The best books on how to have a positive social impact with your career

Benjamin Todd Author Of 80,000 Hours: Find a Fulfilling Career That Does Good
By Benjamin Todd

Who are we?

We’re a nonprofit that aims to help people have a positive social impact with their careers. Since you have, on average, 80,000 hours in your career, what you decide to do with that time might be your biggest opportunity to make a difference. Over the past ten years, we’ve conducted careful research into high-impact careers, and have helped thousands of people plan a career that has a high positive impact. 

We wrote...

80,000 Hours: Find a Fulfilling Career That Does Good

By Benjamin Todd,

Book cover of 80,000 Hours: Find a Fulfilling Career That Does Good

What is our book about?

Based on years of research alongside academics at Oxford, this book aims to help you find a career you enjoy, you’re good at, and that tackles the world’s most pressing problems. 

Our book is full of practical knowledge and tools to help you plan a career that's fulfilling and does good, including: what makes for a dream job, and why “follow your passion” can be misleading; how to set yourself up for success at every stage of your career; how to compare global problems in terms of their scale and urgency; and when to challenge the conventional wisdom to achieve maximum impact.

Get a free paperback copy on the 80,000 Hours website here. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity

Why did I love this book?

The central metaphor of the book is that humanity stands at a precipice. With new technology, we are rapidly gaining the ability to destroy ourselves, and the threat of an existential catastrophe looms large over our generation. But, if we get things right, we might be able to enjoy a long and flourishing future. 

Toby’s book is the best resource we know of on what you need to know about these risks, and how you could have a high positive impact by working to prevent them.

By Toby Ord,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Precipice as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This urgent and eye-opening book makes the case that protecting humanity's future is the central challenge of our time.

If all goes well, human history is just beginning. Our species could survive for billions of years - enough time to end disease, poverty, and injustice, and to flourish in ways unimaginable today. But this vast future is at risk. With the advent of nuclear weapons, humanity entered a new age, where we face existential catastrophes - those from which we could never come back. Since then, these dangers have only multiplied, from climate change to engineered pathogens and artificial intelligence.…

Book cover of Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Help Others, Do Work That Matters, and Make Smarter Choices about Giving Back

Why did I love this book?

For those of us who want to live an ‘ethical life’ and help others, it’s not always easy to know what to do. Will gives one answer: the principles of effective altruism. The book sets out a practical guide to increasing your impact through your charity, volunteering, purchases, and choice of cause. We think it’s a really valuable tool to understand how you can have a positive impact.

By William MacAskill,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Doing Good Better as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A radical reassessment of how we can most effectively help others by a rising star of philosophy and leading social entrepreneur.

'A surprising and often counterintuitive look at the best ways to make a difference . . . MacAskill is that rarest of beasts: a do-gooder who uses his head more than his heart.'

Most of us want to make a difference. We donate to charity, buy Fairtrade coffee, or try to cut down on our carbon emissions. Rarely do we know if we're really helping, and despite our best intentions, our actions can have ineffective - and…

Book cover of The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't

Why did I love this book?

If we want the ways that we try to help others to actually work, then we need to be able to see the world clearly and look at evidence in a clear-headed, unbiased way. Doing this isn’t easy, and Julia provides one really helpful tool to do so in this book. 

The book centres around the distinction between the ‘solider’ – who must defend himself and his tribe against attacks – and the ‘scout,’ who needs to see what’s really true about the territory in order to be of any use. When we communicate, too often we inhabit the solider mindset of defending our beliefs and ourselves, rather than being open to understanding what’s actually the case.

By Julia Galef,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Scout Mindset as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of best smart thinking book 2022 (Business Book Awards)
Guardian best books of 2021

'Original, thought-provoking and a joy to read' Tim Harford

'Highly recommended. It's not easy to become (more of) a scout, but it's hard not to be inspired by this book' Rutger Bregman

When it comes to what we believe, humans see what they want to see. In other words, we have what Julia Galef calls a 'soldier' mindset. From tribalism and wishful thinking, to rationalising in our personal lives and everything in between, we are driven to defend the ideas we most want to believe…

Book cover of The Alignment Problem: Machine Learning and Human Values

Why did I love this book?

One example of an especially pressing threat facing humanity is the rapid development of artificial intelligence. If we want this new technology to go well, it needs to be ‘aligned’ – that is, it should have or act on the same values as us. 

In this book, Brian sets out why aligning artificial intelligence is an extremely tricky issue and one which deserves more attention from talented and dedicated people.

By Brian Christian,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Today's "machine-learning" systems, trained by data, are so effective that we've invited them to see and hear for us-and to make decisions on our behalf. But alarm bells are ringing. Recent years have seen an eruption of concern as the field of machine learning advances. When the systems we attempt to teach will not, in the end, do what we want or what we expect, ethical and potentially existential risks emerge. Researchers call this the alignment problem.

Systems cull resumes until, years later, we discover that they have inherent gender biases. Algorithms decide bail and parole-and appear to assess Black…

What We Owe the Future

By William MacAskill,

Book cover of What We Owe the Future

Why did I love this book?

Future generations might be very much impacted by the actions we take today: with climate change, nuclear war, or the changes in global values. But we often don’t take their interests into account. 

In this book, Will argues that positively influencing the fate of future generations is a key moral priority of our time and that there are things we can do today to make them better off. This may be one of the most important books of our time.

By William MacAskill,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked What We Owe the Future as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Instant New York Times Bestseller

“This book will change your sense of how grand the sweep of human history could be, where you fit into it, and how much you could do to change it for the better. It's as simple, and as ambitious, as that.”
—Ezra Klein

An Oxford philosopher makes the case for “longtermism” — that positively influencing the long-term future is a key moral priority of our time.

The fate of the world is in our hands. Humanity’s written history spans only five thousand years. Our yet-unwritten future could last for millions more — or it could…

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