Recommended Reading

Our list of books that explore rights issues and stories from around the world

  1. Jeri Laber

    The Courage of Strangers The Courage of Strangers relates how Laber became a founder and the executive director of Helsinki Watch, which grew to be Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s most influential human rights organizations. She describes her secret trips to unwelcoming countries 25 years ago, where she met with some of the great political activists of the time. She also recalls what it was like to come of age professionally in an era when women were supposed to follow rather than lead; how she struggled to balance work and family; and how her fight for human rights informed her own intellectual, spiritual and emotional development.

  2. Ishmael Beah

    A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier This absorbing account by a young man who gets swept up in Sierra Leone's civil war goes beyond even the best journalistic efforts in revealing the life and mind of a child abducted into the horrors of warfare. At the age of twelve, he fled attacking rebels and wandered a land rendered unrecognizable by violence. By thirteen, he’d been picked up by the government army, and Beah, at heart a gentle boy, found that he was capable of truly terrible acts. At sixteen, he was removed from fighting by UNICEF, and through the help of the staff at his rehabilitation center, he learned how to forgive himself, to regain his humanity, and, finally, to heal. A Long Way Gone was named one of the 100 Notable Books of 2007 by the New York Times.

  3. Kenneth Roth and Minky Worden, ed.

    Torture: Does It Make Us Safer? Is It Ever OK? Of all the issues on the international human rights agenda, torture has given Americans the moral high ground…until now. With the recent abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, the question of cruel and degrading treatment has taken on a new urgency in the United States and elsewhere. For the first time, we are being told that torture may in fact be necessary in some cases to prevent a future terrorist attack. What are we to make of this radical shift in policy given its discord with fundamental human values? In Torture, fifteen newly written essays by leading thinkers and experts cross history and continents to offer a nuanced, up-to-the-minute exploration of this wrenching but crucial topic. Kenneth Roth is the Executive Director of Human Rights Watch.  

  4. Adam Hochschild

    King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa In the 1880s, as the European powers were carving up Africa, King Leopold II of Belgium seized for himself the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo, he looted its rubber, brutalized its people, and ultimately slashed its population by ten million--all the while shrewdly cultivating his reputation as a great humanitarian. Heroic efforts to expose these crimes eventually led to the first great human rights movement of the twentieth century, in which everyone from Mark Twain to the Archbishop of Canterbury participated. King Leopold's Ghost is the haunting account of a megalomaniac of monstrous proportions, and is also the deeply moving portrait of those who fought Leopold: a brave handful of missionaries, travelers, and young idealists who went to Africa for work or adventure and unexpectedly found themselves witnesses to a holocaust.  

  5. Roberta Cohen and Francis M. Deng

    Masses in Flight: The Global Crisis of Internal Displacement Since the end of the Cold War, increasing numbers of people have been forced to leave their homes as a result of armed conflict, internal strife, and systematic violations of human rights. Whereas refugees crossing national borders benefit from an established system of international protection and assistance, those who are displaced internally suffer from an absence of legal or institutional bases for their protection and assistance from the international community. This book analyzes the causes and consequences of displacement, including its devastating impact both within and beyond the borders of affected countries.  

  6. Kevin Bales

    Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy Slavery is illegal throughout the world, yet more than 27 million people are still trapped in one of history’s oldest social institutions. 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.  

  7. Marcus Bleasdale & Peter Boukcaert

    The Unraveling: Central African Republic Published as the recipient of the 2015 FotoEvidence Book Award, "The Unravelling: Central African Republic" by Marcus Bleasdale documents the recent breakdown of order and outbreak of violence in the Central African Republic (CAR). Working with Human Rights Watch (HRW) award-winning photojournalist Marcus Bleasdale traveled to remote areas of CAR where once friendly neighbors were in open conflict fuelled by competing political forces. Human Rights Watch Director of Emergencies, Peter Bouckaert, who traveled with Bleasdale contributes three essays to "The Unravelling" exploring the roots of the conflict and describing what he and Bleasdale encountered on their journey deep into CAR. Nicholas Kristof, of the New York Times, contributes a foreword reflecting on the failure of the media to bring the story of CAR to light and on the world's continuing inability to address recurring cases of mass violence. The powerful and provocative photography in "The Unravelling" contributes to a rich tradition of humanitarian photojournalism, having receiving the Robert Capa Gold Medal in addition to the FotoEvidence Book Award.  

  8. Paul Gordon Lauren

    The Evolution of International Human Rights Using the theme of visions seen by those who dreamed of what might be, Lauren explores the dramatic transformation of a world patterned by centuries of traditional structures of authority, gender abuse, racial prejudice, class divisions and slavery, colonial empires, and claims of national sovereignty into a global community that now boldly proclaims that the way governments treat their own people is a matter of international concern - and sets the goal of human rights for all people of all nations.  

