The best books on changing the world, starting with yourself

The Books I Picked & Why

The Essentials of Theory U: Core Principles and Applications

By Otto Scharmer

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

Why 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. 


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The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis

By Christiana Figueres, Tom Rivett-Carnac

Book cover of The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis

Why 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.


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How to Be an Antiracist

By Ibram X. Kendi

Book cover of How to Be an Antiracist

Why 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. 


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

By Adam Hochschild

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

Why 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. 


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

By Adam Grant

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

Why 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. 


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