The best books for thinking like a Strong Towns advocate

Why am I passionate about this?

Everyone should be able to live a meaningful life in a place they love, where their day-to-day efforts participating in society result in the community becoming a more prosperous place over time, for themselves, and for those who come next. I founded Strong Towns to help people recognize that they have this opportunity, that they and their neighbors working together have the capacity to make things better, despite everything else going on. Cities are works in progress. It is not our job to finish ours, but we all have a role to play in making it stronger.

I wrote...

Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity

By Charles L. Marohn Jr.,

Book cover of Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity

What is my book about?

Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Build American Prosperity breaks with modern practice to present a new vision of urban development in the United States. Presenting the foundational ideas of the Strong Towns movement he co-founded, Charles Marohn explains why cities of all sizes continue to struggle to meet their basic needs, and reveals the new paradigm that can solve this longstanding problem.

Inside, you’ll learn why inducing growth and development has been the conventional response to urban financial struggles―and why it just doesn’t work. New development and high-risk investing don’t generate enough wealth to support themselves, and cities continue to struggle. Read this book to find out how cities large and small can focus on bottom-up investments to minimize risk and maximize their ability to strengthen the community financially and improve citizens’ quality of life.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Black Swan

Charles L. Marohn Jr. Why did I love this book?

I’m listing this book first because it is the most important, by far. An essay on Taleb by Malcolm Gladwell titled Blowing Up introduced me to Taleb’s way of thinking. It was a revelation, connecting many hazy thoughts I had swirling in my head. If you want to understand Strong Towns thinking, start with Black Swan.

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Black Swan as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The most influential book of the past seventy-five years: a groundbreaking exploration of everything we know about what we don’t know, now with a new section called “On Robustness and Fragility.”

A black swan is a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: It is unpredictable; it carries a massive impact; and, after the fact, we concoct an explanation that makes it appear less random, and more predictable, than it was. The astonishing success of Google was a black swan; so was 9/11. For Nassim Nicholas Taleb, black swans underlie almost everything about our world, from the rise of religions…

Book cover of Cities and the Wealth of Nations: Principles of Economic Life

Charles L. Marohn Jr. Why did I love this book?

I was introduced to Jane Jacobs as required reading during graduate school. I’m convinced that most urban planners who claim to adore Jacobs have not actually read her, particularly Cities and the Wealth of Nations, which is my favorite. Its thoroughly brutal logic stands in contrast to nearly everything we still do to manage our cities. Jacobs is an insightful genius.

By Jane Jacobs,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In this eye-opening work of economic theory, Jane Jacobs argues that it is cities—not nations—that are the drivers of wealth. Challenging centuries of economic orthodoxy, in Cities and the Wealth of Nations the beloved author contends that healthy cities are constantly evolving to replace imported goods with locally-produced alternatives, spurring a cycle of vibrant economic growth. Intelligently argued and drawing on examples from around the world and across the ages, here Jacobs radically changes the way we view our cities—and our entire economy. 

Book cover of The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability

Charles L. Marohn Jr. Why did I love this book?

I had someone laugh at this book for its quirkiness and whimsy. That person is a fool. What Mouzon has produced here is a brilliant compilation of why our ancestors (in the broadest sense of the term) were genius in ways we struggle to even comprehend, let alone appreciate. Steve taught me why it’s not just okay to love a place, but why more places need to become lovable.

By Stephen A. Mouzon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The Original Green is the sustainability our ancestors knew by heart. Originally (before the Thermostat Age) they had no choice but to build green, otherwise people would not survive very long. The Original Green aggregates and distributes the wisdom of sustainability through the operating system of living traditions, producing sustainable places in which it is meaningful to build sustainable buildings. Original Green sustainability is common-sense and plain-spoken, meaning "keeping things going in a healthy way long into an uncertain future." Sustainable places should be nourishable because if you cannot eat there, you cannot live there. They should be accessible because…

Book cover of Tactical Urbanism: Short-Term Action for Long-Term Change

Charles L. Marohn Jr. Why did I love this book?

I remember talking to a prominent urban activist about tactical urbanism and being met with derision. “You can’t be serious,” he said. I absolutely am! Small projects as a way to demonstrate ideas and keep things moving ahead is a time-tested approach. I’ve seen millions in feasible studies wasted equivocating on the obvious. We should be spending that money as Lydon and Garcia suggest: testing to see if something works.

By Mike Lydon, Anthony Garcia,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Tactical Urbanism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Short-term, community-based projects - from pop-up parks to open streets initiatives - have become a powerful and adaptable new tool of urban activists, planners, and policy-makers seeking to drive lasting improvements in their cities and beyond. These quick, often low-cost, and creative projects are the essence of the Tactical Urbanism movement. Whether creating vibrant plazas seemingly overnight or re-imagining parking spaces as local gathering places, they offer a way to gain public and government support for investing in permanent projects, inspiring residents and civic leaders to experience and shape urban spaces in a new way. Tactical Urbanism, written by Mike…

Book cover of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion

Charles L. Marohn Jr. Why did I love this book?

If one book on this list made me truly a happier person, it is this one. Understanding why I mentally process things in one way, and people I love and care about – let alone those I struggle to find common cause with another, helped me see my neighbors, and the broader American culture, in a whole new way. It’s also helped me become better at working to find consensus, an essential skill for those who want to build a Strong Town.

By Jonathan Haidt,

Why should I read it?

16 authors picked The Righteous Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'A landmark contribution to humanity's understanding of itself' The New York Times

Why can it sometimes feel as though half the population is living in a different moral universe? Why do ideas such as 'fairness' and 'freedom' mean such different things to different people? Why is it so hard to see things from another viewpoint? Why do we come to blows over politics and religion?

Jonathan Haidt reveals that we often find it hard to get along because our minds are hardwired to be moralistic, judgemental and self-righteous. He explores how morality evolved to enable us to form communities, and…

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Book cover of The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

Michael Bungay Stanier Author Of The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Coaching is a wonderful technology that can help people be a force for change… and is often wrapped up in mystic and woo-woo and privilege that makes it inaccessible and/or unattractive to too many. I want being more coach-like—by which I mean staying curious a little longer, and rushing to action and advice-giving—to be an everyday way of being with one another. Driven by this, I’ve written the best-selling book on coaching this century (The Coaching Habit) and have created training that’s been used around the world by more than a quarter of a million people. I’m on a mission to unweird coaching.

Michael's book list on unexpectedly useful books about coaching

What is my book about?

The coaching book that's for all of us, not just coaches.

It's the best-selling book on coaching this century, with 15k+ online reviews. Brené Brown calls it "a classic". Dan Pink said it was "essential".

It is practical, funny, and short, and "unweirds" coaching. Whether you're a parent, a teacher, a leader, or even a coach, you can stay curious longer.

By Michael Bungay Stanier,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Look for Michael's new book, The Advice Trap, which focuses on taming your Advice Monster so you can stay curious a little longer and change the way you lead forever.

In Michael Bungay Stanier's The Coaching Habit, coaching becomes a regular, informal part of your day so managers and their teams can work less hard and have more impact.

Drawing on years of experience training more than 10,000 busy managers from around the globe in practical, everyday coaching skills, Bungay Stanier reveals how to unlock your peoples' potential. He unpacks seven essential coaching questions to demonstrate how-by saying less and…

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