Looking for ideas for last minute Christmas gifts? Fear not, we’ve got you! We asked some of our favourite pathfinders on psychology and politics what they’ve most enjoyed reading this year – and added in a few recommendations of our own too. Happy reading!
Jon Alexander, co-founder, New Citizenship Project – Defund Fear by Zach Norris. This is a truly astonishing book, setting out a conceptual framework for how we might think differently about public safety, policing and crime, rooted in four shifts: from punishment to accountability, deprivation to resources, suspicion to relationships, and isolation to participation. Fundamentally it’s about shifting the frame from Our fear of Them, to care for all of the Larger Us.
Nisha Anand, CEO, Dream Corps – See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love by Valerie Kaur. When others see America descending into darkness, Valarie Kaur asks us to reimagine ourselves, our connection to each other and society. She presents revolutionary love as the call of our time — reclaiming love from mere sentimentality and recasting it as a potent force for social change. When loving our enemy seems hard, she offers practical advice. A must-have guide for all of us who seek to heal the divisions that are tearing us apart.
Claire Brown, head of external relations, Larger Us – Into The Woods by John Yorke. Highly recommended for anyone interested in storytelling and how to create powerful and satisfying narratives. I particularly enjoyed how Yorke entwines theory from Aristotle and Jung with examples from Eastenders, Thelma & Louise and Line of Duty!
Tim Dixon, co-founder, More In Common – High Conflict by Amanda Ripley. Ripley is both razor-sharp and deeply empathic, and I encountered so many fresh and actionable reflections from her stories of individual Americans grappling with the divisions in their families and communities, and the larger story of America’s accelerating polarization. She does a great job in connecting the dots, and this is a standout in a year where there was a blizzard of terrific books – it’s one of a little bundle of books we give to each new staff member joining the More in Common team.
Alex Evans, founder, Larger Us – Apeirogon by Colum McCann. A hauntingly beautiful true story of two fathers – Rami and Bassam, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, both of whom have lost daughters to the conflict – who become best friends. Exquisitely written, painfully sad, and profoundly hopeful.
Mónica Guzmán, director, Braver Angels and author, I Never Thought of It That Way – See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love by Valerie Kaur. Rich with powerful storytelling and a practical framework for how to approach ourselves, others, and even our opponents with the wonder that comes from staying open to who they are that we do not yet know. It’s absolutely beautiful and inspiring.
Casper ter Kuile, co-founder, Sacred Design Lab and author, The Power of Ritual – Community by Peter Block. An enormously practical and inspiring read that gives you questions to pull out of your pocket whenever you gather a group together. Block is a provocative and insightful facilitator and weaver of relationships that doesn’t let the reader off the hook!
Anthea Lawson, author, The Entangled Activist – Everybody by Olivia Lang. It’s about struggles for freedom, told through the body and our changing understandings of its power, and the power of bodies together in crowds. In our culture that still struggles with its long inheritance of body-mind duality, this is a refreshing reminder of the inner and embodied depth of the changes that we’re seeking.
Alastair McIntosh, author, Riders on the Storm – Words For a Dying World: Stories of Grief and Courage from the Global Church by Hannah Malcolm. Hannah Malcolm has compiled a stunning anthology of testimonies on climate change and people’s inner lives: the nexus of trauma, colonial legacies and the imperative of connections to the land and spiritual life in grounding communities of place.
Kirsty McNeill, chair, Larger Us – The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee. An extraordinary exploration of what and how racism costs all of us. It inspires us to talk to one another across lines of difference but more importantly it shows how we can win for the causes and communities we love.
Jennifer Nadel, co-founder, Compassion In Politics – On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. If the title alone isn’t enough to undo you then the lyric power of his unflinching honest account of what it is to be truly marginalised will. It will break your heart but as we know, that’s how the light gets in.
Maxime Poulin, Canada – The Web of Meaning by Jeremy Lent. Based on the great existential questions that are unique to mankind, Lent links the findings of modern biology, cognitive sciences, and systems thinking, to ideas of Taoism, Buddhism, and indigenous wisdom. What is striking is the consistency and the coherence of the overall proposal.
Kate Pumphrey, design director, Larger Us – The Puma Years by Laura Coleman. Get seduced by the Bolivian rainforest, by the unlikeliest love story and, if you’re in the business of communication, by the excitement of witnessing how a masterful story-teller can turn the most left field plot into lyrical magic. This book re-inspired me about what we’re fighting so hard to protect – and reminded me that words really do have the power to change the world.
Ella Saltmarshe, co-founder, the Long Time Project – Love, and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward. I had a baby at the very end of last year so have been awake for many of 2021’s nights. As a result I’ve read a lot of fiction in the early hours. This book blew my mind. I kept thinking I knew what kind of story it was, and then the author would deftly pull the rug from under me. Aside from the virtuosity of the writing, it’s my Larger Us pick because it is a book about empathy, about futures and ultimately about how far we can stretch the feeling and meaning of ‘us’.
Liz Slade, chief officer, the Unitarians – Holding Change: The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation by adrienne maree brown. This book asks the question “how do we tend to our collectivity in ways that align with nature, with our pleasure, with our best imagining of our future”, exploring practically, creatively, and philosophically. I love its offer of showing and celebrating the ways of being together that are beyond the rigid structures that many of us have grown up in – it welcomes us in to spaces where we can be truly ourselves.
Beck Smith, mental health advocacy lead, Wellcome Trust – Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Not only is her central argument compelling and evidenced, she’s also an incredible storyteller. It’s a masterclass.
Karen Stenner, author, The Authoritarian Dynamic – The Fear of Freedom by Erich Fromm. A classic, under-appreciated work essentially psychoanalyzing the conditions leading to the rise of Nazism. Full of deep insights into how freedom can be a terrifying and exhausting burden for many humans, from which we seek escape via authoritarianism and conformity.
David Steven, senior fellow, UN Foundation – The Ministry For the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson. The best book I’ve read on the geopolitics of climate change. And it’s a compelling account of the messy and long mobilization that is our only hope of fixing a challenge that may well prove larger than us.
Phoebe Tickell, Director, Moral Imaginations – Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Shifting our perception to include the more-than-human world, and wider than that, the cosmos, is all part of the widening of circles to include our larger (non-human!) family. Robin Wall Kimmerer is my favourite botanist who brings together indigenous ways of knowing with science, helping us shift our worldviews and see the world differently.
Rosalind Watts, director, Twelve Trees – Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake. Merlin Sheldrake beautifully demonstrates the incredible ways mushrooms act as agents of healing and connection. I enjoyed his entangling of personal memories with scientific exploration.
Stephanie Wong, founder, Act Build Change – The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. In a year that has been hard on a number of levels, Tahmid who sits on our board gifted me “Book of Delights” by Ross Gay and it was a balm for the pains and giggles in a lot of sorrow. It is a book that calls us to notice, to pay attention to the subtle, beautiful moments that are around us all of the time – if we slowed down a little…looked up a little…or sideways. Ross Gay is very funny, very generous and complex in his writing. He doesn’t sentimentalise the world as it it and I especially love that about this book.