The best books to help us think of others and want to help others

Don LePan Author Of Animals
By Don LePan

Who am I?

Like just about everyone, I was taught in childhood that we should think of others and help others. But then we start to hear different messages: “it’s naïve to think you can make the world a better place,” “you’re better off trying to help yourself—don’t waste your time with misguided attempts to help others,” "it’s sanctimonious to be a do-gooder,” and on and on it goes. The fact is, we can help to make the world a better place (without being sanctimonious). And we all should. We can volunteer, donate to good causes, eat less meat (or no meat at all), fly and drive less (or not at all!). And, as these authors have shown, the books we write can also make a real contribution.  

I wrote...


By Don LePan,

Book cover of Animals

What is my book about?

Animals is set in an indeterminate future in which virtually all the species that humans have for millennia used as food have become extinct; the world it creates is at once eerily foreign and disturbingly familiar.

“As gripping as it is important, LePan's brilliant novel tackles the largest moral issue of our time.” -Jonathan Balcombe, author of Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Black Beauty

By Anna Sewell, Kristen Guest (editor),

Book cover of Black Beauty

Why did I love this book?

I always assumed that this book was for children only; in fact, as I discovered when Kristen Guest’s excellent edition was published a few years ago, it was written in simple English so that working-class readers with little education would be able to enjoy it. Sewell wrote her novel to try to improve the lives of horses, who were often horribly abused in the nineteenth century. Her book is fascinating for its narrative strategies, and it’s a tremendously powerful story emotionally. It made a real difference to the ways in which horses were treated—and it continues to powerfully influence humans to think more often and more sympathetically of non-human animals.

I particularly recommend Guest’s edition of the novel, which includes several appendices of fascinating historical background materials.

By Anna Sewell, Kristen Guest (editor),

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Black Beauty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Continuously in print and translated into multiple languages since it was first published, Anna Sewell's Black Beauty is a classic work of children's literature and an important text in the fields of Victorian studies and animal studies. Writing to ""induce kindness, sympathy and an understanding treatment"", Sewell realistically documents the working conditions of Black Beauty, who moves down the social scale from a rural carriage horse to a delivery horse in London. Sewell makes visible and tangible the experience of animals who were often treated as if they were machines. Though she died shortly after it was published, Sewell's book…

Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life

By Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, Jennifer Foster (editor),

Book cover of Mary Barton: A Tale of Manchester Life

Why did I love this book?

Gaskell wrote this novel at a time when workers and their families in Britain’s industrial cities labored under intolerable conditions, and it was all too common for their suffering “to pass unregarded by all but the sufferers,” as Gaskell puts it in her preface. Her aim in writing the novel was to bring their plight to the attention of those better off—and to engender sympathy for their plight in the hearts and minds of readers. In the first half of the novel, she succeeds completely; it would be impossible for any reader to remain unmoved while reading of the lives of the Wilson family and the Barton family. The second half of the novel succeeds less fully, but the first half remains as powerful a piece of writing as I have ever read.

By Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell, Jennifer Foster (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mary Barton as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Mary Barton first appeared in 1848, and has since become one of the best known novels on the 'condition of England,' part of a nineteenth-century British trend to understand the enormous cultural, economic and social changes wrought by industrialization. Gaskell's work had great importance to the labour and reform movements, and it influenced writers such as Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle and Charlotte Bronte.

The plot of Mary Barton concerns the poverty and desperation of England's industrial workers. Fundamentally, however, it revolves around Mary's personal conflicts. She is already divided between an affection for an industrialist's son, Henry Carson, and for…

Book cover of Animal Liberation: The Definitive Classic of the Animal Movement

Why did I love this book?

Few books have had as great an impact on how humans think of our fellow creatures as has Singer’s Animal Liberation. In exploring the ways in which humans treat other animals—including, with utter honesty, the ways in which we have treated the animals that we intend to consume—Singer’s aim was to stir “emotions of outrage and anger, coupled with a determination to do something about the practices described,” as he writes in the preface to the book. To my great shame, I confess that, for some years after I read the book in the early 1990s, I resisted the impulse to “do something about the practices described.” But the message stuck with me and kept nagging away; finally, some four or five years later, I began to speak out against factory farming—and to change my diet.  

By Peter Singer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How should we treat non-human animals? In this immensely powerful and influential book (now with a new introduction by Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari), the renowned moral philosopher Peter Singer addresses this simple question with trenchant, dispassionate reasoning. Accompanied by the disturbing evidence of factory farms and laboratories, his answers triggered the birth of the animal rights movement.

'An extraordinary book which has had extraordinary effects... Widely known as the bible of the animal liberation movement' Independent on Sunday

In the decades since this landmark classic first appeared, some public attitudes to animals may have changed but our continued abuse…

Book cover of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America

Why did I love this book?

Ehrenreich set out to discover what it would be like to live as the poor in America do, scraping by on minimum wage jobs in fast food restaurants and cleaning the houses of the rich. In writing in gripping detail about those experiences, she opened the eyes of many better-off Americans to the struggles that the poor are forced to deal with. George Orwell did something similar in the early 1930s, and his account (Down and Out in Paris and London) is just as good as Ehrenreich’s, but hers is more recent and thus more relevant to life today; sadly, little has changed for low-wage workers in the twenty years since it appeared.

By Barbara Ehrenreich,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Nickel and Dimed as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beautifully repackaged as part of the Picador Modern Classics Series, this special edition is small enough to fit in your pocket and bold enough to stand out on your bookshelf.

A publishing phenomenon when first published, Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed is a revelatory undercover investigation into life and survival in low-wage America, an increasingly urgent topic that continues to resonate.

Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job―any job―can be the ticket…

Book cover of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier

Why did I love this book?

This is a simply but eloquently written book. It’s the story of what happens to a boy who suffers from—and is forced to participate in—the horrors of an extended civil war in Sierra Leone, and of his survival and eventual rehabilitation. It is a wrenching book to read—and yet in the end it’s a heartwarming and inspiring book too, not least of all because Beah so clearly has a warm heart himself. If you read the book, it’s hard not to feel that we should all be doing more to help those to whom Life deals the worst hands. Beah himself continues to be an inspiration: “I’ve dedicated my life,” he says, to try to “make sure that what happened to me doesn’t continue to happen to other children around the world.”

By Ishmael Beah,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked A Long Way Gone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is how wars are fought now: by children, hopped-up on drugs and wielding AK-47s. Children have become soldiers of choice. In the more than fifty conflicts going on worldwide, it is estimated that there are some 300,000 child soldiers. Ishmael Beah used to be one of them. What is war like through the eyes of a child soldier? How does one become a killer? How does one stop? Child soldiers have been profiled by journalists, and novelists have struggled to imagine their lives. But until now, there has not been a first-person account from someone who came through this…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in poverty, Sierra Leone, and Manchester England?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about poverty, Sierra Leone, and Manchester England.

Poverty Explore 85 books about poverty
Sierra Leone Explore 9 books about Sierra Leone
Manchester England Explore 21 books about Manchester England