The best books for changing the way you change the world

Who am I?

From earliest childhood I have been passionate about creating community, always seeking a sense of place and cultivating belonging. While completing my master's degree in Whole Systems Design, I co-founded a nonprofit which began my 20+ year career in philanthropy. I enjoy examining community-wide challenges and working with others to ask better questions and find the levers for systems change. Never satisfied with ‘the way things are,’ I actively pursue ways to make the world better. I’ve worked for nonprofits and foundations, founded several community initiatives, and held retreats for women philanthropists, all with a focus on being an informed, intentional and joyful philanthropist.

I wrote...

A Generous Heart: Changing the World Through Feminist Philanthropy

By Kristen Corning Bedford,

Book cover of A Generous Heart: Changing the World Through Feminist Philanthropy

What is my book about?

Guiding you on a journey to examine your passion and your intent for creating joyful change in the world and yourself, A Generous Heart gives you the tools to build a personal philanthropic plan so you can live your legacy while you’re still alive. Feminist philanthropy aligns privilege with purpose by centering the principles of solidarity, agency, and reciprocity. When we are informed about our passions and the needs of our communities, intentional in how we direct our resources, and joyful in giving and receiving, we have everything we need to make a difference.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

Kristen Corning Bedford Why did I love this book?

I grew up believing that philanthropy was a positive thing that helped disenfranchised people, and that my role as a ‘good person’ was to engage in this work. As I evolved my philanthropic understanding, I began to see how the overlapping systems of economics and charity reinforced a status quo that I didn’t want to support. Heather McGhee’s book clearly lays out how the racist policies and practices in all of our systems (from education and housing to environmental practices and health care) are the roots of inequity that make philanthropy necessary. Reading her book will shift your approach from merely ‘doing good’ to being an authentically engaged, informed, and self-aware philanthropist.

By Heather McGhee,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Sum of Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • LONGLISTED FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD • One of today’s most insightful and influential thinkers offers a powerful exploration of inequality and the lesson that generations of Americans have failed to learn: Racism has a cost for everyone—not just for people of color.

WINNER OF THE PORCHLIGHT BUSINESS BOOK AWARD • ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Time, The Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Ms. magazine, BookRiot, Library Journal

“This is the book I’ve been waiting for.”—Ibram X. Kendi, #1 New York Times bestselling author of How to Be an Antiracist

Look for…

Book cover of Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone

Kristen Corning Bedford Why did I love this book?

This whole book is mindblowing, laying out the ways that the success of our current economic system of work is built on the unpaid labor of women and people of color. The section on nonprofits is essential reading for anyone working or volunteering in the sector. This is not a treatise for not working or quiet quitting; it is a case study of why we work and how we can work better, and surprise surprise, it also comes back to understanding the economics of power and privilege, who is benefiting, and who is being left behind. This book gave me the confidence in my convictions that my work in the nonprofit sector had been contributing to the problem rather than reimagining new ways of being.

By Sarah Jaffe,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Work Won't Love You Back as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A deeply-reported examination of why "doing what you love" is a recipe for exploitation, creating a new tyranny of work in which we cheerily acquiesce to doing jobs that take over our lives.

You're told that if you "do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life." Whether it's working for "exposure" and "experience," or enduring poor treatment in the name of "being part of the family," all employees are pushed to make sacrifices for the privilege of being able to do what we love.

In Work Won't Love You Back, Sarah Jaffe, a preeminent voice on…

Book cover of Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds

Kristen Corning Bedford Why did I love this book?

This is an indispensable handbook for guiding change management, something everyone, but especially those doing philanthropic work, should be skilled in. Change is the only constant, and understanding how to guide that process intentionally, whether for yourself, your family, or your community, better equips you to map and influence sustainable actions. I have been deeply influenced by adrienne maree brown’s approach to the intersection of community building and self-care, and from her writing I was introduced to the work of Grace Lee Boggs and Octavia Butler, both feminist visionary guides of transformation and activism.

By Adrienne Maree Brown,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In the tradition of Octavia Butler, radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help to shape the futures we want.

Inspired by Octavia Butler's explorations of our human relationship to change, Emergent Strategy is radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live. Change is constant. The world is in a continual state of flux. It is a stream of ever-mutating, emergent patterns. Rather than steel ourselves against such change, this book invites us to feel, map, assess, and learn from the swirling patterns around us in order to better understand and influence them as they happen. This…

Book cover of Post Capitalist Philanthropy

Kristen Corning Bedford Why did I love this book?

