Best Social Sciences of 2021

The story of a family keepsake, a forgotten utopia, and the evolution of a neighborhood. The best social science books of 2021.

Anderson, Carol. The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781635574258.

Anderson shows how the rights afforded under the Second Amendment represent a double standard and have never fully applied to Black Americans. Notably, she maintains that recent police killings of Black men demonstrate that open carry, stand- your-ground, and castle doctrine laws are cast aside when Black people are involved.

Elliott, Andrea. Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City. Random. ISBN 9780812986945.

Expanding on her five-part series on child homelessness, which appeared in the New York Times in 2013, this compelling debut by investigative reporter Elliott follows Dasani, the oldest of eight siblings, between 2012 and 2020. The result is an unforgettable and heartbreaking account of structural racism and inequality.

Healy, Thomas. Soul City: Race, Equality, and the Lost Dream of an American Utopia. Metropolitan. ISBN 9781627798624.

In 1969, civil rights leader Floyd McKissick proposed developing Soul City, in Warren County, NC—a visionary project intended to exemplify Black economic empowerment and reverse the steady migration of Black people to the North. In this absorbing account, Healy brings the overall saga of Soul City to life.

Hinton, Elizabeth. America on Fire: The Untold History of Police Violence and Black Rebellion Since the 1960s. Liveright. ISBN 9781631498909.

In the late 20th century, the United States experienced various levels of civic unrest, the effects of which continue to shape the country today. Hinton argues this is best understood as a rebellion against entrenched racism and inequality. A must-read for those interested in social movements, past and present.

McGhee, Heather. The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. One World. ISBN 9780525509561.

In this highly anticipated debut, political commentator McGhee uses her economic and social policy expertise to argue that structural racism and white supremacy harm everyone, not only people of color. Her incisive work is essential reading for everyone working on incorporating more anti-racist thought leaders and perspectives into their collection.

Miles, Tiya. All That She Carried: The Journeof Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake. Random. ISBN 9781984854995.

Miles illuminates the lives of three generations of Black women via an embroidered cotton sack now displayed in the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Readers interested in often-overlooked lives and experiences, and anyone who cherishes a handcrafted heirloom, will enjoy this superb work with YA crossover appeal.

Oppenheimer, Mark. Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood. Knopf. ISBN 9780525657194.

The 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was the largest antisemitic attack in U.S. history. Oppenheimer observes the way the Squirrel Hill neighborhood moved forward by focusing on the life of the community and asks how the soul of a neighborhood and its residents can be restored.

Schuller, Kyla. The Trouble with White Women: A Counterhistory of Feminism. Bold Type. ISBN 9781645036890.

In this exceptional social history, Schuller juxtaposes white feminism with the intersectional feminism originating from women of color. Schuller’s feminist counterhistory is inspiring and her arguments persuasive. She excels in letting the voices and lived experiences of women of color, trans women, and otherwise marginalized women come to the fore.

Smith, Clint. How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America. Little, Brown. ISBN 9780316492935.

Although poet, educator, and writer Smith often passed by monuments to Confederate generals, he didn’t know much about the history of slavery in the United States until widespread campaigns to tear down these monuments began. This insightful travelogue will draw in readers who are starting to grapple with the topic.

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