Start 2015 with some fresh ideas.

1. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 2014, We Should All Be Feminists, Vintage.

What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists, a personal and witty essay that is adapted from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s much-viewed Tedx talk of the same name. The award-winning author of Americanah and Half of a Yellow Sun offers readers a unique definition of feminism for the twenty-first century. She shines a light on blatant discrimination, and the more insidious, institutional behaviours that marginalize women around the world, in order to help readers to better understand the masked realities of gender politics. Throughout, she draws extensively on her own experiences in America, in her native Nigeria, and abroad, offering a nuanced explanation of why the gender discrimination is harmful for women and men, alike.


2. Brene Brown 2012, Daring Greatly. How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead, Penguin Books.

Daring Greatly is the culmination of twelve years of social research on vulnerability, connection and resilience. Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, where she has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. Using the qualitative research method called grounded theory, she arrives at a new understanding of vulnerability and shame - one that challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability and dispels the widely held myth that it is a weakness. She argues that vulnerability is a strength, and when we shut ourselves off from revealing our true selves we grow distanced from the things that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.

The title of book is taken from a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt 1910. In it, Roosevelt said:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”


3. Wade Davis 2009, The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World, Anansi Press.

In The Wayfinders anthropologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis argues that we should be concerned not only for preserving the biosphere, but also the “ethnosphere,” which he describes as “the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, ideas, inspirations, intuitions brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness.” Every culture is a unique answer to a fundamental question: What does it mean to be human and alive?

Davis takes the reader on a journey to Polynesia whose ancestors settled the Pacific ten centuries before Christ, and to the people of the Anaconda in the Amazon, the Andes, Australia Dreamtime, Nepal, and Borneo. What we discover on this journey is that the artistic, intellectual, and spiritual expression of the full complexity and diversity of the human experience is at risk at being lost forever. A vast archive of visionary wisdom, knowledge and expertise, a catalogue of the imagination, an oral and written language composed of the memories of countless elders and healers, warriors, farmers, fishermen, midwives and poets are already being lost at a rapid rate. Rediscovering a new appreciation for the diversity of the human spirit is among the central challenges of our times. 


4. Paul Hawken 2002, The Ecology of Commerce, HarperBusiness.

This book describes a path that is inherently sustainable and restorative but which uses many of the historically effective organizational and market techniques of free enterprise. Central to Hawken's argument are two basic facts: the age of industrialism has come to an end; and we are confronting a global ecological crisis that is considerably more acute than most of us realize. These facts both mean that business people must dedicate themselves to transforming commerce to a restorative undertaking.

Creating a restorative economy means rethinking the fundamental purpose of business. It is not simply a means of making money or a system of making and selling things. "The promise of business," he writes, "is to increase the general well-being of humankind through service, a creative invention and ethical philosophy." We have the capacity to create a very different kind of economy, one that can restore ecosystems and protect the environment while bringing forth innovation, prosperity, meaningful work, and true security. We must develop a system of commerce that is patterned according to basic ecological principles. An ecological model of commerce would imply that all waste has value to other modes of production so that everything is reclaimed, reused, or recycled.


5. Chip and Dan Heath 2010, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Broadway Business.

The Heath brothers think that the sciences of human behavior can provide us with tools for making changes in our lives and communities, tools that are more effective than "willpower", "leadership" and other complicated solutions. In their research, they studied people trying to make difficult changes and how they succeeded.

Based on fundamental principles of psychology, the authors suggest that people have two separate “systems” in their brains - a rational system and an emotional system. The rational system is a thoughtful and logical planner. The emotional system is impulsive and instinctual. When these two systems are in alignment, change can come quickly and easily and when they’re not, change can be grueling. The book contains example of methods used to reform abusive parents, revitalize a dying South Dakota town, and address child malnutrition. The authors show the striking similarities in the strategies used to create, scale and sustain change in all these situations.


