Revolutionary Books to Read for Independence Day

From barnyard allegories to 'Game of Thrones' in space, here are eight fascinating books about rebellions, overthrows, and uprisings.
July 4, 2017, 4:00am
Matt Kimm, of Boston, on July 4, 2013. Photo by Jessica Rinaldi for the Boston Globe via Getty Images

On the Fourth of July, we blast fireworks and grill hot dogs in the name of freedom, especially the freedom of a four-day weekend. While you're celebrating the American Revolution at the beach or a backyard BBQ, here are eight fascinating books about uprisings and revolutionaries—both real and imagined—to read over the long weekend.

1776 by David McCullough

The American Revolution is the reason for the season, but most Americans know little about how it actually went down beyond some vague notions of tossing tea into a harbor and idealized myths about the founding fathers. Published in 2005, historian David McCullough's painstakingly researched 1776 is the antidote to this ignorance. McCullough shows you the events of the American Revolution in a detailed yet gripping history, and gives you a window into the lives of the actual humans behind the myth of our nation's founding.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Orwell's 1945 classic Animal Farm is the great allegory about the dangers of revolutionary ideas being corrupted once the rebels take power. The animals of Manor Farm throw off the shackles of their farmer masters, only to find that the great ideals of Old Major (a boar version of Karl Marx) get twisted into an even worse system by the pigs Snowball (a Lenin/Trotsky parallel) and Napoleon (Stalin) who co-opt the revolution. While an allegory about the Soviet Union, Orwell's book is far from the "communism sucks and capitalism rules!" book that many high-school students think. Orwell—a dedicated democratic socialist—makes it clear that the human farmers (a.k.a. capitalists) are just as corrupt as the pigs. "If you have your lower animals to contend with," one farmer says to the pigs, "we have our lower classes!"

The Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis

What happens when the oppressed overthrow their oppressors… and then realize they don't fit in? Bakis's 1997 novel—which was reissued in May with an introduction from Jeff VanderMeer—tells the story of the aftermath of a rebellion by genetically modified dogs who rise up and kill their masters. They have been turned into half-human monsters in an isolated village by the followers of a 19th-century Prussian mad scientist. These "monster dogs" are hailed as celebrities when they arrive in New York City dressing and speaking like Prussian noblemen. However, they don't fit into contemporary society and their Dr. Moreau-esque tortures have left them unable to reproduce. What may seem like an outrageous premise turns into a sad and moving tale that you won't soon forget.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

You can't tell the story of America without talking about race, and there's no American writer who writes on the subject with as much biting wit as Paul Beatty. The Sellout is a blistering satire about the supposedly "post-race" America that centers on a black man who tries to reinstitute slavery and segregation in a California town, landing him in front of the Supreme Court. The hilarious 2015 novel won countless accolades, including the Man Booker prize, and has only grown more relevant given the last two years of American politics.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Satrapi's graphic memoir tells the story of the Iranian Revolution through the eyes of a child watching her whole world change. Satrapi was ten when the revolution occurred, and the beautifully drawn comic follows her and her family as they struggle to deal with the massive changes wrought on the lives of Iranians following the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. The celebrated book follows her into her teenage years—and the sequel, Persepolis 2, follows her into adulthood—making it both a moving coming-of-age story and a gripping look at the radical changes that revolutions can bring.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

With the election of an openly misogynistic politician—and the well-timed Hulu TV show
Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale has become one of the most talked about dystopias in 2017. And for sadly good reason. Atwood's 1985 novel about extremist right-wing Christians toppling the United States government and instituting a sexist fundamentalist society feels painfully relevant in an America where women's reproductive rights are constantly under assault.

Louis Riel by Chester Brown

A brilliant look at a failed revolutionary, Chester Brown's graphic biography tells the life story of métis rebel leader Riel, who fought against the Canadian government for the freedom and rights of his people. Riel is a fascinating and flawed leader who makes several mistakes during his various uprisings and political battles and ends up dying a martyr. Brown's artwork is beautiful and sparse, and he deftly navigates the complicated politics of North America at the time. The 2003 book showcases the unique power that the comic medium can bring to biography.

Dune by Frank Herbert

Herbert's 1965 sci-fi classic is one of the best novels of political intrigue—if the idea of Game of Thrones in space sounds good to you, buy this now. The epic space opera follows the maneuverings of different powerful families as they struggle to control the planet Arrakis and the essential "spice" resource that only exists there. While the royal families and emperor fight over the spice, the hero Paul Atreides joins the native Fremen people and leads them in an uprising that will disrupt the entire balance of the universe—a rebellion that even Paul can't control.

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