The Books Briefing: The Revolution Will Be Written About

“Show me what democracy looks like.” Your weekly guide to the best in books.

As mass pro-democracy demonstrations continue to rock Hong Kong and student-led strikes around the world call for action against climate change, the variety of works in this Books Briefing can lend insight into the many forms protest has taken over the decades.

In his graphic memoir, March, Representative John Lewis documents the struggle and heartbreak, as well as the victories, of the civil-rights movement. The historian Emily E. LB. Twarog writes of the female-driven consumer activism that, throughout the 20th century, shaped the American food industry. Antonia Malchik’s A Walking Life describes how the community networks that sustain movements are formed in public spaces where assemblies that demand leaders’ attention can also take place.

As important as organizing and protesting for a cause can be, individuals often find other creative ways of making their views heard. Dorian Lynskey’s history of protest music, 33 Revolutions per Minute, discusses the sometimes underestimated political power of pop songs. And a collection of photographs by Yoav Litvin captures the quietly arresting statements that some New York City street artists make through their work.

Every Friday, we thread together Atlantic stories on books that share similar ideas.

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What We’re Reading

(Lee Jin-man / AP)

Why in-person protests are stronger than online activism
“Effective protest requires not just the right of the people to gather, but accessible public spaces in which gathering is possible and citizens who understand what those rights are.”

📚 An excerpt from A Walking Life: Reclaiming Our Health and Our Freedom One Step at a Time, by Antonia Malchik
📚 Twitter and Tear Gas, by Zeynep Tufekci

Street art’s momentary protest, made permanent
“It is an incredible, non-violent way to raise issues in the public sphere and promote positive change.”

📚 Outdoor Gallery: New York City, by Yoav Litvin

How “citizen housewives” made food cheaper and safer
“Without grassroots organizing by women throughout the 20th century against rotting ingredients, high food prices, and indecipherable freshness codes, buying food in America would look very different than it does.”

📚 Politics of the Pantry: Housewives, Food, and Consumer Protest in Twentieth-Century America, by Emily E. LB. Twarog

John Lewis and the cycle of racism in the United States
“This is the true story of how civil rights were carved out in America: in the blood of activists.”

📚 March, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

The golden era of protest music
“Protest songs make people feel not alone … This is where I think preaching to the converted is underrated. It’s fine to cement beliefs to inspire people to act on them.”

📚 33 Revolutions per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, by Dorian Lynskey

The Reference Desk

(New York Public Library)

This week’s question is from S.J., who’s in search of literary fiction that’s perfect for fall and winter reading.

While Autumn, by Ali Smith, might sound like an obvious answer, it’s timely in more ways than just the title—the novel is an intricately structured, richly imagined response to Brexit, a process that’s currently reaching a crisis point in the United Kingdom. If you’re more in the market for an escape from dreary news and weather, though, you might try exploring the fantastical worlds of Terry Pratchett or J. R. R. Tolkien (including the latter’s lesser-known short story that sums up his writing philosophy). Between those two poles, the eerie novels of Shirley Jackson use supernatural themes to uncover dark realities about society and psychology.

The colder months can be a good time to settle down with a classic you’ve always meant to get to: Meet the vivid, complex characters of Anna Karenina, or reap the still-relevant insights of The Grapes of Wrath. I’m personally fond of Persuasion, which, taking place primarily in the fall and winter, has a bittersweet autumnal flavor of nostalgia and regret—but eventually promises a fresh start for its central characters.

Write to the Books Briefing team at or reply directly to this email with any of your reading-related dilemmas. We might feature one of your questions in a future edition of the Books Briefing and offer a few books or related Atlantic pieces that might help you out.

About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Rosa Inocencio Smith. She spent her last Sunday binge-reading The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver.

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