The best books for becoming a global citizen and ordinary hero

Why am I passionate about this?

In 6th grade I did a report about the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, which manifested in a career spanning more than 20 years where I’ve worked for NGOs, the State Department, and the United States Agency for International Development to help make the world a better place. I’ve lived in Guatemala, Tajikistan, Armenia, and Jordan, and travelled throughout Sub-Saharan Africa working on conflict prevention, democracy, governance, and human rights. I’m a firm believer that, no matter your profession, everyone can help make the world a better place – and that’s why I wrote my book and why I read the books on my list – to help make this a reality. 


I wrote...

Global: An Extraordinary Guide for Ordinary Heroes

By Lyla Bashan,

Book cover of Global: An Extraordinary Guide for Ordinary Heroes

What is my book about?

It’s a big world out there, and it needs your help. Global poverty, social inequality. Famine, conflict, and climate change. These are just some of pressing challenges we face, and why we need you to turn your passion for social justice into a global career of conscience.

This extraordinary guide will help you learn how the international system works, the key problems and players, and how to kick-start your do-gooder career. Whether you’re a budding diplomat, an aspiring international development expert, or anything in between, this is a must-read book for the changemakers of tomorrow. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Factfulness: Ten Reasons We're Wrong about the World--And Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Lyla Bashan Why did I love this book?

Factfulness was an awesome book to read because working in global affairs and international development can be stressful and sometimes discouraging.

Most of us are in this line of work because we want to help make the world a better place, but it can be a real uphill battle and feel overwhelming at times. There is so much suffering in the world that our efforts sometimes feel like they are not making an impact.

And that is where Factfulness comes in! It helped me take a step back and appreciate the successes and progress that has been made. It gave me perspective and hope and those are two important resources to have as an ordinary hero.

By Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Factfulness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A hopeful book about the potential for human progress when we work off facts rather than our inherent biases.' BARACK OBAMA

'One of the most important books I've ever read - an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world.' BILL GATES

*#1 Sunday Times bestseller * New York Times bestseller * Observer 'best brainy book of the decade' * Irish Times bestseller * Guardian bestseller * audiobook bestseller *

Factfulness: The stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.

When asked simple questions about global trends - why the world's population is increasing; how…


Book cover of Sex and World Peace

Lyla Bashan Why did I love this book?

After spending more than 20 years working in the field of international development, I’ve come to the conclusion that gender equality is the key to creating a more peaceful, prosperous, and stable world.

Sex and World Peace affirms my conclusion through in-depth analysis clearly articulating it with hard data - and in an interesting way. The book shows the direct line between gender inequality and state-level conflict, inequality, and suffering.

Even though my experience had led me to this understanding, the book’s ability to explain it backed up by so much statistical analysis blew my mind…in a good way!

By Valerie Hudson, Mary Caprioli, Rose McDermott , Donna Lee Bowen

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sex and World Peace as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sex and World Peace is a groundbreaking demonstration that the security of women is a vital factor in the occurrence of conflict and war, unsettling a wide range of assumptions in political and security discourse. Harnessing an immense amount of data, it relates microlevel violence against women and macrolevel state peacefulness across global settings.

The authors find that the treatment of women informs human interaction at all levels of society. They call attention to the adverse effects on state security of sex-based inequities such as sex ratios favoring males, the practice of polygamy, and lax enforcement of national laws protecting…


Book cover of A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

Lyla Bashan Why did I love this book?

As an ordinary hero, it is important to understand where humanity has succeeded and where we have failed.

This book is definitely about the latter. The book is a good read, but it is also really hard to read because it is about how we have failed to prevent atrocities. It’s so important because understanding where humanity has failed is the only way we will be able to prevent these sorts of atrocities in the future.

It is well written, which makes the difficult topic more accessible. 

By Samantha Power,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked A Problem from Hell as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the Armenian Genocide to the ethnic cleansings of Kosovo and Darfur, modern history is haunted by acts of brutal violence. Yet American leaders who vow never again" repeatedly fail to stop genocide. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, " A Problem from Hell" draws upon exclusive interviews with Washington's top policymakers, thousands of once classified documents, and accounts of reporting from the killing fields to show how decent Americans inside and outside government looked away from mass murder. Combining spellbinding history and seasoned political analysis, " A Problem from Hell" allows readers to…


Book cover of King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

Lyla Bashan Why did I love this book?

I read King Leopold’s Ghost when I was working on conflict resolution in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for the State Department.

The painful legacy of colonization can still be felt in the DRC and across the continent. Colonizing nations didn’t invest in education, public servants, infrastructure, or any of the necessary elements to create a strong nation-state because this was never colonization’s goal.

This book clearly outlines this upsetting reality with the real-life example of Belgium’s colonization of the DRC. It is upsetting to read, but so important to understand how we got to where we are in so many countries that were colonized around the world. 

By Adam Hochschild,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked King Leopold's Ghost as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Duff Cooper Prize, King Leopold's Ghost is the true and haunting account of Leopold's brutal regime and its lasting effect on a ruined nation. With an introduction by award-winning novelist Barbara Kingsolver.

In the late nineteenth century, when the great powers in Europe were tearing Africa apart and seizing ownership of land for themselves, King Leopold of Belgium took hold of the vast and mostly unexplored territory surrounding the Congo River. In his devastatingly barbarous colonization of this area, Leopold stole its rubber and ivory, pummelled its people and set up a ruthless regime that would reduce…


Book cover of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide

Lyla Bashan Why did I love this book?

This book is like the other side of the coin to Sex and World Peace.

In that book, the authors articulate the connection between gender inequality and global suffering through statistics, whereas Half the Sky describes it in individual stories. It is moving to hear about these women’s suffering, but it is also uplifting to hear how they have overcome.

This book is an excellent resource for understanding how gender equality leads to increasing economic growth while reducing global poverty and inequality. It is an important tool in any ordinary hero’s toolkit.

By Nicholas D. Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Half the Sky as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER • A passionate call to arms against our era’s most pervasive human rights violation—the oppression of women and girls in the developing world. From the bestselling authors of Tightrope,two of our most fiercely moral voices

With Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn as our guides, we undertake an odyssey through Africa and Asia to meet the extraordinary women struggling there, among them a Cambodian teenager sold into sex slavery and an Ethiopian woman who suffered devastating injuries in childbirth. Drawing on the breadth of their combined reporting experience, Kristof and WuDunn depict our world…


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We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

Book cover of We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

Amy T. Waldman

New book alert!

What is my book about?

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus atUW-Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

Jest established lasting friendships with John Prine, Arlo Guthrie, and others, but ultimately, this book tells a universal story of love and hope…

We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

What is this book about?

The entertaining and inspiring story of a stubbornly independent promoter and club owner 

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus at UW–Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

This funny, nostalgia-inducing book details the lasting friendships Jest established…


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