22 best books on climate change and social justice to read in 2022

Content warning: This list references sexual assault, racism and violence.

For many of us, the months since COVID-19 started have marked new hobbies and the rekindling of old ones: sourdough making, knitting, and actually READING again?!

Over the past few weeks, the Soapbox community has been reflecting on the books that have changed our perspectives. Some of these are old, some are new, some are short stories, some are disturbingly dystopian. The one thing these 22 books have in common: they've all left a mark on us and are inspiring us to do more. Unlike most climate change and social justice book lists, we've included a whole lot of fiction and fun. They also include reads that will make you a better person — even if they don't directly touch on climate and social justice, they're on the list if they can help you think about the world in a more intentional way.

We've included 22 books for 2022. Mark your calendars — it's less than 2 a month!

Before we get started with our book recs, a quick tip:

We have not included Amazon links to these books. If you're not already aware of Libby, check it out: you can get books for FREE as long as you have a library card. Libby supports e-readers like Kindle as well as audiobooks. If you're trying to buy, not rent, try Indiebound to support independent book stores. Better yet, use this book list as an excuse to get some fresh air, stroll/bike/bus to your nearest local bookstore, and make your picks.

Let's get started!

Thanks to Soapbox members and readers Adelaida C., Alex H., Alex R., Alyssa B., Ben M., Matt H., Gabrielle N., James R., Laneen W., Ruhi S., and Zlato F. for your recommendations included on this list!

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 7,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

Soapbox member picks: best books on climate change and social justice

  1. All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis

    All We Can Save
    has been recommended by 10+ community members, and for good reason: no matter what format you decide to consume it in, it's beautiful and moving. This is an anthology of stories and poems centering women leading the fight against the climate crisis. All We Can Save isn't just a book: the team has also set up the infrastructure for "Circles", which are basically community-based book clubs.

    Fun fact: The audiobook is narrated by an all-star cast that includes Jane Fonda, Sophia Bush, and America Ferrera.

  2. The Ministry For the Future

    Have you heard of cli-fi before? It's like sci-fi, but focused on climate change. This cli-fi novel by Kim Stanley Robinson features chilling narration, accounts of life in the future (like a horrible heat wave), and world leaders coming together (via a UN org called The Ministry for the Future) to actually solve the problems they're tasked with.

    Will they succeed? The only way to find out is by reading this book, published in 2020. Aaand the events don't happen that far into the future, so this is your cue to start taking the climate crisis seriously ASAP.

  3. Parable of the Sower

    Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower takes place in 2025, which... yikes. It's set in an apocalyptic world destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. This book is not for the faint of heart, but despite all the terrible things happening inside this world, there's a thread of hope and quiet revolution. Parable of the Sower is also the only sci-fi (although now, it probably counts as cli-fi) book on this list written by a Black woman, and you can see how linked race, class, and climate injustice is linked through the fictional narration.

  4. Atomic Habits

    Ok, taking a break from the grim but inspiring cli/sci-fi recs. James Clear's wildly popular Atomic Habits has been on the tech bro reading list forever now, but it's actually a great framework for behavior change.

    Whether you're trying to create sustainable habits, nudge others into more frequent community service, be a better friend, stick to your mental and physical health goals, or anything else, Atomic Habits can hold your hand. It's a good resource for any leader who wants to create change without burning out.

    We recommend reading a non-audio version of this book, since it's filled with helpful illustrations and charts like this one, showing how being just 1% better every day can make a huge difference! This is a core belief behind Soapbox's bite-sized activism strategy — thanks, James 😘

  5. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

    In her NYT Bestseller Grit, psychologist Angela Duckworth basically tells us how to succeed. Easy, right?

    She interviews teachers, spelling bee finalists, sports coaches, and more people with a track record of overcoming obstacles. Grit is a guide on building resilience, and if the past two years have taught us anything, it's that resilience is crucial — not just to conventionally-defined "success", but to picking ourselves up and making the change we want to see.

  6. Know My Name

    You're probably familiar with the "Brock Turner rape case", as it's been known over the past few years. A few years ago, a Stanford swimmer sexually assaulted a woman who has now revealed her identity: Chanel Miller. During the case, his identity as an all-star swimmer, the implications of what would happen to him if he faced consequences, and how HIS life would be ruined took center stage. Through the lens of the media, the young woman who had to live with his violation stayed in the background. Until now.

    In her breathtaking memoir Know My Name, Chanel Miller shares her story. It's an absolutely brilliant, indescribable book — it adds complexity and nuance to the identity of "sexual assault survivor". It's funny, sarcastic, relatable, infuriating, and heartbreaking all at once. Know My Name is an act of literary heroism for everyone who knows what it's like to have your sense of self violated.

  7. The Humans

    If you're looking for a hilarious, light-hearted, yet deeply philosophical fiction work, stop your search right now. Grab a copy of The Humans. Put it on hold at your library. Do what you need to do.

