10 books selected by Joseph Kay

These ten books represent radical thinkers and speculative futures which have had a big influence on me. After all, as the black feminist adrienne maree brown says “all organizing is science fiction.” 

The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin 

The first installment of the triple Hugo Award-winning Broken Earth trilogy deserves its acclaim. It follows three women navigating a world torn apart by natural disasters and a social system based on deadly systemic prejudice against those with feared geological powers.

Undoing Border Imperialism by Harsha Walia 

Mixing sharp theoretical insight with collective activist know-how, this book outlines a vital politics of migrant solidarity which links systemic causes of displacement with borders as violent practices of producing exploitable labour.

The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin 

Le Guin’s great “ambiguous utopia” spans the twin worlds of Anarres and Urras. Philosophically and politically nuanced, the plot follows a physicist first stifled by Anarresti egalitarianism, only to become embroiled in the simmering Urrasti cold war.

In the Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary by Ngô Văn 

An autobiography that reads like a thriller. Ngô Văn took part in worker-peasant uprisings against French colonial rule, before being forced into exile as Hồ Chí Minh consolidated power by killing rival leftists. Escaping to France, he became a factory worker and took part in the student-worker mass strike of May 1968.

Revolting Prostitutes by Molly Smith & Juno Mac 

A must-read book that shows conclusively that you don’t have to choose between a critique of the sex industry and solidarity with sex workers. The discussion of sex, work, and borders is lucid and radical.

Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o 

Channelling Gikuyu oral traditions, Ngũgĩ blends sharp satire and high farce with elements of magical realism and political thriller. An epic of postcolonial kleptocracy and resistance, set in the fictional African Free Republic of Aburĩria.

The Racial Contract by Charles W Mills 

Rather than white supremacy being an anomaly amongst purportedly universal statements like “all men are created equal”, Mills’ essay shows it’s the unacknowledged pedestal on which such statements stand. Turns Western political philosophy on its head.

Facing Reality by CLR James & Grace Lee 

Pan-Africanist polymath James’ and philosopher-activist Lee’s 1958 text is a neglected gem. Centering working class self-organisation, they develop an incisive critique of both Western capitalism and the USSR’s statist variant. Still a vital touchstone for emancipatory politics today.

Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia Butler 

A new version of Butler’s classic, with themes of racism, complicity, and refusal. Probably her least sci-fi work; like her other novels it portrays characters doing what they have to do to survive, without ever foreclosing hope in a better future.

 Barefoot Gen Volume 1 by Keiji Nakazawa

The first of ten loosely autobiographical manga chronicling the aftermath of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima. As harrowing as you’d expect, but also strikingly anti-militarist and profoundly humane.

Joseph Kay is an admin at radical archive libcom.org and writes about climate politics with the Out of the Woods collective. He works in higher education. 

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