5 Books You Should Read If You Like Children's Justice
These books will transform your view of children, social justice, and the world.
Children’s Justice explores the treatment of children as a social justice issue. While the book has a lengthy bibliography, many have asked me what else they could read to learn more. Here are five books I recommend:
Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing by Miranda Fricker
Of all the social justice theory books I read (and there were many), this was the best. One of the most interesting books I’ve ever read. Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing is about how we evaluate truth and knowledge, rather than any one particular dogma. The ideas from this book completely changed the way I understand language, and you can see them referenced throughout my work.
A warning: Although short, this book is dense. Fricker will introduce complex terms and concepts mid-paragraph that she uses throughout the book. If you skimmed a paragraph, you’ll be lost. For someone who tries to speed read or just wants the “main points” from a book, this book will be too complex to understand. Only committed readers will be rewarded.
The Continuum Concept: In Search Of Happiness Lost by Jean Liedloff
The Continuum Concept: In Search Of Happiness Lost by Jean Liedloff recounts the author’s experiences observing the parenting practices of indigenous people in South America. Liedloff went into the jungle on a diamond-hunting expedition, but the gems she found turned out to be philosophical rather than physical. That jewel was the continuum concept, the idea that children can become confident whole adults if raised in a biologically natural way that Western cultures have forgotten.
Of all the books on this list, this has informed my own parenting most. The biggest takeaway I got from this book is that children learn far more from what they observe you and others doing than from any direct instruction you give them. This book shifted my focus from all of the things that could go wrong with raising a child towards relaxing into the knowledge that children will naturally learn if you set a loving example for them.
The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self by Alice Miller
Alice Miller was the first author I read who explored the concept of childhood trauma and its massive impact on the world. I recommend all of her books. The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self explores the psychology of those who survived childhood abuse. If you think you had a “happy childhood,” yet struggle with emotions and issues that don’t make sense, this book is for you. Many people have told me that this book changed their life and contributed to their healing. Of all the books on this list, this is the best for healing and personal development.
The History of Childhood by Lloyd DeMause
Lloyd DeMause is the founder of psychohistory, a school of thinking that believes that history can be understood through how children from the preceding generation were treated. If an entire generation was traumatized, they will act from that trauma as adults. The History of Childhood applies this thesis, showing how the major events of the world were influenced by childhood abuse.
In this book, DeMause documents how often historians downplay the abuse of children and shows what actually happened through first-hand sources. While I disagree with some of his analysis (DeMause is more fond of psychoanalysis than me), his central thesis is correct and leads to insights rarely found elsewhere. This book will transform your view of history, psychology, and how we treated children.
While The History of Childhood can be a downer, as Dan Carlin of the podcast Hardcore History notes in his review of the book: psychohistory is ultimately a very hopeful philosophy, because it posits that the one constant of human history, human nature, can actually change if we change how we raise children.
Medical Nemesis: The Expropriation of Health by Ivan Illich
The first line of this book is “The medical establishment has become a major threat to health,” and it only gets stronger from there. Medical Nemesis: The Expropriation of Health is about how the medical system takes over every aspect of life and, in doing so, causes death and destruction.
Written in 1974, long before pandemic lockdowns and childhood gender transitions, Illich’s critique still holds up. The book is similar to Michel Foucault’s The Birth of the Clinic (Foucault said that he liked Illich’s work) but more accessible and direct in its attack. If you want to understand the medical system, this is a good start.
Anything by Michel Foucault: I tried to include a book by Michel Foucault on this list, but couldn’t find a single book that summarized his philosophy. Still, you should read his work if you want to understand power in the modern world. In Children’s Justice, I draw heavily from his concept of power/knowledge, The Birth of the Clinic, his exploration of the medical system, and the parts of Abnormal: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1974-1975, that cover the history of medicine and sexuality.
The Rape of Innocence: Female Genital Mutilation & Circumcision in the USA by Patricia Robinett: Written by a woman circumcised by the American medical system, Robinett manages to write beautifully about the feelings of surviving genital cutting outside the typical perceptual biases of gender. No other intactivist literature helped me understand my own feelings as much as this one. This book shows that many of the feelings men have about genital cutting are feelings any person of any gender would have if they endured the same experiences.
The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto: In Children’s Justice, I say that I’d love to write an exploration of how the school system harms children, but someone already wrote the definitive book on it: John Taylor Gatto. This is THE book on the school system. If you want a cliff notes version of this book, read his famous speech The Seven Lessons Taught In School.
Wet Nursing: A History from Antiquity to the Present by Valerie A. Fildes: This is one of those rare histories where we wouldn’t have a clear concise work on what this aspect of life was like except that a dedicated academic did original research. This book was invaluable to my research into how children were treated in the past. I don’t recommend this book except to those deeply interested in history, but it deserves greater recognition.
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