nation’s schools.

19) Steve Corbett: When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor (Moody, 2014)

Poverty is much more than simply a lack of material resources, and it takes much more than donations and handouts to solve it. Offering a faith-based perspective, When Helping Hurts shows how some alleviation efforts, failing to consider the complexities of poverty, have actually unintentionally done more harm than good.

20) Rebecca Solnit: Men Explain Things to Me (Haymarket, 2015)

Where opponents would argue that feminism is humorless and superfluous, Men Explain Things to Me is a compelling argument for the movement’s necessary presence in contemporary society. It approaches the subject with candor and openness, furthering the conversation and the way we talk about women’s rights.

21) Howard Thurman: Jesus and the Disinherited (Beacon Press, 1996)

In this classic theological treatise, the acclaimed theologian and religious leader Howard Thurman demonstrates how the gospel may be read as a manual of resistance for the poor and disenfranchised.

22) Leah Kostamo: Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community (Wipf & Stock, 2013)

The author wrestles with issues of poverty, justice, and the environment through the narrative of her own life experience. A fascinating narrative in which committed environmentalists respond to God’s call to renew our planet and our souls.

23) Barbara Ehrenreich: Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (Picador, 2011)

Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job—any job—can be the ticket to a better life. This book chronicles her undercover life as an unskilled worker across the country, revealing what American ‘prosperity’ looks from the bottom.

24) Jim Wallis: God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (Harper San Francisco, 2006)

A New York Times bestselling book offering an alternative to the polarizing politics promoted by many in the religious culture wars. Wallis helps us find unity with a politics that addresses the needs of the poor and oppressed.

25) Jim Wallis: America’s Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America (Brazos, 2016)

In America’s Original Sin, Wallis offers a prophetic and deeply personal call to action in overcoming the racism so ingrained in American society. He speaks candidly to Christians–particularly white Christians–urging them to cross a new bridge toward racial justice and healing.

25) Abraham J. Heschel: The Prophets (Harper Classics, 2001)

Provides rich insights from the Hebrew prophets as they empathized with the pathos that God shows upon seeing the oppression of the poor.

26) James R. Brockman: Romero: A Life (Orbis, 2005)

It is twenty-five years since Oscar Romero, the prophetic archbishop of San Salvador, was assassinated while celebrating Mass. In death he joined tens of thousands of his fellow Salvadorans, killed in the conflict that engulfed his small Central American nation. First published in 1989, James Brockman’s biography remains the definitive portrait of the modern hero and martyr who became a voice of the voiceless.

27) Pope Francis: ‘Laudato Si’–Praise be to you—On Care For Our Common Home (2015)

Free Online at 

28) Pope Francis: ‘Evangelii Gaudium’—The Joy of the Gospel: Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World (2013)

Free Online at