The best books about poverty

46 authors have picked their favorite books about poverty and why they recommend each book.

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The Blue Sweater

By Jacqueline Novogratz,

Book cover of The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World

This beautifully written memoir also describes the change-making process in a highly personal way, while detailing pitfalls and the larger issue of what our increasingly interconnected world means for the humanitarian movement.  Written by the founder of the Acumen Fund, this book is a pleasure to read and still rings true 12 years after it was originally published. 

Who am I?

Alex Counts founded Grameen Foundation and became its President and CEO in 1997. A Cornell University graduate, Counts’s commitment to poverty eradication deepened as a Fulbright scholar in Bangladesh, where he trained under Professor Muhammad Yunus, the founder and managing director of Grameen Bank, and co-recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. Since its modest beginnings, Grameen Foundation has grown to become a leading international humanitarian organization. Today he is an independent consultant to mission-driven organizations, a prolific writer, and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Maryland who loves to teach nonprofit leadership and related subjects. 

I wrote...

Changing the World Without Losing Your Mind: Leadership Lessons from Three Decades of Social Entrepreneurship

By Alex Counts,

Book cover of Changing the World Without Losing Your Mind: Leadership Lessons from Three Decades of Social Entrepreneurship

What is my book about?

Some people are dreamers. They choose careers shaped by dreams of making the world a better place. When your dreams are that powerful, it’s easy to neglect yourself. Both lives and dreams can suffer the consequences. If you’re one of the dreamers, this is the book for you. Changing the World Without Losing Your Mind is a down-to-earth guide to mission-driven leadership. Drawing on his decades as an acclaimed nonprofit leader, Alex Counts offers practical advice on such vital activities as fundraising, team-building, communications, and management. He shows you how to run an organization—and your own life—both effectively and sustainably, giving joyfully to those around you while also caring generously for yourself.

Memoirs of a Breton Peasant

By Jean-Marie Déguignet,

Book cover of Memoirs of a Breton Peasant

Jean-Marie Déguignet is not your typical Breton peasant. He’s small and puny—and these people aren’t built that way. At nine, a bee caused him to fall and hit his head, leaving an ugly wound that oozed for years and left a deep indentation in his skull when it finally healed. The result was a lifetime interest in bees and a lonely life, as no one wanted to be near him.  

A curious and isolated lad, he becomes an auto-diktat, and like many auto-diktats has lots of disparaging things to say about those who are less educated and more successful and powerful than he—especially church and government officials, monarchists, and landlords: ignorant bastards he constantly fought (and lost) who controlled and ruined his life. He’s an anti-cleric in this most Catholic of lands. He’s a Republican in a time and place of monarchists. He understands the world as a scientist, through…

Who am I?

Mark Greenside has been a civil rights activist, Vietnam War protestor, anti-draft counselor, Vista Volunteer, union leader, and college professor. He holds B.S. and M.A. degrees from the University of Wisconsin and his stories have appeared in numerous journals and magazines. He presently lives in Alameda, California, where he continues to teach and be politically active, and Brittany, France, where he still can’t do anything without asking for help.

I wrote...

(Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living

By Mark Greenside,

Book cover of (Not Quite) Mastering the Art of French Living

What is my book about?

Despite the two decades that have passed since Greenside's snap decision to buy a house in Brittany and begin a bi-continental life, the quirks of French living still manage to confound him. Continuing the journey begun in I'll Never Be French, his 2009 memoir about beginning life in France, (not quite) Mastering the Art of French Living details Greenside's daily adventures in his adopted French home, where the simplest tasks are never straightforward but often end in a great story. Through some hits and lots of misses, he learns the rules of engagement--how to get what he needs, which is not necessarily what he thinks he wants--and how to be grateful and thankful when (especially when) he fails, which is more often than he can believe. Experienced Francophiles and armchair travelers alike will delight in Greenside's exploring the practical and philosophical questions of French life, vividly brought to life by his humor and affection for his community.

The Glass Castle

By Jeannette Walls,

Book cover of The Glass Castle

This book got lodged into my soul the day I read it. Here’s a girl with well-meaning yet destructive parents, and the belief she has in them, her father especially, is so heartbreaking. Have you ever loved someone who can’t stop letting you down? Then this book is a must-read.

