The Progressive’s Guide to Book Giving—for Every Relative

Here are books to gift that spark ideas, give subtle messages, help expand someone’s mind, or just poke a little fun.

Books make thoughtful gifts for anyone, but they’re especially helpful for hard-to-shop-for family members. It’s a challenge to match the right book to the right person. So we decided to crowdsource our selections. We asked you for book recommendations for the folks who might appear on anyone’s gift list—books that spark ideas, give subtle messages, help expand someone’s mind, or just poke a little fun. Then we rounded up the most popular suggestions.

Behold, The Progressive’s Guide to Book Giving: 

Illustrations by Jennifer Luxton.

Your nephew growing up in the age of Trump 

Top Pick: A Young People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

This is an adaptation of Zinn’s classic history text for younger readers. It starts with viewing the arrival of Christopher Columbus through the eyes of the Arawak Indians and goes on to relate the history of the nation from the point of view of those who fought for the rights of workers, women, African Americans, and others. Zinn upends the way we view American history and reminds readers that America’s true greatness is shaped by our dissident voices, not our generals and politicians.

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Runners-up:

  • Wishtree by Katherine Applegate
  • Refugee by Alan Gratz
  • The Way Between by Rivera Sun
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Your sister working through recent trauma

Top Pick: Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

In this classic, poet and psychoanalyst Clarissa Pinkola Estés gathers myths and folktales of women from across the world. By retelling and analyzing these stories, Estés builds a portrait of feminine psychology that, she believes, has been neglected. Now 25 years old, Women Who Run with the Wolves resonates today. “A woman’s issues of soul cannot be treated by carving her into a more acceptable form as defined by an unconscious culture,” she writes. “That is what has already caused millions of women who began as strong and natural powers to become outsiders in their own cultures.”

Runners-up:

  • When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön
  • All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks
  • Body Horror: Capitalism, Fear, Misogyny, Jokes by Anne Elizabeth Moore
  • The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
  • Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

 

Your implicitly racist, Trump-voting uncle

Top Pick: Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debbie Irving

Irving offers personal accounts of how well-intentioned mindsets perpetuate racism and explains why and how she’s changed the way she talks about racism. The book includes exercises at the end of each chapter prompting readers to explore their own racialized ideas. Irving has said this “is the book I wish someone had handed me decades ago. My hope is that by sharing my sometimes cringe-worthy struggle to understand racism and racial tensions, I offer a fresh perspective on bias, stereotypes, manners, and tolerance.”

Runners-up:

  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindess by Michelle Alexander
  • A Different Mirror: The History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki
  • 500 Nations: An Illustrated History of North American Indians by Alvin M. Josephy Jr.
  • On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
  • Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town by Brian Alexander
  • War Is a Racket by Major General Smedley D. Butler 

Your fat-shaming grandma with a bit of internalized misogyny

Top pick: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Grandma might have gone this long without ever reading the 1985 classic, but now she has a second chance with new editions out because of the Hulu series’ popularity (oh, and the Trump presidency). The book is less a description of a feminist nightmare than of resistance in the face of totalitarianism. Imagine the discussions you can have with her next holiday about women’s roles, daughters’ hopes, and oppression.

Runners-up:

  • Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth
  • I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai
  • Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women’s Health Book Collective and Judy Norsigian
  • You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation by Deborah Tannen.
  • My Kitchen Wars by Betty Fussell
  • My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme
  • Mothers and Daughters by Jill Norman, Diana Gabaldon, Faye Kellerman, Eileen Grudge, Joy Fielding

Your woke, Twitter-literate niece

Top pick: How to Be a Bawse by Lilly Singh

Your woke niece already knows all about intersectionality and social justice (hence why she’s woke). That’s why Singh’s book is perfect: It will help nurture that strong female voice to help her achieve her personal and professional goals. The book takes a pragmatic approach to life, encouraging the reader to optimize every opportunity, to get hurt efficiently, and to practice good mental health habits. And since the book is written with Singh’s bold and hilarious voice, it’s totally fun to read.

Runners-up:

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
  • Body Positive Power: How to stop dieting, make peace with your body, and live by Megan Jayne Crabbe
  • I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
  • Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
  • Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Damian Duffy and Octavia E. Butler

Your news-obsessed, political-junky significant other

Top Pick: No Is Not Enough by Naomi Klein

The introduction of Naomi Klein’s No Is Not Enough says it all: “This is one attempt to uncover how we got to this surreal political moment. It is also an attempt to predict how, under cover of shocks and crises, it could get a lot worse. And it’s a plan for how, if we keep our heads, we might just be able to flip the script and arrive at a radically better future.”

Runners-up:

  • Any poetry book by Rumi
  • Our Revolution by Bernie Sanders
  • No More Heroes by Jordan Flaherty
  • Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky
  • Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges

Your DIY, homesteading aunt

Top Pick: Anything from poet-essayist-novelist-farmer Wendell Berry

Berry will inspire back-to-the-land daydreams. For decades, he has written about the characters of the fictional Kentucky town of Port Williams, collected in anthologies such as A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership and That Distant Land: The Collected Stories. Among his nonfiction books, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture is a favorite that encourages farming as a cultural and spiritual calling.

Runners-up:

  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  • The Chicken Chronicles: Sitting With the Angels Who Have Returned With My Memories by Alice Walker
  • Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting by Louise Riotte
  • Cattail Moonshine and Milkweed Medicine: The Curious Stories of 43 Amazing North American Native Plants by Tammi Hartung
  • The Permaculture Handbook: Garden Farming for Town and Country by Peter Bane

 

Your out-of-the-loop but well-meaning immigrant parents

Top Pick: Deep South by Paul Theroux

Deep South explores an unglamorous part of America seldom found in glossy magazines and one that immigrant parents might benefit from getting to know. From farm plantations and holy-roller churches to the ubiquitous gun shows and college football, it paints a picture of a place of contrast and conflict: some of the country’s best music and cuisine in cities and states with some of its most challenged schools and deepest pockets of poverty. 

Runners-up:

  • The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henriquez.
  • The Brief Wondruous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • From Every End of This Earth: 13 Families and the New Lives They Made in America by Steven V. Roberts
  • Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
  • Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • Shanghai Girls by Lisa See