Good Books on Gender

An Alternative Radical Bibliography by Nancy Lindisfarne and Jonathan Neale.


This list is strong on ethnography, leans left, is shamefully Anglophone, and a work in progress. For each topic, we think these are the best books to start with. Sometimes the sub-title tells you all you need to know, and sometimes we have added comments. The topics are arranged alphabetically. The first two books on each topic are our favourites – the rest are in no particular order.

An invitation: This list will become a permanent page on the blog. Please tell us about any books on gender that have been transformative for you. We will add them to the list, along with your name.

Write to us at

With academic books, sometimes the first chapter gets lost in theory or a survey of the literature. In that case, it often helps to skip straight to chapter two. This list does not include many of the standard texts on gender – you can find references to these elsewhere.


Cynthia Gorney, 2000. Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars. New York, Simon and Schuster.
(How a nurse in St. Louis, a waitress in Dallas, and a mass movement won legal abortion in the US.)

Tine Gammeltoft, 1998. Women’s Bodies, Women’s Worries: Health and Family Planning in a Vietnamese Rural Commune. London, Routledge.
(Birth control from the state, by the state, for the state.)

Linda Gordon, 2002. The Moral Property of Women: A History of Birth Control Politics in America. Champagne, Illinois UP.
(New edition of a classic.)


Lisa Rofel, 2007. Desiring China: Experiments in Neoliberalism, Sexuality and Public Culture. Durham, Duke.
(How Communist Party leaders remolded gender and desire for eveyone in the country. Important.)

Joma Nazpary, 2001, Post-Soviet Chaos. London, Pluto.
(Wild capitalism in Kazakhstan in the 1990s, described by a man who understands suffering.)

Lisa Rofel, 1999. Other Modernities: Gendered Yearnings in China after Socialism. Berkeley, California UP.
(An ethnography of factory workers. Read Desiring China first.)

Ngai Pun, 2005. Made in China: Women Factory Workers in a Global Workplace. Durham, Duke.

Cathy Porter, 2014. Alexandra Kollontai. London, Merlin, Second edition.
(Biography of a Bolshevik revolutionary.)

Karen Brodkin Sacks, 1988. Caring by the Hour: Women, Work and Organizing at Duke Medical Centre. Champagne, Illinois UP.
(Rank and file working class women in the union.)

Naomi Klein, 2008. The Shock Doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism. London, Penguin.
(Not about gender, but a key work on neoliberalism.)

Alejandro Lugo, 2008. Fragmented Lives, Assembled Parts: Culture, Capitalism and Conquest at the U.S.-Mexico Border. Austin, Texas UP.
(Maquiladora workers in a global market.)

Wilhelmina Jansen, 1987. Women Without Men: Gender and Marginality in an Algerian Town. Leiden, Brill.

Karin Kapadia, 1995. Siva and Her Sisters: Gender, Caste and Class in Rural South India. Boulder, Westview.

Cindi Katz, 2004. Growing Up Global: Economic Restructuring and Children’s Everday Lives. Minneapolis, Minnesota UP.

Juliet Schor, 2004. Born to Buy. New York, Scribner.


Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus, 2012. The Creation of Inequality. Cambridge, Harvard.
(A masterpiece. Combines archaeology, anthropology, and history.)

Martin Jones, 2007. Feast: Why Humans Share Food. Oxford, Oxford UP.
(Equal ways of sharing food are human, unequal ways come with class society.)

Richard Lee, 1979. The !Kung: Men, Women and Work in a Foraging Society. New York, Aldine.
(Influential early description of a classless society, which emphasizes that those people worked consciously to keep themselves equal.)

Marshall Sahlins, 1974. Stone Age Economics. London, Tavistock.
(Classic work of Marxist theory on classless societies.)

Eleanor Leacock, 1981. Myths of Male Dominance. New York, Monthly Review Press.
(Leacock was doing fieldwork with Naskapi people in Labrador while active in the early women’s liberation movement.)

Joanna Overing Kaplan, 1975. The Piaroa: A People of the Orinoco Basin. Oxford, Clarendon.
(Class and gender equality among slash and burn farmers on the border between Venezuela and Brazil.)