Who am I?

As a female writer, I love digging into the minds of women characters, especially in light of their family circumstances. I think we can sometimes underestimate the importance of a strong, loving family unit in terms of personal development. But what’s amazing is how a person’s story can be redeemed even if they were raised in a less-than-ideal environment. Even though I got pretty lucky in the parent department, I know not a lot of people have. And I love showing others through fiction that despite hardships they’ve had to face along the way, they are still loved and still wanted by a God who knows them better than anyone.

I wrote...

A Violent Hope

By Ericka Clay,

Book cover of A Violent Hope

What is my book about?

Mack Reynolds is battling his demons. After years spent attempting to heal wounds from being abused as a child, he confronts the author of his nightmares-his uncle-leading to a catastrophic decision and permanently sealing his fate. As the reality of Mack’s decision unfolds, his wife and daughter live life in a void, falling into addictions and assessing their pain through ways that only force them farther apart. It’s not until Mack’s mother, Rochelle, can confront her past, that Natalie and Wren can receive the guidance they both desperately need. But is it too late?

Told through the lives of the three women touched by Mack’s struggle, A Violent Hope takes a deeper look into the human heart and the God who repeatedly heals all wounds. 

Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

By Chris Hedges, Joe Sacco,

Book cover of Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt

An illustrated book of long-form nonfiction that examines poor Black, Indigenous, White, and Migrant communities in the United States, and how they have all been broken by extractive capitalism and racist public policy. Hedges’ writing is intentionally polemical, designed to shatter any illusions about the welfare of our fellow citizens living in communities ruined by racism and industrial-scale environmental degradation. Sacco’s long-form graphic illustrations are equally haunting. I’ve taught this book continually for many years.

Who am I?

I’ve been writing books on environmental journalism and teaching Environmental Humanities and Environmental Justice at the University of Delaware for 25 years. Each of these books has made a particularly powerful impression on me and my students in recent years. They are powerful calls for a genuine reckoning with racial and environmental injustice throughout American history

I wrote...

Bloody Falls of the Coppermine: Madness and Murder in the Arctic Barren Lands

By Mckay Jenkins,

Book cover of Bloody Falls of the Coppermine: Madness and Murder in the Arctic Barren Lands

What is my book about?

In the winter of 1913, high in the Canadian Arctic, two Catholic priests set out on a dangerous mission to reach a group of Eskimos and convert them. Upon reaching their destination, the priests were murdered. Over the next three years, one of the Arctic's most tragic stories became one of North America's strangest and most memorable police investigations and trials. A near-perfect parable of late colonialism, as well as a rich exploration of the differences between European Christianity and Eskimo mysticism, Bloody Falls of the Coppermine, possesses the intensity of true crime and the romance of wilderness adventure.


By Catherine Coleman Flowers,

Book cover of Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret

One of the most important new issues faced by rights advocates is climate change. Macarthur genius award-winner Catherine Coleman Flowers is on the front line of that fight, based on her own childhood as the daughter of an activist Black family in Lowndes County, Alabama. This memoir captures Flowers’ essence: someone who just can’t let an injustice slide by. And she will talk to anyone who might be able to help, including with cleaning up the raw sewage that continues to poison the homes of many poor Alabamians. Flowers clearly describes the link between local rights issues and the global campaign to deal with climate change.

Who am I?

I’ve been a rights advocate since I was a middle schooler planning how to help save the whales. In college, I volunteered in anti-apartheid campaigns, then became a journalist covering the rise of the Shining Path guerrillas in Peru. I wanted my research and words to make change. I spent 12 years covering Peru and Colombia for Human Rights Watch. Now, I try to inspire other young people to learn about and advocate for human rights as a professor and the co-director of the Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute. I also write fiction for kids that explores human rights themes and just completed The Bond Trilogy, an epic fantasy.

I wrote...

Righting Wrongs: 20 Human Rights Heroes Around the World

By Robin Kirk,

Book cover of Righting Wrongs: 20 Human Rights Heroes Around the World

What is my book about?

Most people aren’t aware that determined individuals thought up and fought for the human rights we now take for granted. Righting Wrongs introduces you to 20 fascinating people who envisioned women’s rights, the rights of children and the disabled, indigenous and LGBTQ rights, and protections against torture and land mines, among other things. These stories of hope and hard work show how people working together can dramatically change the world for the better.