  9. Aryeh Neier

    War Crimes: Brutality, Genocide, Terror, and the Struggle for Justice Human rights activist Neier has created a work that is both a comprehensive history and a forward-looking treatise on the institution of war tribunals. Shedding an especially penetrating light on the genocidal actions that took place in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, War Crimes catalogs and addresses the many issues surrounding the prosecution of war crimes, including accusations of “victor’s justice,” international jurisprudence, and the accountability of lower-ranking officers.  

  10. Samantha Power

    A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide Power, a former journalist for U.S. News & World Report and the Economist and now the executive director of Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights, offers an uncompromising and disturbing examination of 20th-century acts of genocide and U.S responses to them. In clean, unadorned prose, Power revisits the Turkish genocide directed at Armenians in 1915-1916, the Holocaust, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, Iraqi attacks on Kurdish populations, Rwanda, and Bosnian “ethnic cleansing”, and in doing so, argues that U.S. intervention has been shamefully inadequate.

  11. Philip Gourevitch

    We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Weill be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda An unforgettable firsthand account of a people's response to genocide and what it tells us about humanity. This remarkable debut book chronicles what has happened in Rwanda and neighboring states since 1994, when the Rwandan government called on everyone in the Hutu majority to murder everyone in the Tutsi minority. Though the killing was low-tech--largely by machete--it was carried out at shocking speed: some 800,000 people were exterminated in a hundred days. A Tutsi pastor, in a letter to his church president, a Hutu, used the chilling phrase that gives Philip Gourevitch his title.  

  12. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

    Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide From two of our most fiercely moral voices, a passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation: the oppression of women and girls in the developing world. 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.  

  13. Jo Becker

    Campaigning for Justice: Human Rights Advocacy in Practice Advocates within the human rights movement have had remarkable success establishing new international laws, securing concrete changes in human rights policies and practices, and transforming the terms of public debate. Yet too often, the strategies these advocates have employed are not broadly shared or known. Campaigning for Justiceaddresses this gap to explain the "how" of the human rights movement. Written from a practitioner's perspective, this book explores the strategies behind some of the most innovative human rights campaigns of recent years. Drawing on interviews with dozens of experienced human rights advocates, the book delves into local, regional, and international efforts to discover how advocates were able to address seemingly intractable abuses and secure concrete advances in human rights. These accounts provide a window into the way that human rights advocates conduct their work, their real-life struggles and challenges, the rich diversity of tools and strategies they employ, and ultimately, their courage and persistence in advancing human rights.  

  14. Shirin Ebadi

    Until We are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran The first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Shirin Ebadi has inspired millions around the globe through her work as a human rights lawyer defending women and children against a brutal regime in Iran. Now Ebadi tells her story of courage and defiance in the face of a government out to destroy her, her family, and her mission: to bring justice to the people and the country she loves. For years the Islamic Republic tried to intimidate Ebadi, but after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rose to power in 2005, the censorship and persecution intensified. The government wiretapped Ebadi’s phones, bugged her law firm, sent spies to follow her, harassed her colleagues, detained her daughter, and arrested her sister on trumped-up charges. It shut down her lectures, fired up mobs to attack her home, seized her offices, and nailed a death threat to her front door. Despite finding herself living under circumstances reminiscent of a spy novel, nothing could keep Ebadi from speaking out and standing up for human dignity.  

  15. Michelle Alexander

    The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness Once in a great while a book comes along that changes the way we see the world and helps to fuel a nationwide social movement. The New Jim Crow is such a book. Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as "brave and bold," this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control—relegating millions to a permanent second-class status—even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a "call to action."  

  16. Anne Applebaum

    Gulag: A History In this magisterial and acclaimed history, Anne Applebaum offers the first fully documented portrait of the Gulag, from its origins in the Russian Revolution, through its expansion under Stalin, to its collapse in the era of glasnost. 

    The Gulag--a vast array of Soviet concentration camps that held millions of political and criminal prisoners--was a system of repression and punishment that terrorized the entire society, embodying the worst tendencies of Soviet communism. Applebaum intimately re-creates what life was like in the camps and links them to the larger history of the Soviet Union. Immediately recognized as a landmark and long-overdue work of scholarship, Gulag is an essential book for anyone who wishes to understand the history of the twentieth century.  

  17. Bassem Youssef

    Revolution for Dummies; Laughing Through the Arab Spring "The Jon Stewart of the Arabic World"—the creator of The Program, the most popular television show in Egypt’s history—chronicles his transformation from heart surgeon to political satirist, and offers crucial insight into the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Revolution, and the turmoil roiling the modern Middle East, all of which inspired the documentary about his life, Tickling Giants. Bassem Youssef’s incendiary satirical news program, Al-Bernameg (The Program), chronicled the events of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, and the rise of Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi. Youssef not only captured his nation’s dissent but stamped it with his own brand of humorous political criticism, in which the Egyptian government became the prime laughing stock.