A List of 132 Radical, Mind-Expanding Books from Rage Against the Machine

If you like Rage Against the Machine, but don’t like their “political bs,” you haven’t actually listened to Rage Against the Machine, whose entire raison d’être is contained within the name. What is “the Machine”? Let’s hear it from the band themselves. Singer Zack de la Rocha pointed out that the title of their second album, 1996’s Evil Empire, came from “Ronald Reagan’s slander of the Soviet Union in the eighties, which the band feels could just as easily apply to the United States.”

The Machine is capitalism and militarism, what Dwight D. Eisenhower once famously called the “military-industrial complex” but which has folded in other oppressive mechanisms since the coining of that phrase, including the prison-industrial complex and immigration-industrial complex. The Machine is a mega-complex with a lot of moving parts, and the members of RATM have done the work to critically examine them, informing their music and activism with reading and study.


Evil Empire, for example, featured in its liner notes a photo of “a pile of radical books,” “and the group posted a lengthy reading list to complement it on their site,” declares the site Radical Reads. Debates often rage on social media over whether activists should read theory. One answer to the question might be the commitment of RATM, who have steadfastly lived out their convictions over the decades while also, ostensibly, reading Marx, Marcuse, and Fanon.

There are more accessible theorists on the list: fierce essayists like former death row inmate and Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal and Henry David Thoreau, whose Walden and “Civil Disobedience” both appear. The Anarchist Cookbook shows up, but so too does Dr. Suess’ The Lorax, biographies of Miles Davis and Bob Marley, Taschen’s Dali: The Paintings, James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man, and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. This is not a list of strictly “political” books so much as a list of books that open us up to other ways of seeing.

These are also, in many cases, books we do not encounter unless we seek them out. “I certainly didn’t find any of those books at my University High School library,” de la Rocha told MTV in 1996, “Many of those books may give people new insight into some of the fear and some of the pain they might be experiencing as a result of some of the very ugly policies the government is imposing upon us right now.” Doubtless, he would still endorse the sentiment. The workings of the Machine, after all, don’t seem to change much for the people on the bottom when it gets new management at the top.

Read the full list of Evil Empire book recommendations on Good Reads. And as a bonus, hear a Spotify playlist of radical music just above, compiled by RATM guitarist Tom Morello. The 241 song list runs

via Radical Reads

Related Content: 

Tom Morello Responds to Angry Fans Who Suddenly Realize That Rage Against the Machine’s Music Is Political: “What Music of Mine DIDN’T Contain Political BS?”

Hear a 4 Hour Playlist of Great Protest Songs: Bob Dylan, Nina Simone, Bob Marley, Public Enemy, Billy Bragg & More

The Entire Archives of Radical Philosophy Go Online: Read Essays by Michel Foucault, Alain Badiou, Judith Butler & More (1972-2018)

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (11) |

Support Open Culture

We’re hoping to rely on our loyal readers rather than erratic ads. To support Open Culture’s educational mission, please consider making a donation. We accept PayPal, Venmo (@openculture), Patreon and Crypto! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (11)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • WW says:

    “Slander” of the Soviet Union? My wife lived under communism in Eastern Europe, and thought this misguided article was HILARIOUS! She, and most others who lived under those oppressive-regimes, thank god communism fell, and that they now live in a free, capitalist-society. Who likes dysfunctional central-planning, and breadlines, anyways? A: People who never experienced it. There’s a reason the East Germans built a wall…to keep people IN their Marxist “utopia”!

  • Lonnie says:

    Yawn! This is a pretty predictable list considering the source. Mostly just a bunch of confirmation bias.
    When you call yourself Rage Against the Machine, it is pretty obvious what your MO is. Also, people like this have to play the character for life after they create it (to make a bunch of money none the less, just like Colin), so their credibility is always being questioned. Maybe they should go hang off an MTV sign to get their names in the news.

  • Jonathan Collins says:

    A laughable list of proto commie drivel that a high schooler would be embarrassed by. Not surprised.

  • Mario Nuzzolese says:

    Haha,the irony of millionaires preaching to us hard working folks about financial inequality: priceless

  • Jason X says:

    Ha ha, slander is when something isn’t true, Reagan was just telling the truth about the USSR.

  • Bob says:

    18 year old, USA hating, fresh off the boat from living in communist China for 5 years, would be so eager to read and engage in these books. Adult me laughs at the naieveity of children.

  • Zach says:

    It’s always great to see the apologists for imperialism and capitalism getting angered by musicians who happen to think for themselves. I’ve always thought it was odd that more artists didn’t speak out against the propaganda every school kid in America is subjected to.

  • Brandon says:

    Bruh. Rage promoted voting for Biden. How in the world do any of their values coincide with him? All the EOs as well as the war drums starting again?

    These guys don’t think for themselves. They can’t even be vocally consistent with their own values.

    The only propaganda kids in schools are subject to are the “white man”, & that anything right of center is evil. Kids are not taught about fallacies in school. Kids are not taught to think critically or be objective in school. They’re raised to be intellectual zombies of the left. The last time schools promoted propaganda of the right was the 70s. It’s been 50 years. Open your eyes & stop living in the past.

  • Scott Arte says:

    I can’t recall how many Che Guevara t-shirts I’ve seen at LGBT parades but he was one of the biggest anti-homosexuals on the planet.

  • Bird says:

    Damn, this list really pissed off the nazis.

  • Carlitoeztevez says:

    Not familiar with all the books on This list but love the ones I am familiar with, in particular das kapital and guerilla warfare

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.