David Thomas, 1982. Order without Government: The Society of the Pemon Indians of Venezuela. Champagne, Illinois UP.
(The Pemon are neighbours of the Piaroa, and very similar.)

Karen Brodkin Sacks, 1979. Sisters and Wives: The Past and Future of Sexual Equality. Westport, CN, Greenwood.

Marjorie Shostak, 1990. Nisa: the Life and Words of a !Kung Woman. London, Routledge.

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, 1959. The Harmless People. New York, Knopf.
(More on the !Kung, from an earlier period.)

Edmund Leach, 1954 (1974). Political Systems of Highland Burma. London, Athlone.
(How people in Burma went back and forth between heirarchical small kingdoms and free egalitarian villages.)

James Scott, 2010. The Art of Not Being Governed: An anarchist history of upland Southeast Asia. New Haven, Yale UP.
(Applies Leach’s appraoch to the whole region.)


Marina Warner, 1981. Joan of Arc: The Image of Female Heroism. London, Penguin.
(The first half, about Joan herself, is the best. A trans hero for all time.)

Beverly M. Weber, 2013. Violence and Gender in the “New Europe”: Islam in German Culture. New York, Palgrave.
(Very good on Islamophobia and myths of honour killing.)

Senzil K. Nawid, 2000. Religious Response to Social Change in Afghanistan, 1919-1929: King Aman-Allah and the Afghan Ulama. Costa Mesa, CA, Mazda.
(Much the best book on the uprisings against Amanullah, with many echoes for today. Head and shoulders above other writing on Islam in Afghanistan.)

Wendy Doniger, 2010. The Hindus: An Alternative History. Oxford, Oxford UP.
(Looks at each period of Hinduism from the point of view of women, the poor, and the outcastes, and suddenly everything looks different. Learned, fired up with anger at right wing Hinduvata, and 800 pages.)

Nancy Scheper-Hughes, 1993. Death Without Weeping: The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil. Berkeley, California UP.
(Grassroots liberation theology.)

Marina Warner, 2013 (1976). Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary. Oxford, Oxford UP.

Jenny P. White, 2002. Islamist Mobization in Turkey: A Study in Vernacular Politics. Seattle, Washington UP.
(Religion, politics and gender in the everyday life of working class people in Istanbul.)

Heidi Armbruster, 2013. Keeping the Faith: Syriac Christian Diasporas. Sean Kingston, London.
(The first half is a haunting ethnography of a community of nuns in Turkey.)

Anna Grimshaw, 2002. Servants of the Buddha: Winter in a Himalayan Convent. London, Open Letters.
(Buddhist Nuns in Ladakh, near the Tibetan border. Many parallels with the Turkish nuns.)


Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, 2009. The Spirit Level: Why equality is better for everyone. London, Penguin.
(The most important social science book of the last ten years. How inequality influences everything.)

James Scott, 1987, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance. New Haven, Yale UP.
(An ethnography of poor farmers in a village in Malaysia, but with relevance to understanding how everyone in the world deals with oppression.)

James Scott, 1990. Domination and the Arts of Resistance. New Haven, Yale UP.
(Develops the ideas in Weapons of the Weak.)

Rosemary Hennessy. Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism. London, Routledge.
(How, and why, academic feminism went over to the dark side.)

Clara Zetkin, 1987. Selected Writings. New York, International.
(Women and class, by a socialist and communist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.)

hooks, bell, 2000. Where We Stand: Class Matters. London, Routledge.
(Women, race and class. Clear, crystal, essential.)

Aijaz Ahmad, 1992. In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London, Verso.
(Early demolition job from the left on postcolonial theory and identity politics.)

Vivek Chibber, 2013. Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital. London, Verso.
(More recent demolition job from the left on Subaltern Studies and postcolonial theory. A forensic tour de force.)

Eric Wolf, 1982. Europe and the People without History. Berkeley, California UP.
(Reminds us that the classic cases in anthropology already had a long history, and much contact with the empires, before the anthropologists arrived. Important antidote to the temptation to assume origins from the present day.)

Hester Eisenstein, 2009. Feminism Seduced. London, Paradigm.

Carol MacCormack and Marilyn Strathern, eds., 1980. Nature, Culture and Gender. Cambridge, Cambridge UP.