Framing the philanthropic sector within the larger cultural era we’re living through, the authors outline the history of wealth accumulation and then lay out the ontological shift necessary for humans to create new ways of sharing resources in order to thrive on this planet. This book allowed me to step back, yet again, from the day-to-day work of reforming and redistributing, to think more broadly about what’s possible when we understand our collective history, humanity, and desire for the future. There are deep societal dynamics upholding the inequities we don’t want, but when we create context for our actions and policies, we can build new frameworks for visioning the possibilities of our shared future. This book will inspire you to be more intentional in how you engage in your philanthropy for the future you truly want.

By Alnoor Ladha, Lynn Murphy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Post Capitalist Philanthropy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Post capitalist philanthropy is a paradox in terms. A paradox is the appropriate starting place for the complex, entangled, messy context we find ourselves in as a species.” This is how long-time activists, political strategists, and accidental philanthropy advisors Alnoor Ladha and Lynn Murphy start their treatise on Post Capitalist Philanthropy. This book is a result of decades of practice and research, including a hundred plus interviews with leading activists, philanthropists, philosophers, social scientists, cosmologists and wisdom keepers. The authors take us on a journey from the history of wealth accumulation to the current logic of late-stage capitalism to the…

Book cover of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Kristen Corning Bedford Why did I love this book?

Using plants as our oldest teachers, Robin Wall Kimmerer weaves beautiful stories of reciprocity. Her message about our first and truest philanthropic relationship of giving and receiving with the natural world points to the greatest gift, life itself. When this gift of life is centered within all of the superficial systems we humans create, more dynamic and joyful solutions emerge. Reading this book allowed me to reflect on my role in the philanthropic sector as an extension of my family’s role as some of the earliest colonizers on this land. Understanding my part in the story, historically and currently, makes me a more humble philanthropist who can engage in the world from a place of connection. This book is pure joy: personal, poetic, and political.

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Why should I read it?

43 authors picked Braiding Sweetgrass as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Called the work of "a mesmerizing storyteller with deep compassion and memorable prose" (Publishers Weekly) and the book that, "anyone interested in natural history, botany, protecting nature, or Native American culture will love," by Library Journal, Braiding Sweetgrass is poised to be a classic of nature writing. As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take "us on a journey that is…

You might also like...

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

Book cover of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

Christina Ward Author Of Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

New book alert!

Who am I?

For me, history is always about individuals; what they think and believe and how those ideas motivate their actions. By relegating our past to official histories or staid academic tellings we deprive ourselves of the humanity of our shared experiences. As a “popular historian” I use food to tell all the many ways we attempt to “be” American. History is for everyone, and my self-appointed mission is to bring more stories to readers! These recommendations are a few stand-out titles from the hundreds of books that inform my current work on how food and religion converge in America. You’ll have to wait for Holy Food to find out what I’ve discovered.

Christina's book list on the hidden history of America

What is my book about?

Does God have a recipe? Independent food historian Christina Ward’s highly anticipated Holy Food explores the influence of mainstream to fringe religious beliefs on modern American food culture.

Author Christina Ward unravels how religious beliefs intersect with politics, economics, and, of course, food to tell a different story of America. It's the story of true believers and charlatans, of idealists and visionaries, and of the everyday people who followed them—often at their peril.

Holy Food explains how faith pioneers used societal woes and cultural trends to create new pathways of belief and reveals the interconnectivity between sects and their leaders.

Holy Food: How Cults, Communes, and Religious Movements Influenced What We Eat - An American History

By Christina Ward,

What is this book about?

Does God have a recipe?

"Holy Food is a titanic feat of research and a fascinating exploration of American faith and culinary rites. Christina Ward is the perfect guide – generous, wise, and ecumenical." — Adam Chandler, author of Drive-Thru Dreams

"Holy Food doesn't just trace the influence that preachers, gurus, and cult leaders have had on American cuisine. It offers a unique look at the ways spirituality—whether in the form of fringe cults or major religions—has shaped our culture. Christina Ward has gone spelunking into some very odd corners of American history to unearth this fascinating collection of stories…

  • Coming soon!

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in indigenous peoples, race relations, and capitalism?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about indigenous peoples, race relations, and capitalism.

Indigenous Peoples Explore 32 books about indigenous peoples
Race Relations Explore 233 books about race relations
Capitalism Explore 167 books about capitalism