The best books on changing the world, starting with yourself

Who am I?

I teach sustainability at the MIT Sloan School of Management and get to know hundreds of passionate executives and young professionals every year. They are out to change organizations, disrupt markets, build social movements, and advance public policy to make the world a better place. As I coach and connect these leaders throughout their careers, I get a front row seat to their personal development. I get to observe - what makes for an effective agent of change or social entrepreneur? How can we enact social and environmental values in organizations that seem to ignore those concerns? How do we change ourselves to be more effective in changing the world?

I wrote...

Breaking Through Gridlock: The Power of Conversation in a Polarized World

By Jason J. Jay, Gabriel Grant,

Book cover of Breaking Through Gridlock: The Power of Conversation in a Polarized World

What is my book about?

Conversation is our access to change, whether at the level of team and organization, or whole movements for sustainability and justice. But think about the last time you tried to talk with someone who didn't already agree with you, about issues that matter most. How well did it go? We too often get stuck.

Using proven exercises and rich examples, Breaking Through Gridlock helps us become aware of the role we unwittingly play in getting conversations stuck. Gabriel Grant and I invite you into a spirit of serious play, laughing at ourselves while moving from self-reflection to action. The book empowers you to share what really matters – with anyone, anywhere – so that you can create positive change at any scale.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Essentials of Theory U: Core Principles and Applications

Why did I love this book?

I love Otto Scharmer’s roadmap for changing ourselves and changing the world. He confronts the ecological, social, and spiritual divides in our current moment of crisis in human civilization. He identifies the ego-centric quality of attention and consciousness that have produced those crises. And he offers an over-arching process (“Theory U”) and a set of practices for transforming self, system, and society that I have found incredibly useful. 

By Otto Scharmer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Essentials of Theory U as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A powerful pocket guide for practitioners that distills all of the research and materials found in Otto Scharmer's seminal texts Theory U and Leading from the Emerging Future.

Creating a Better Future

This book offers a concise, accessible guide to the key concepts and applications in Otto Scharmer's classic Theory U. Scharmer argues that our capacity to pay attention coshapes the world. What prevents us from attending to situations more effectively is that we aren't fully aware of that interior condition from which our attention and actions originate. Scharmer calls this lack of awareness our blind spot. He illuminates the…

Book cover of The Future We Choose: The Stubborn Optimist's Guide to the Climate Crisis

Why did I love this book?

This book starts with an exploration of two possible futures for climate change (one devastating, one resilient). The positive scenario is inspiring, and climate advocates need an “I have a dream.” What I love most, however, is the authors’ “ten actions” to create that more resilient future. Of course, the list includes outward system changes – move beyond fossil fuels, build gender equality. But it starts with the inner work: let go of the old world; face your grief but hold a vision for the future; defend the truth; see yourself as a citizen – not as a consumer. Christiana Figueres is an inspiration – she took the UN from the failure of Copenhagen to the success of the Paris Accord - someone who embodies the stubborn optimism she invites us to join.

By Christiana Figueres, Tom Rivett-Carnac,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Future We Choose as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Everyone should read this book' MATT HAIG
'One of the most inspiring books I have ever read' YUVAL NOAH HARARI
'Inspirational, compassionate and clear. The time to read this is NOW' MARK RUFFALO
'Figueres and Rivett-Carnac dare to tell us how our response can create a better, fairer world' NAOMI KLEIN


Discover why there's hope for the planet and how we can each make a difference in the climate crisis, starting today.

Humanity is not doomed, and we can and will survive. The future is ours to create: it will be shaped by who we…

How to Be an Antiracist

By Ibram X. Kendi,

Book cover of How to Be an Antiracist

Why did I love this book?

What I love most about Kendi’s book is its almost rhythmic movement between the personal, the cultural, and the political. He makes visible his own journey toward anti-racism, interwoven with his journey toward anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, anti-transphobia. And he leaves essential breadcrumbs behind – a set of distinctions to help see the world in a new way. The net effect is a powerful invitation into self-transformation from “not racist” to “anti-racist,” one that is having massive ripple effects in our culture as people take up the charge, and that I have found moving and valuable. 

By Ibram X. Kendi,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked How to Be an Antiracist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?



'Transformative and revolutionary' ROBIN DIANGELO, author of White Fragility

'So vital' IJEOMA OLUO, author of So You Want to Talk About Race

In this rousing and deeply empathetic book, Ibram X. Kendi, one of the world's most influential scholars of racism, shows that neutrality is not an option: until we become part of the solution, we can only be part of the problem.

Using his extraordinary gifts as a teacher and story-teller, Kendi helps us recognise that everyone is, at times, complicit in racism whether…

Book cover of Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves

Why did I love this book?

This is a riveting account of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and biography of abolitionist Thomas Clarkson. Clarkson committed himself to ending the slave trade in 1785 and pursued this objective until his final speeches in the 1840s. The book is an incredible lesson in persistence and perseverance, as Hochschild follows the advancement and setbacks of a century-long social movement. While racial domination and modern slavery are still very real, abolition represented the awakening of global civil society, and a significant transformation toward a socially just global economy. For anyone feeling a lack of hope about change, there is real inspiration here. 

By Adam Hochschild,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The author of King Leopold's Ghost offers a stirring account of the first great human rights crusade, which originated in England in the 1780s and resulted in the freeing of hundreds of thousands of slaves around the world.

Book cover of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don't Know

Why did I love this book?

A central question for anyone who wants to make change in organizations and society: when and how do people change their minds? Adam Grant brings a fantastic mix of empirical findings, rich storytelling, and his own experience as a scholar and consultant to this question. How can we learn to be more flexible in our own thinking, in response to new evidence in a rapidly changing world? How can we create the conditions where others change their minds? How can our society enter a mode of learning and scientific problem solving, beyond the polarization that gets us so stuck? In this book I found valuable insights and guidance on all of these questions. 

By Adam Grant,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

#1 New York Times Bestseller

"THIS. This is the right book for right now. Yes, learning requires focus. But, unlearning and relearning requires much more-it requires choosing courage over comfort. In Think Again, Adam Grant weaves together research and storytelling to help us build the intellectual and emotional muscle we need to stay curious enough about the world to actually change it. I've never felt so hopeful about what I don't know."
-Brene Brown, Ph.D., #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dare to Lead

The bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals examines the critical art of rethinking:…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about climate change, abolitionism, and anti-racism.

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