Best Social Sciences of 2023

Racism, poverty, and burnout are dominant themes of many of 2023’s best social sciences books. But there is also joy, along with journeys to find comfort and welcoming communities.


Desmond, Matthew. Poverty, by America. Crown. ISBN 9780593239919.

Pulitzer Prize winner Desmond looks directly at the wealthiest people in the United States and tells them that poverty exists because they benefit from it. And there’s proof. Example after example indicates how the wealth gap stays wide—the U.S. has the biggest poverty rate in the world—while the rich get richer. He offers hope, however, in the form of feasible solutions. Required reading.

Egan, Timothy. A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan’s Plot To Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them. Viking. ISBN 9780735225268.

Egan, a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, offers a page-turning exposé about the Ku Klux Klan. Readers learn about charismatic but hate-filled D.C. Stephenson, who spearheaded the white-supremacist group’s rise in the 1920s. He’s portrayed as a murderous, brutal rapist who gets away with his horrific actions, until a white woman tells all on her deathbed. Chilling, compelling, and critical to include in the canon of storytelling about American history.

Enfield, Sean. Holy American Burnout!: Essays. Split/Lip. ISBN 9781952897337.

A relatable condition for many Americans, burnout takes center stage in Enfield’s innovative book. It’s told from his perspective as an educator and imbued with his belief that burnout is an institutionalized and racialized weight that affects the souls of people of color. Wide-ranging essays span from stories about Black and Brown students to personal reflections about Enfield’s own biracial heritage. A rare and gripping read.

Grevemberg, Noami J. Living the Vanlife: On the Road Toward Sustainability, Community, and Joy. Simon Element. ISBN 9781982179618.

Vanlifer Grevemberg’s book compels readers to consider quitting their jobs and living a life as a nomad, as she does. Her chapters and passages about things that vanlifers, especially women and people of color, must consider in order to stay safe on the road rank as special highlights, filled with practical advice. Photos of her van, scenic stops, and adventures are joyous documents. Armchair travelers, dreamers, and people ready to leave their jobs will all benefit.

Hilderbrand, Lucas. The Bars Are Ours: Histories and Cultures of Gay Bars in America, 1960 and After. Duke Univ. ISBN 9781478024958.

Hilderbrand visits gay and lesbian bars across the United States, in large cities and in small towns, as he offers readers one of the most comprehensive views of their history, significance, and influence on queer communities nationwide. This well researched book features engaging prose, as well as photographs and archival posters in every chapter. This is not just a book that deserves attention; it is a beautiful tribute to LGBTQIA+ nightlife.

Hooker, Juliet. Black Grief/White Grievance: The Politics of Loss. Princeton Univ. ISBN 9780691243030.

Hooker, known for her writings about democracy and race, delivers a provocative explication of how political loss has racial implications. She contends that the buoying effect of white privilege makes some white people feel that their power is threatened whenever they experience defeat in the political arena, while Black people are expected to turn their losses into activism. This book is a loud call to action to imagine loss in politics differently.

Jackson, Maggie. Uncertain: The Wisdom and Wonder of Being Unsure. Prometheus. ISBN 9781633889187.

Journalist Jackson’s book is a remarkable and persuasive push to embrace the potency of uncertainty. With care and acute observation, she shows readers the myriad benefits they can gain if only they pause long enough to ponder the moment and think things through. Her storytelling ability makes her audience feel that each chapter has transported them into uncertainty, only to deftly illustrate how to harness positive outcomes.

Saraswati, L. Ayu. Scarred: A Feminist Journey Through Pain. NYU. ISBN 9781479817092.

Saraswati applies a feminist analytic lens in her approach to pain in this transformative work. She believes that everyone carries pain, and offers provocative theories about how to manage it. Part memoir, this book examines Saraswati’s own pain in addition to her scholarly critique, which enhances and supports her findings and conclusions.

Seletzky, Leta McCollough. The Kneeling Man: My Father’s Life as a Black Spy Who Witnessed the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Counterpoint. ISBN 9781640094727.

Many have seen the black-and-white photo of a man kneeling next to Martin Luther King Jr.; he was trying to stop the flow of blood from King’s fatal head wound. Now Seletzky, the daughter of the kneeling man, provides the backstory. It’s as much a biography as it is a deep dive into American race relations. A gripping history lesson on what it means to be Black in the United States.

Yancy, George. Until Our Lungs Give Out: Conversations on Race, Justice, and the Future. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781538176429.

Yancy is known as a social visionary and has here produced essential reading. He gets to the core of racism by conducting interviews with American intellectuals and thought leaders, both the renowned and the lesser-known. Collectively, they inform readers of the many reasons why society can’t, and shouldn’t, stop thinking and talking about racism.

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