The best books to inspire you and make you feel good about the world (and yourself)

The Books I Picked & Why

The Grass Is Singing

By Doris Lessing

Book cover of The Grass Is Singing

Why this book?

This is one of the books that first stirred my interest in Africa, the tragedies of the colonial period, and the enormous impact of that period forevermore. As a result of Doris Lessing’s novel, which draws heavily on her own life in Africa, exploring the power and fear between the two sides through a relationship between a white woman running a farm in what was to become Zimbabwe and a black servant, I studied African politics at university and then spent a lot of time after I graduated on the continent. It’s a love affair that has never faded.

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Weep Not, Child

By Ngugi Wa Thiong'o

Book cover of Weep Not, Child

Why this book?

I was entranced by this book when I first read it, and still am. I loved the way Kenyan writer and activist Ngugi wa Thiong'o told a story in such a simple, unadorned way that just manages to get under your skin. It’s an important lesson for any writer about unaffected writing! This was the first major novel in English by an East African writer and is just so redolent of its time and place. It charts the life of a young boy growing up through a major change in his home country, and the rise of the Mau Mau freedom fighters.

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Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

By Nelson Mandela

Book cover of Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Why this book?

The former South African president and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela is, in so many ways, the heroes’ hero. He’s an iconic figure in the world today and will remain so long after his death. This book is such a moving autobiography, one of the finest memoirs I’ve ever read. You learn so much about the man, his early years, his battles, and his 27 years in prison, and to emerge from that such a generous and forgiving man… It blew me away. In London, I’d done some work for the Anti-Apartheid Movement in its campaign for an end to apartheid and his eventual release and rise to power was a life-defining moment.

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The Pickup

By Nadine Gordimer

Book cover of The Pickup

Why this book?

South African writer Nadine Gordimer, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991, commands enormous power with her words. While they have a deceptively poetic lilting beauty, they also deal incisively with epic issues. The Pickup is one of my favourites, an ultimately lifting tale about a white woman and an illegal Arab immigrant, which portrays the power of love and understanding to cross great divides in class and wealth and outlook.

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The Power of One

By Bryce Courtenay

Book cover of The Power of One

Why this book?

The late Australian author Bryce Courtenay was a gifted storyteller and this novel, centering on a white English boy in South Africa, nicknamed Peekay, is an Australian classic. Written from a first-person perspective with events from 1939 to 1951, it charts his rise to a boxing champion and is an inspirational story about how you can achieve (almost) anything if you want it enough. A Hollywood movie was made of it in 1992.

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