Manifesto for a Moral Revolution

By Jacqueline Novogratz,

Book cover of Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World

Drawing on inspiring stories from change-makers around the world and on memories of her own most difficult experiences, Jacqueline divulges the most common leadership mistakes and the mindsets needed to rise above them. A powerful reminder that the good life is built on work that is meaningful because it is challenging.

Who am I?

Scott's endeavor, Creative on Purpose, is a compass helping advancing difference-makers live their legacy. He's authored two Amazon top-sellers about living well by engaging in work that matters, Endeavor and Onward. As the head coach for Seth Godin's Creative and Freelancer Workshops, Scott helps others forge meaning and build identity through work that matters. For over thirty years, Scott found and spread joy as a professional musician and guitar teacher while maintaining a happy marriage, homeschooling his sons, and paying the bills. Scott is a husband and father, goes for a cemetery run every day, and quotes Marcus Aurelius more often than he should.

I wrote...

Onward: Where Certainty Ends, Possibility Begins

By Scott Perry,

Book cover of Onward: Where Certainty Ends, Possibility Begins

What is my book about?

Onward is a handbook for aspiring and advancing change agents leaning into endeavors that make a difference. Presented in a pithy and provocative style, the insights and inspiration shared in Onward help readers cultivate a thriving difference-makers mindset and posture.

Dedicating yourself to work that matters is fraught. Moments of doubt, insignificance, and inertia are part of the gig. Onward is written to motivate determined and deliberate action. It's time to get unstuck, out of your own way, and stepping into possibility with the change you seek to make.

Poor Economics

By Esther Duflo, Abhijit V. Banerjee,

Book cover of Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty

Banerjee and Duflo examine poverty at ground level, far from grand debates about the miracle of market competition vs. the necessity of aid and instead closer to the people who actually experience poverty. The entire book is centered on a simple question: What works? And how can we figure out what works? The authors have combined economics with psychology and empirical methods to understand the foundations of how the poor make decisions: the answer, it turns out, is that the process follows human decision-making everywhere. The challenge is that circumstances surrounding poverty make “good” decisions much more difficult. The practical approach to poverty pioneered by Bannerjee and Duflo earned a well-deserved Nobel prize in 2019.

Who am I?

I am a professor at Georgetown University, and I have long been interested in the promise and peril of global markets and the fundamental question of why some countries are rich and others poor. I've always loved looking at globalization at ground level: My travels to Chinese factories, Washington trade negotiations, and African cocoa farms have been great adventures of both mind and spirit, and I always leave with a new friend who has illuminated my understanding of this complex world. But in a late-life shift (that is not as random as it sounds) my current work revolves around criminal justice in the US. I currently direct the Pivot Program at Georgetown.

I wrote...

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade

By Pietra Rivoli,

Book cover of The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade

What is my book about?

The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy is a critically-acclaimed narrative that illuminates the globalization debates and reveals the key factors to success in global business. Tracing a T-shirt's life story from a Texas cotton field to a Chinese factory and back to a U.S. storefront before arriving at the used clothing market in Africa, the book uncovers the political and economic forces at work in the global economy. Along the way, this fascinating exploration addresses a wealth of compelling questions about politics, trade, economics, ethics, and the impact of history on today's business landscape. This new printing of the second edition includes a revised preface and a new epilogue with updates through 2014 on the people, industries, and policies related to the T-shirt's life story.

Angela's Ashes

By Frank McCourt,

Book cover of Angela's Ashes: A Memoir

Poor Frank McCourt has been blamed for the rise of what is derisively called “the misery memoir”. It’s true this book describes kids without shoes, a father who drinks every night until he drops, and a house that floods every time it rains. But for all the misery and poverty, what’s really on offer is an Irish shovelful of poetry, love, and laughter.

Who am I?

I’m an Australian writer and journalist. I’ve written several humour books, as well as a history of Australia in the 1960 and 1970s called The Land Before Avocado. I also write for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Washington Post and present a radio show on ABC Radio Sydney. Of the books I’ve written, the one that’s closest to my heart is my memoir Flesh Wounds.

I wrote...