    If you've watched the TV show The Good Place, this book by Matt Haig is a similar vibe. It's the absurd account of an alien who comes to Earth for a mission, and shares his observations about humans. And when you read this book, you'll cackle at just how silly us humans are.

    Here's the alien's description of cows: “A cow is an Earth-dwelling animal, a domesticated and multipurpose ungulate, which humans treat as a one-stop shop for food, liquid refreshment, fertilizer, and designer footwear.” 🐮

  8. Piecing Me Together

    Piecing Me Together is one of those books that should be standard reading in an elementary or middle-school classroom. It's one of the few Young Adult fiction works that isn't about boys and syrupy romance. This book by Renée Watson follows the story of a Black teen girl from a poor neighborhood, striving for success, attending a private school, and finding her place in the world.

    It's a beautiful quest for identity, voice, and purpose, learning from mistakes, and what success really means. If you're looking for a gift for a voracious teen-age-ish reader, this is the one.

  9. Under the Sky We Make

    It is our great honor to share that Dr. Kimberly Nicholas, author of Under the Sky We Make, was on one of our very first fireside chats in our membership community!

    Her book is about "how to be human in a warming world", and it's a fun, factual book that helps you navigate the climate crisis. It's got no BS, and you can tell how much joy and hope Dr. Nicholas intersperses through the book. In her work, she references finding low-carbon love, and in our fireside chat, she talks about how her honeymoon was a wild train adventure through North America, stopping to see multiple friends, and sharing how fun fighting climate change can be, instead of the picture of sacrifice that's often painted.

    P.S. everyone who signs up for our bite-sized action plans will have a chance to win this book in a giveaway.

  10. Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good

    Author and Black feminist adrienne maree brown asks, "How do we make social justice the most pleasurable human experience?" which is the whole vibe of what we're doing at Soapbox, so obviously this book had to make our top 10.

    Here's the thing. Social change is an obligation, but it shouldn't have to feel like one. That's what we talk about basically every day at Soapbox, and now we have a wayyy smarter person actually writing this into a guide. This one's a must-read for a happier and brighter world, and we can't wait to hear your thoughts!

    Alsooo, adrienne marie brown has reported she's inspired by the writings of Octavia Butler, so if you end up reading Parable of the Sower and you want some ✨pleasure✨ to balance it out, get this as your Butler supplement.

  11. The Mushroom at the End of the World

    Can mushrooms teach us about life? (Well, the 1960s called, and they answered with a resounding "hell yes".)

    But this book isn't about a psychedelic journey, and its focus isn't psilocybin. It's about matsutake, the most valuable mushroom in the world. This book shows us "what a rare mushroom can teach us about sustaining life on a fragile planet". How can we live in the midst of capitalistic destruction? How can we learn about collaborative survival? 🍄🍄🍥

    Whether you're a mushroom forager (hi Sophie), a modern-day philosophy nerd, or just love looking at things from a different perspective, it's time to learn about life from the matsutake mushroom.

  12. Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents

    We're stoked to see mental health gaining ground in our small talk conversations. This read is for those of you who are trying to therapize yourselves until you can afford a therapist, figure out how to unpack your childhood, and/or move forward and heal from trauma (which, by the way... probably applies to everyone even if you don't realize it).

    As you go on your journey to create climate/social justice and "save the world", you'll have to save yourself first, and this book could be a good place to start.

  13. The Jakarta Method

    Are you into conspiracy theories... but like, the ones that have been proven to be true? (Sorry antivaxxers, no microchips here.)

    Here's the true story of The Jakarta Method by Vincent Bevins: "In 1965, the U.S. government helped the Indonesian military kill approximately one million innocent civilians. This was one of the most important turning points of the twentieth century, eliminating the largest communist party outside China and the Soviet Union and inspiring copycat terror programs in faraway countries like Brazil and Chile. But these events remain widely overlooked, precisely because the CIA's secret interventions were so successful."

    These events have shaped our world, but no one talks about (or knows about!) them. Reader be warned: this book will change your frame of existence.

  14. The Red Deal: Indigenous Action to Save Our Earth

    We can't properly talk about climate action and social justice without talking about colonialism, but that's exactly what's been happening on the main stage.

    It's time to engage with the impacts of colonialism and extractive capitalism while turning to experts for solutions, and that's exactly what The Red Deal does.

    This book is "one-part visionary platform, one-part practical toolkit", and it's been released by the Red Nation as a call to action for peace, justice, and inclusionary social movements.

  15. Rosewater

    Ok it's time to break up the nonfiction with a lil bit of sci-fi again. Enter Rosewater, the first book of an award-winning trilogy by Tade Thompson.

    This trilogy is set in Nigeria, in the town of Rosewater. It's a "community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome" and features government agents, criminals, facing the past, and learning a secret about the horrifying future.