6. Frances Moore Lappé 2013, Ecomind: Changing the Way We Think, to Create the World We Want, Nation Books.

In EcoMind, Frances Moore Lappé draws on the latest research from anthropology to neuroscience and her own field experience, and argues that solutions to global crises are right in front of our noses, and our real challenge is to free ourselves from self-defeating thought traps that keep us from bringing these solutions to life. From our eroding soil to our eroding democracies, so much of what's wrong results from ways of thinking that are out of sync with human nature and nature's rhythms.

Lappé sees humans as essentially doers but our capacity for doing is undermined by seven "thought traps" that leave us mired in fear, guilt, and despair - none of which motivate action. Chapter-by-chapter, she navigates from "thought traps" to "thought leaps," as challenges morph into opportunities. The book is filled with stories of people the world over who, having shifted some basic thought patterns, are shifting the balance of power in our world. Like her classic Diet for a Small Planet, EcoMind is challenging, controversial and empowering.


7. William McDonough and Michael Braungart 2013, The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability - Designing for Abundance, North Point Press.

This book shows how human society might begin to rewrite its role in the history of the natural world. In The Upcycle, McDonough and Braungart, the best-selling authors of Cradle to Cradle offer numerous scenarios in which humans transcend the role of mere stewards of the planet. We should not just protect the planet from ourselves but should redesign our activity to improve the planet.

Drawing on a decade of lessons in putting Cradle to Cradle concepts into practice with businesses, governments, and people around the world, McDonough and Braungart invite us to reimagine everything from doorknobs to the Hoover Dam. In a world that uses design as a tool for positive impact, industry can do better than “do no harm” because doing less bad is not the same as doing more good. The goal is not simply to reuse products or designs but to upcycle - make them better so they leave a beneficial footprint.


8. Arundhati Roy 2009, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers. Haymarket Books.

Listening to Grasshoppers is a collection of essays on the dark side of democracy in India. Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy explores the issues of Kashmir, the attack on Indian parliament in December of 2001, the Gujarat violence in 2002 and the aftermath, the meaning of “progress” in the context of the 2009 elections, India’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), the violence in Mumbai, and the intersection of capitalism and fascism.

Each issue draws attention to the plight of the poor and the lower classes in India. Although the focus is India, the book draws on universal themes of human dignity and social justice. Arundhati Roy passionately speaks of common morality in the face of faceless, mindless, gutless, heartless expansion and progress and drawing us to our shared experience as human beings. Listening to Grasshoppers is the kind of book that demonstrates what words can do, which is to speak truth to power.


9. Rebecca Solnit 2005, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, Nation Books.

This is a book for change agents who, while remaining convinced of the importance of their work, can't help but occasionally ask themselves whether they really are making a difference. In Hope in Dark Time, Rebecca Solnit's answer is "yes" and offers the reader an intensely personal meditation on activism and hope. 

Solnit reminds us of how activism has help to change the world in the past five decades. The books look at some of the least expected of those changes in equally unexpected places. She traces the rise of a sophisticated, supple, nonviolent new movement that unites all the diverse and fragmentary issues of the eighties and nineties in the 21st Century. But Solnit also warns against the dangers of assuming that for every action, there is an equal, opposite and punctual reaction, and regarding the lack of one as a failure. Challenging the expectation that change happens automatically and punctually is essential if we are to keep social change agents motivated, politically engaged, and convinced of their ability to make a difference.


10. Dr. Suess 1971, The Lorax, Random House Books for Young Readers 

The Lorax is a book for children about a boy who is looking for answers. Living in a ruined town, the little boy wants to know the story of the Lorax who speaks for the trees against the greedy Once-ler. The Lorax warned of the dangers of disrespecting the environment. In this cautionary rhyming tale we learn of the Once-ler, who came across a valley of Truffula Trees and Brown Bar-ba-loots, and how his harvesting of the tufted trees changed the landscape forever.

The message of the book is: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot. Nothing is going to get better. It's not.”


Robyn Lui, Ph.D.
Founder & Principal Strategist at
Social Change Collective & general mischief-maker.
Mission: championing good people to achieve
great things that benefit people and the planet.

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