Flesh Wounds

By Richard Glover,

Book cover of Flesh Wounds

What is my book about?

Flesh Wounds is a defiant and, I hope, funny book about growing up in a dysfunctional family. My mother had a fake past, hidden under delusions of grandeur. My father had more conventional problems. Together they had me—using artificial insemination, my mother said, due to her unwillingness to consummate the marriage. She found herself pregnant and yet still a virgin. In the book, I describe a game of my own invention called “Who’s Got the Weirdest Parents.” Maybe you’d like to play. Who knows? You may even win.

Charles Booth's London Poverty Maps

By Mary S. Morgan,

Book cover of Charles Booth's London Poverty Maps: A Landmark Reassessment of Booth's Social Survey

Not a book as such, but these maps tell the social historian a great deal about London in the late-1800s. They were compiled by Charles Booth, a wealthy philanthropist, who wanted to highlight the areas of London in the greatest need of help. In order to achieve this, he despatched a team of researchers to every street in London (except the City,) to assess their character. The results were entered onto a colour-coded map – yellow streets were the most affluent; black were the resorts of “vicious semi-criminals”.

Who am I?

Fiona Rule is a writer, researcher, and historian specialising in the history of London. ​ She is the author of five books: The Worst Street In London, London's Docklands, London's Labyrinth, Streets Of Sin, and The Oldest House In London. ​ A regular contributor to television and radio programmes, Fiona also has her own company, House Histories, which specialises in researching the history of people's homes. She holds an Advanced Diploma in Local History from the University of Oxford.

I wrote...

The Worst Street in London

By Fiona Rule,

Book cover of The Worst Street in London

What is my book about?

Amid the bustling streets of Spitalfields, East London, lies an anonymous office block. The average pedestrian wouldn't even notice it, but beneath its foundations lies all that remains of Dorset Street – The worst street in London: once the resort of thieves, conmen, pimps, prostitutes, and murderers, most notably Jack the Ripper.

This book chronicles the rise and fall of this remarkable street, from its promising beginnings, through its gradual descent into iniquity, vice, and violence, to its final demise at the hands of the demolition men. This remarkable story gives a fascinating insight into an area of London that has always been a cultural melting pot and the place where many thousands of migrants became Londoners. It also tells the story of a part of the capital that, until quite recently, was largely left to fend for itself, with truly horrifying results.

The Wealth and Poverty of Nations

By David S. Landes,

Book cover of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor

Why do some economies prosper while others seem never to make progress? Landes’s book – with its title a deliberate echo of Adam Smith’s famous work – emphasizes the role of culture in either enabling or retarding productive economic activity, throughout history and across the world. What Landes has in mind is culture in the broadest sense, including our most fundamental presumptions about human relations and the human condition. That, of course, means religion too. Some years ago, reviewing someone else’s book for The New York Times, I referred to David Landes as “a living national treasure if there ever was one.” Alas, Landes is no longer living, but I stand by that assessment.

Who am I?

I’m an economist, now in my fiftieth year as a professor at Harvard. While much of my work has focused on economic policy – questions like the effects of government budget deficits, guidelines for the conduct of U.S. monetary policy, and what actions to take in response to a banking or more general financial crisis – in recent years I’ve also addressed broader issues surrounding the connections between economics and society. Several years ago, in The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, I examined the implications of our economy’s growth, or stagnation, for the social, political, and ultimately moral character of our society. My most recent book explores the connections between economic thinking and religious thinking.

I wrote...

Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

By Benjamin M. Friedman,

Book cover of Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

What is my book about?

The conventional view of the origins of modern Western economics portrays the subject as a product of the Enlightenment, having nothing to do with religion. On the contrary, I think religion exerted a powerful influence from the outset. I show that the foundational transition in thinking about what we now call economics, beginning in the eighteenth century, was decisively shaped by what were then hotly contended lines of religious thought within the English-speaking Protestant world. Beliefs about God-given human character, about the after-life, and about the purpose of our existence, were all under scrutiny in the world in which Adam Smith and his contemporaries lived.  I also show that these long-standing influences of religious thinking on economic thinking help explain the sometimes puzzling behavior of so many of our fellow citizens today whose views about economic policies – and whose voting behavior too – seem sharply at odds with what would be to their own economic benefit. 

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