Even though the summer equinox hasn’t arrived yet, it sure feels like summer! School is out, the weather is hot, and there’s no better time to catch up on some great reading. If summer reading is your thing, or you’re looking for a few good books to plow through over the next few months, then here are eight human rights books that you ought to read this summer. A couple of these were book club books, or may become a book club book for the chapter, but that’s all the more reason to read them (or even read them again!)
Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor
Paul Farmer, if you don’t know, has done some amazing work in public health in third world countries. Since we live in a country where healthcare is considered a privilege and not a right, his perspective is critical as it shows the relationship between human rights and health. This book written by Farmer, while another on this list is a book about Farmer and his work in Haiti. He is that awesome, and Haiti is a country in such desolate conditions.
Pathologies of Power uses harrowing stories of life–and death–in extreme situations to interrogate our understanding of human rights. Paul Farmer, a physician and anthropologist with twenty years of experience working in Haiti, Peru, and Russia, argues that promoting the social and economic rights of the world’s poor is the most important human rights struggle of our times. With passionate eyewitness accounts from the prisons of Russia and the beleaguered villages of Haiti and Chiapas, this book links the lived experiences of individual victims to a broader analysis of structural violence. Farmer challenges conventional thinking within human rights circles and exposes the relationships between political and economic injustice, on one hand, and the suffering and illness of the powerless, on the other.
Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy, Revised Edition, With a New Preface
I’m actually going to make it a point to read this one. I’m interested in learning how multinational corporations are utilizing slavery. In fact, I’m going to reserve a copy at the library for this book right now.
Slavery is illegal throughout the world, yet more than twenty-seven million people are still trapped in one of history’s oldest social institutions. Kevin Bales’s disturbing story of contemporary slavery reaches from Pakistan’s brick kilns and Thailand’s brothels to various multinational corporations. His investigations reveal how the tragic emergence of a “new slavery” is inextricably linked to the global economy. This completely revised edition includes a new preface. All of the author’s royalties from this book go to fund antislavery projects around the world.
Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West
This book is a contender as our next book club choice, and I’m rooting for it because it sounds like a good one. It would be interesting to look at the world of political prisoners, especially since that is a big part of Amnesty International’s mission.
In Escape from Camp 14, acclaimed journalist Blaine Harden tells the story of Shin Dong-hyuk and through the lens of Shin’s life unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state. Shin knew nothing of civilized existence-he saw his mother as a competitor for food, guards raised him to be a snitch, and he witnessed the execution of his own family. Through Harden’s harrowing narrative of Shin’s life and remarkable escape, he offers an unequaled inside account of one of the world’s darkest nations and a riveting tale of endurance, courage, and survival.
The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine
This is a must-read for anyone who has watched Half the Sky (another book on this list). It’s the memoir of Somaly Mam, just about one of the coolest and most incredible people on the planet. If you are not inspired by her, then you just have no soul.
Written in exquisite, spare, unflinching prose, The Road of Lost Innocence recounts the experiences of her early life and tells the story of her awakening as an activist and her harrowing and brave fight against the powerful and corrupt forces that steal the lives of these girls. She has orchestrated raids on brothels and rescued sex workers, some as young as five and six; she has built shelters, started schools, and founded an organization that has so far saved more than four thousand women and children in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. Her memoir will leave you awestruck by her tenacity and courage and will renew your faith in the power of an individual to bring about change.
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World
This is the book about Farmer and the great work he’s done in public health and human rights, particularly in Haiti. I’ve spoken with public health students who have been able to hear him speak, and they say that he’s an inspirational person despite his string bean frame.
At the center of Mountains Beyond Mountains stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant, world-class Robin Hood, Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his life’s calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer—brilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haiti—blasts through convention to get results.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide
Of course, this book was our latest choice for our book club, and it is a must-read! Please read this before watching the documentary too, as the two compliment each other. The documentary shouldn’t be viewed as a “movie version of the book”, where you can get everything from just one of them. Both offer stories and lessons that the other doesn’t.
With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world with anger, sadness, clarity, and, ultimately, hope.
They show how a little help can transform the lives of women and girls abroad. That Cambodian girl eventually escaped from her brothel and, with assistance from an aid group, built a thriving retail business that supports her family. The Ethiopian woman had her injuries repaired and in time became a surgeon. A Zimbabwean mother of five, counseled to return to school, earned her doctorate and became an expert on AIDS.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
This is one of our most recent book club choices, one that came highly recommended from others in the Amnesty and human rights community. Prepare to have your mind blown about the U.S justice system and racial relations as it stands today.
In this incisive critique, former litigator-turned-legal-scholar Michelle Alexander provocatively argues that we have not ended racial caste in America: we have simply redesigned it. Alexander shows that, by targeting black men and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control, even as it formally adheres to the principle of color blindness. The New Jim Crow challenges the civil rights community – and all of us – to place mass incarceration at the forefront of a new movement for racial justice in America.
Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace… One School at a Time
This one has been removed from our list, since it has come to our attention that some aspects of the book could be fraudulent. Christian Science Monitor has more.