Micaela di Leonardo, 1998. Exotics at Home: Anthropologies, Others and American Modernities. Chicago, Chicago UP.

Micaela di Leonardo, 1991. Gender at the Crossroads of Knowledge: Feminist Anthropology in the Postmodern Era. Berkeley, California UP.
(Especially for the long introduction by di Leonardo.)


Ryan Ashley Caldwell, 2012. Fallgirls: Gender and the Framing of Torture at Abu Ghraib. Burlington, Ashgate.

Upumanyu Pablo Mukherjee, 2013. Natural Disasters and Victorian Empire: Famines, Fevers and the Literary Cultures of South Asia. New York, Palgrave.
(Mukherjee keeps environment, colonialism, race and capitalism in constant play, but never takes his eye off gender. Good on Kipling’s imperial feminine masculinity.)

Benjamin Hopkins and Magnus Marsden, eds. 2013. Beyond Swat: History, Society and Economy along the Afghanistan-Pakistan Frontier. London, Hurst.

Carolyn Nordstrom, 2004. Shadows of War: Violence, Power, and International Profiteering in the Twenty-first Century. Berkeley, California UP.

Anne McClintock, 1995. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. London, Routledge.

Anna Laura Stoller, 1995. Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s “History of Sexuality” and the Colonial Order of Things. Durham, Duke UP.

Cynthia Enloe, 2001. Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. Berkeley, California UP.


Carl Hart, 2013. High Price: Drugs, Neuroscience and Discovering Myself. London, Penguin.
(Hart grew up working class in African-American Miami. Wisdom on every page, about class, the Ivy League, the war on drugs, ADHD, gender, medication and much more.)

Michelle Alexander, 2010. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness. New York, The New Press.

Jonathan Neale, 2004. What’s Wrong with America? London, Vision.
(Neoliberalism, class, race and gender.)

Karen Brodkin, 1999. How Jews Became White Folks, and What that Says about Race in America. New Brunswick, NJ, Rutgers UP.

Barbara Ehrenreich, 1989. Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class. New York, Harper Collins.

Barbara Ehrenreich, 2010, Bright-Sided. London, Picador.

Sharon Hays, 2003. Flat Broke with Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform. Oxford, Oxford UP.

Christian Parenti, 1991. Lockdown America. London, Verso.
(Mass Imprisonment.)

Adrien Nicole LeBlanc, 2003. Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble and Coming of Age in the Bronx. London, Flamingo.

Nathan McCall, 1994. Makes Me Wanna Holler: A Young Black Man in America. New York, Vintage.

Aaron Fox, 2004. Real Country: Music and Language in Working Class Culture. Durham, Duke UP.
(How white workers in a Texas bar think and feel about what neoliberalism has done to their lives, to gender, and to music.)

Julie Bettie, 2003. Women Without Class: Girls, Race and Identity. Berkeley, California UP.
(Teenagers in California. Despite the title, it’s all about class.)

Alice Goffman, 2014. On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City. Chicago, Chicago UP.
(How mass incarceration destroys love between men and women.)


Nancy Tapper (Lindisfarne), 1991. Bartered Brides: Politics, Gender and Marriage in an Afghan Tribal Society. Cambridge, Cambridge UP.
(How class inequality was connected to gendered inequality among Durrani Pushtun pastoralists.)

Hanna Rosin, 2012. The End of Men and the Rise of Women. New York, Viking.
(Neoliberalism, class and marriage in the US.)

Ranjana Padhi, 2012. Those Who Did Not Die: Impact of the Agrarian Crisis on Women in Punjab. New Delhi, Sage.
(Tens of thousands of Indian farmers and agricultural workers have killed themselves, often by drinking pesticides, because they are trapped by debt. This book is about their widows. Heart breaking.)

Verena Martinez-Alier, 1989 (1974). Marriage, Class and Colour in Nineteenth Century Cuba: A Study of Racial Attitudes and Sexual Values in a Slave Society. Ann Arbor, Michigan UP.

Linda Gordon, 1998. Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence – Boston, 1880-1960. New York, Viking.
(A study of social workers’ attitudes to working class women and men, based on case notes.)

Gary Wray McDoDonogh, 1986. Good Families of Barcelone: A Social History of Power in the Industrial Era. Princeton, Princeton UP.

