The best books for cultivating empathy and connection in a divided world

Why am I passionate about this?

A dozen years ago, my family moved from a homogeneous community where everyone looked, lived, and believed as we did to a vibrant neighborhood filled with difference and complexity. This shifted something deep inside me and ultimately changed the way I see the world and myself within it. It set me on a path toward understanding how authentic, ordinary community holds the power to transform our world. To live as neighbors is to draw near to each other. I have written three books on this central theme and plan to spend the rest of my life reaching for empathy as our best tool in reclaiming the goodness of humanity.  

I wrote...

Start with Hello: (And Other Simple Ways to Live as Neighbors)

By Shannan Martin,

Book cover of Start with Hello: (And Other Simple Ways to Live as Neighbors)

What is my book about?

You want more. You want to belong to a community that looks out for each other. You believe in your bones we don’t have to live detached, distracted, and divided. The question is, How?

Packed with street-level practices and real-talk storytelling, Start with Hello is your field guide for a life of security, camaraderie, and joy. There is no step too small.

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The books I picked & why

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

Shannan Martin Why did I love this book?

This book is an instant classic. It took me years to finish reading it because I did not want it to end.

Kimmerer’s writing appealed to the dreamer in me while also explaining the science of the natural world in ways that were unforgettable. This beautifully written book connected me to my physical home and the people around me. I will come back to it again and again. 

By Robin Wall Kimmerer,

Why should I read it?

46 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…

Book cover of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

Shannan Martin Why did I love this book?

As someone raised in small-town USA, I had to come to terms with the fact that I was taught a white-washed, largely inaccurate American history. It was up to me to re-educate myself.

As someone who can get bogged down by long lists of dates and details, How the Word is Passed gave me a modern lens for understanding the history around slavery. I was gripped by Smith’s lyrical, humane approach.

This is the sort of book that makes the world better.   

By Clint Smith,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked How the Word Is Passed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'A beautifully readable reminder of how much of our urgent, collective history resounds in places all around us that have been hidden in plain sight.' Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish)

Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads the reader on an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks - those that are honest about the past and those that are not - which offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in…

Book cover of Learning in Public: Lessons for a Racially Divided America from My Daughter's School

Shannan Martin Why did I love this book?

I have fourteen sticky tabs marking memorable passages (I just double-checked), along with countless highlights and underlines.

With wit and unvarnished honesty, Martin tells her family’s story about educating her daughters at a racially integrated neighborhood public school. She confronts her mistakes along the way and does not present herself as the hero but rather illuminates how drawing near to difference has the power to make all of us healthier.

Part journalism, part personal narrative, I devoured this book. 

By Courtney Martin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Learning in Public as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From the time Courtney E. Martin strapped her daughter, Maya, to her chest for long walks, she was curious about Emerson Elementary, a public school down the street from her Oakland home. She learned that White families in their gentrifying neighborhood largely avoided the majority-Black, poorly-rated school. As she began asking why, a journey of a thousand moral miles began.

Learning in Public is the story, not just Courtney's journey, but a whole country's. Many of us are newly awakened to the continuing racial injustice all around us, but unsure of how to go beyond hashtags and yard signs to…

Book cover of They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us

Shannan Martin Why did I love this book?

The unexpected cover art was just the beginning of the odyssey that is this book. Abdurraquib masterfully explores the intersection of civics and pop culture, weaving personal history with modern-day ethics, all to a soundtrack that is both memorable and urgent.

This is the sort of book that unlocks a hidden door to our collective compassion. One of the best things I’ve ever read. 

By Hanif Abdurraqib,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

* 2018 "12 best books to give this holiday season" —TODAY (Elizabeth Acevedo)
* A "Best Book of 2017" —Rolling Stone (2018), NPR, Buzzfeed, Paste Magazine, Esquire, Chicago Tribune, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, CBC, Stereogum, National Post, Entropy, Heavy, Book Riot, Chicago Review of Books, The Los Angeles Review, Michigan Daily
* American Booksellers Association (ABA) 'December 2017 Indie Next List Great Reads'
* Midwest Indie Bestseller

In an age of confusion, fear, and loss, Hanif Abdurraqib's is a voice that matters. Whether he's attending a Bruce Springsteen concert the day after visiting Michael Brown's grave, or discussing public displays of…

Book cover of How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope

Shannan Martin Why did I love this book?

This is the poetry book for people like me, who aren’t “good” at poetry, but who desperately need to believe humanity is still mostly intact and the world around us still brims with beauty.

I keep this one on my bedside table and reach for it when I need a quick reminder that we still have a say in the direction our society leans. More blooms. More abundance. More ordinary goodness. More us. 

By James Crews (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Love the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An Indie Poetry Bestseller! What the world needs now - featuring poems from inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, Ross Gay, Tracy K. Smith and more. More and more people are turning to poetry as an antidote to divisiveness, negativity, anxiety, and the frenetic pace of life. How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope offers readers uplifting, deeply felt, and relatable poems by well-known poets from all walks of life and all parts of the US, including inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, Joy Harjo, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ross Gay, Tracy K. Smith, and others. The work of these poets captures…

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Saving Raine

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Book cover of Saving Raine

Marian L Thomas

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Saving Raine is a captivating tale of resilience, redemption, and the enduring power of love, penned by the acclaimed author Marian L. Thomas.

This contemporary fiction novel chronicles the compelling journey of Raine Reynolds as she confronts heartache, betrayal, and loss. Against the vibrant backdrops of Atlanta and Paris, Raine's story unfolds as she grapples with the aftermath of her husband's infidelity and tragic passing.

Through poignant prose and compelling characters, "Saving Raine" delves into themes of forgiveness, healing, and the strength discovered in confronting life's greatest challenges. Readers will be captivated by Raine's emotional odyssey as she unearths hope, redemption, and the courage to embrace a brighter future.

Saving Raine

By Marian L Thomas,

What is this book about?

Raine Reynolds stands at the crossroads of despair and opportunity.
When the life you've built crumbles and the past refuses to release its grip, sometimes you need a fresh start-a new beginning that promises hope and redemption.
Once a celebrated author, Raine's life unraveled, sending her fleeing to the picturesque streets of Paris to escape the tormenting heartache that threatened to consume her. Yet, no matter how far she traveled, the pain remained her unwelcome companion.
Returning to bustling Atlanta as a senior VP for an ad agency, Raine is forced to confront a city steeped in…

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