    Rosewater will keep you at the edge of your seat while leaving you with questions you might never be able to answer — and what's the fun in having all the answers?

  16. Music is History

    Questlove wrote this. Yep, that musical sensation Questlove of The Roots. Why not combine music, history, pop culture, and books?

    This isn't his first book — Questlove has written New York Times bestsellers and Grammy-nominated audiobooks, so he has a track record for success in various fields.

    More about this work: "Focusing on the years 1971 to the present, Questlove finds the hidden connections in the American tapes- try, whether investigating how the blaxploitation era reshaped Black identity or considering the way disco took an assembly-line approach to Black genius. And these critical inquiries are complemented by his own memories as a music fan, and the way his appetite for pop culture taught him about America."

    If music is a huge part of your daily routine as it is for many of our Soapbox members, top it off with some extra knowledge with Music is History.

  17. The Three Body Problem

    Have you ever heard of "hard" science fiction? The Three Body Problem is the first book in the Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, and we won't lie to you: it's a challenging read.

    Chinese writer Liu Cixin REALLY gets you thinking about quantum physics, advanced civilizations, life outside Earth, and more. It's hard to describe this trilogy and do it justice, so we'll leave you with this: we PROMISE your mind will be blown when you finish the trilogy.

    The only reason it's not a 10/10 in our eyes is because it's pretty difficult to get through. But it's SO. WORTH. IT.

    This is a life-changing, mind-altering series about humans and the universe, and anyone working on climate change and social justice could use a little technological imagination with these concepts.

  18. Faces at the Bottom of the Well

    We all know by now that climate change, racial injustice, history, colonialism... all that stuff... are deeply intertwined.

    Faces at the Bottom of the Well by civil rights activist and legal scholar Derrick Bell illustrates the permanence of racism. It's a reality check on the grasp that racism has in Western society. This read is geared towards people who have already started developing their racial consciousness. It's a sobering read, and if you're at the beginning of your journey learning about racism and whiteness, you might want to check out the book So You Want to Talk About Race instead.

  19. Doughnut Economics

    It turns out that living in a doughnut/donut/yummy-fried-dough-with-hole isn't as fun as it sounds. In her book Doughnut Economics, Kate Raworth takes a playful approach to examining our social and planetary boundaries, sharing the shortfall of our resources and what we can do to ensure we meet the needs of everyone on the planet. (Basically, there's a huge gaping "shortfall"-shaped-hole in the middle of our societal values, hence, the donut.)

    Our metaphorical nut of dough is a complicated balance and involves complicated economic concepts, but Kate Raworth is here to simplify it and make it fun!

  20. Exhalation: Stories

    If you have qualms about short stories, you're not alone. Sometimes they can be really hit or miss. But in Exhalation, Ted Chiang is full of hits and deep questions.

    Ted Chiang asks big questions and proposes big ideas, but somehow manages to fit it into a finite, digestible quantity of words. This is the type of book that really makes you think, and if you're not practicing your thinking muscles, your fight for a happier and healthier planet is incomplete.

    Immerse yourself into this work of speculative fiction (might we suggest keeping a notebook at your side) and ponder your humanity.

  21. Skinship: Stories

    Yoon Choi's short stories have been described as "luxuriously long". Skinship is a collection of short stories that follow the lives of immigrant and first-generation Korean Americans: "The collection of short stories examines characters of various circumstances. From a school-aged student making her first friend in America to an autistic piano teacher, each chapter is a different take on how life, culture and language interact as characters navigate unfamiliar places."

    Whether or not you can relate to the immigrant experience, we're all entering a new world now, one that's ravaged by climate change and social injustice. Yoon Choi welcomes us to follow her characters and reflect on our own lives, and her details and literary vibrancy make this a must-read for 2022.

  22. Less is More by Jason Hickel

    We'll end our list with one of the more traditional climate change social justice-y books you may have found on other reading lists, and with good reason. Less Is More is about how degrowth will save the world. This concept of "degrowth" is picking up mainstream traction, with people asking what does it REALLY mean to slow down? W

    hat will this look like in our economies? Can we be happier when we evolve beyond capitalism? Can less actually be more? (Yes, read the book xo)

    P.S. in our membership community's biweekly fireside chat series, Grant Symons from Transition HQ talked about his experience putting these ideas into practice!

That's a wrap for our recs, but if you're thirsting for more, one of our Soapbox members recommended Emma Fanning's sustainable reading list of 60+ books.

If you enjoyed this list, make sure to grab your free copy of our bite-sized action plans. If you already receive them, we're waiting for you to join our community so we can discuss stuff like this with you 🤗

If you're a Soapbox member, here's the discussion thread for this post.

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 7,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar, Change.org
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

We're ready when you are.

Get our free bite-sized climate action plans before you go!

Soapbox Project logo