Margaret Mead, 1928. Coming of Age in Samoa.
(Conservatives hated this book in 1928, and they hate it now.)


Andrea Cornwall and Nancy Lindisfarne, eds., 1994. Dislocating Masculinity: Comparative Ethnographies. London, Routledge.

Rebecca Jordan-Young, 2010, Brainstorm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences. Cambridge, Harvard UP.
(Pink brains and blue brains. Scientifically rigorous, devastating, hilarious.)

Anne Ferguson, 2000. Bad Boys: Public Schools and the Making of Black Masculinity. Ann Arbor, Michigan UP.

John Berger, 2008 (1972). Ways of Seeing. London, Penguin.
(The male gaze, the female body, and commodities in Western art.)

Katrina Karzakis, 2008. Fixing Sex: Intersex, Medical Authority and Lived Experience. Durham, Duke.
(The cruel ways doctors operate and medicate to force intersex children into gender boxes.)

Faludi, Susan, 1999. Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man. London, HarperCollins.

Johnny Rico, 2007. Blood Makes the Grass Grow. New, York, Presidio.
(Masculinity, and what the American war did to Afghans. Engaging and honest.)

Deborah Rodriguez, 2008. The Kabul Beauty School. London, Hodder.

Margaret Mead, 1935. Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies.
(There is no essential difference between men and women. It’s all socially constructed. You read it first here.)

Theodore Zeldin, 1994. An Intimate History of Humanity. London, Sinclair Stevenson.
(Eccentric, curious, and stimulating.)


Simon Danczuk and Matthew Baker, 2014. Smile for the Camera: The Double Life of Cyril Smith. Biteback, London.
(Outstanding. How Smith was protected from the highest levels.)

Amana Fontanella-Khan, 2013. Pink Sari Revolution. New York, Norton.
(Organising resistance to rape, caste and corruption in India.)

Kevin Denys Bonnycastle, 2012. Stranger Rape: Rapists, Masculinity and Penal Governance. Toronto, University of Toronto Press.
(Ethnography of eight brutal, wounded men in a Canadian prison. Humane, empathic, harrowing.)

David Yallop, 2008. Beyond Belief: The Catholic Church and the Child Abuse Scandal. Constable, London.
(Systemic abuse, covered up by the hierarchy, has been a serious problem since the twelfth century.)

Bernard Lefkowitz, 1997. Our Guys: The Glen Ridge Rape and the Secret Life of the Perfect Suburb. Berkeley, California UP.

Jody Miller, 2008. Getting Played: African-American Girls, Urban Inequality, and Gendered Violence. New York, NYU Press.
(Working class girls trapped in a school for bad teenagers in St. Louis, Missouri.)

Anna Krien, 2014. Night Games: Sex, Power and a Journey into the Dark Heart of Sport. London, Yellow Jersey Press.
(Rape and rugby in Australia.)

Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters, 1995. Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria. Andre Deutsch, London.
(What was wrong with the idea of repressed memories of sexual abuse, and how therapists hurt people.)

Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham, 1994. The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse. New York, St Martins Griffins.
(Also good, but start with Offshe and Watters, Making Monsters.)


David Carter, 2004. Stonewall. New York, St. Martins.
(A gripping read. The gay men rioting outside the bar were trying to kill the police inside, and with good reason.)

Randy Shilts, 2012 (1987). And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic. London, Souvenir.
(An important book politically when it came out, and now a classic. Reads like a thriller.)

Martin Duberman, 1994. Stonewall. New York, Plume.
(Good history of three men and one woman whose lives were transformed by Stonewall. But start with Carter’s book.)

Stacy Wolf, 2002. A Problem Like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical. Ann Arbor, Michigan UP.
(A feminist lesbian approach to The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews and Mary Martin. Great fun, and full of insight.)

Gilbert Herdt, ed., 1984a, Ritualized Homosexuality in Melanesia. Berkeley, California.
(Herdt’s long introduction and his chapter are the best parts. The uses of oral sex in long initiations, and the difference between homosexuality and ritual sex.)

Randy Shilts, 2009 reprint. The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. New York, Atlantic.
(The movie, Milk, with Sean Penn, is even better.)

John D’Emilio, 2003. Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin. Chicago, Chicago UP.
(The gay, black, pacifist, Quaker, socialist leader of the civil rights movement.)

Faramerz Dabhoiwala, 2012. The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution. London, Allen Lane.
(Tory, only about Engliand, and anti-religious, but fascinating, important and fun.)

Hannah Dee, 2011. The Red in the Rainbow: Sexuality, Socialism and LGBT Liberation. London, Bookmarks.
(Short, solid Marxist analysis.)

Thomas Dworzak, 2003. Taliban. London, Trolley.
(Gloriously homoerotic portrait photos of Taliban fighters.)

Alan Bray, 1995. Homosexuality in Renaissance England. New York, Columbia UP.


Laura Maria Agustin, 2007. Sex at the Margins: Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry. London, Zed.
(Scorching critique of the discourse of trafficking.)

Elizabeth Bernstein, 2007. Temporarily Yours: Intimacy, Authenticity and the Commerce of Sex. Chicago, Chicago UP, 2nd ed.
(How neoliberal upper classes are clearing out the bottom end of sex work, and encouraging high class work. Very useful on Swedish policy of arresting clients – bad for poorer sex workers – and the Dutch policy of legalisation – bad for immigrant sex workers.)

Christine Chin, 2013. Cosmopolitan Sex Workers: Women and Migration in a Global City. Oxford, Oxford UP.
(The same process Bernstein describes, but in Kuala Lampur. Particularly good on the men who run the industry.)

Kathryn Bolkovac with Cari Lynn, 2011. The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman’s Fight for Justice. New York: Palgrave.
(How military contractors persecuted a old school American tough cop who took the rhetoric about trafficking seriously.)

Anna Morcom, 2013. Illicit Worlds of Indian Dance: Cultures of Exclusion. London, Hurst.
(About sex work, but also about Bollywood, class and sexuality in India.)

Mark Padilla, 2007. Caribbean Pleasure Industry: Tourism, Sexuality and AIDS in the Dominican Republic. Chicago, Chicago UP.
(Men selling sex to gay American tourists. Sad and humane. Not really about AIDS.)


Mary Louise Roberts, 2012. What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France. Chicago, Chicago UP.
(A very good, careful, detailed history, with an important long chapter on rape.)

Lynn Nottage, 2010. Ruined. London, Nick Hern.
(A play about war and sexual violence in Congo. Wise.)

Alex Klaits and Gulchin Gulmandova-Klaits, 2006. Love and War in Afghanistan. New York, Seven Stories.
(What long wars and endless fear does to people.)

R. Brian Ferguson, 1995. Yanomami Warfare: A Political History. Santa Fe, School of American Research.
(Detailed rebuttal of Chagnon’s influential warmongering ethnography on the Yanamamo.)

Patrick Tierney, 2000. Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon. New York, Norton.
(More on the Yanomamo.)

Douglas P. Fry, ed.,2013. War, Peace, and Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views. New York: Oxford UP.
(The key chapters are by R. Brian Ferguson: ‘Pinker’s List: Exaggerating Prehistoric War Mortality’ (112-131) and ‘The Prehistory of War and Peace in Europe and the Near East’ (191-240). Ferguson demolishes Pinker.)

R. Brian Ferguson and Neil L. Whitehead, eds., 1992. War in the Tribal Zone: Expanding States and Indigenous Warfare. Martlesham, James Currey.

Rachel Woodward and Trish Winter, 2007. Sexing the Soldier: The Politics of Gender and the Contemporary British Army. London, Routledge.


Michael Billig, 2013. Learn to Write Badly: How to Succeed in the Social Sciences. Cambridge, Cambridge UP.
(Hilarious, helps you write, and explains how the social sciences work. Not about gender, but useful for understanding academic feminism.)

Nancy Lindisfarne, 2000. Dancing in Damascus: Stories. Albany, SUNY Press.
(Short stories about Syria under Assad, with a long postscript about using fiction to write ethnography.)

Heidi Amrbruster and Anna Laerke, eds., 2009. Taking Sides: Ethics, Politics and Fieldwork in Anthropology. Oxford, Berghahn.
(With a chapter by Jonathan on how to write for both academics and activists.)

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