Larger Us’s books of the year 2023

Now for the third year running, 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!

By Alex Evans — 16th Dec · 9 min read

It’s the third year running of Larger Us’s books of the year list! (Does it count as a tradition yet?) As in previous years, we asked some of our favourite thinkers and doers on psychology and politics what they’ve most enjoyed reading this year, and added in a few recommendations of our own. Happy reading!

Rowan Ryrie, co-founder and co-director, Parents For FutureMatrescence by Lucy Jones. Early motherhood is rarely portrayed as “hardcore, gnarly, edgy” and deeply politicising, yet for many of us that is the reality that Lucy Jones manages to depict. Retelling her own journey into motherhood, Lucy explores falling in love with the world again alongside her children who “live in the moment not in the marketplace”. Many of the narratives around motherhood deliberately minimise women’s power and at a time when we desperately need powerful female anger, collective care and love-based decision-making this book underlines the role mothers could play in social change.

James Gray, consultant clinical psychologist (and LU board member) – Bitch by Lucy Cooke. Male zoologists were blinded by their inbuilt prejudices about the role of male and female in Victorian/later society, so willfully chose to ignore all the wild variety of life. I would recommend any book that contains the lines: “Female songbirds have no need for the #metoo movement”; and “a biologically correct version of Finding Nemo would have meant that following the loss of the mother, Nemo would change sex and mate with his father…” Well worth a read and for constructing arguments against the ‘it is not natural ’ people. (Disclaimer: I was at Uni with Lucy and she remains a friend.)

Emily Kasriel, senior visiting research fellow, King’s College London (and currently writing a book about Deep Listening) – Digital Minimalism by Carl Newport. While we all know we need to cut down scrolling in order to be open to connect, and work in a deeper way, Carl helped me with a great reframe.  It’s not just whether a particular app might be helpful in our lives, but given the loss of connection and time that using it entails, is it still worth it?  Most often, the answer is no.  He also writes elegantly, so reading the book is a pleasure.

Hugh Knowles, co-executive director, Friends of the EarthAmusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. Worth picking up for the Foreword alone. Whilst written in 1985 this book is critical for understanding how our present information environment profoundly impacts our ability to think about and tackle the challenges we face. Building on the work of Marshall McLuhan, it explains how we do not spend nearly enough time thinking about how the communication tools we use shape what happens far more than what we say. Prophetic and troubling, this is a critical lens with which to view the situation we are in.

Claire Brown, head of impact and development, Larger Us – Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes. A beautiful, feminist retelling of the Medusa myth from the perspective of the young gorgon and her devoted sisters. Evocative, poignant, furious and funny at the same time.

David Bent, co-founder, Atelier of What’s Next Hospicing Modernity: Facing Humanity’s Wrongs and the Implications for Social Activism by Vanessa Machado de Oliveira. Read if you need to rip the surface skin off progress, and touch a raw reality underneath. The book gives you educational tools, tested by the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures collective, to explore whether any version of modernity can exist without causing deep damage – and, if not, what next.

Kirsty McNeill, chair, Larger Us – How to Be a Patriot by Sunder Katwala is a great book about how our differences need not define us. Written in homage to life’s bridgers and balancers, de-escalators and depolarisers, it is an essentially optimistic story about the idea that the common ground might not be where the clicks are but it is where the hope lies.

Will Brett, director of We’re Right Here (and LU board member) – The Death of Consensus: 100 Years of British Political Nightmares by Phil Tinline. Despite the grim title (particularly for those with a Larger Us sensibility), this is actually one of the most hopeful and inspiring books about British politics that I’ve read in years. Tinline recounts the public arguments swirling around the last two major shifts in British political consensus – the 1930s-1940s, and the 1970s-180s. The conclusion? If you have felt politically lost in the last 10-15 years, that might be because we have been going through all the confusions and contradictions that tend to precede a new period of consensual calm. Here’s hoping!

Hannah Lloyd, campaigns associate, TearfundNervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. Written in such a comical and relatable way, I found myself laughing out loud. Frequently! It was perfect for a time when I started unpicking the patriarchal systems visible in my own life. Nervous Conditions provided healing for my inner child: Tambu, the main character, is a mirror to my own joy, pain, audacity, and process of questioning of how the world is and how it should be.

Alex Evans, founder and executive director, Larger Us – A Psalm for the Wild Built by Becky Chambers. There’s so much need right now for stories about futures in which breakdowns aren’t the end of the world, but instead milestones in processes of regeneration and learning – and Becky Chambers, one of the most engaging sci-fi writers I know of, provides them in spades. This book, the first in her ‘Monk and Robot’ series, is a wonderful place to start – but her 4 part ‘Wayfarer’ series is maybe even better.

Clare Wightman, CEO, Grapevine Coventry and WarwickshireSmall Things Like These by Claire Keegan. Inside a snowglobe-sized novella, one ordinary man decides to make one small act of compassionate defiance ‘against what is’. A thing of perfection and beauty – all of it. A Christmas tale that contains the whole world.

Stefan Flothmann, research director, Mindworks Lab (Greenpeace’s cognitive science hub) The Case For Rage by Myisha Cherry. A great introduction to the constructive sides of anger. Inspired the anger types of the Mindworks Lab Anger Monitor. (Note: Mindworks Lab’s Anger Monitor is now live and you can try it out here.)

Kate Pumphrey, senior advisor, Larger Us – The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamieson. It’s a book of beautifully written essays on what empathy looks like in modern life, full of fascinating facts and stories, as well as provocative ideas about vulnerability, the female body, pain and trust. I’m a bit late to the party (it was published in 2014) but it was a joy to read.

Ben Margolis, campaign strategist and senior adviser at LU – Humankind by Rutger Bregman. At a time when it can be hard to see the good in the human race, Bregman’s well-researched and scientifically rooted exploration of the innate kindness of humans comes as a welcome antidote. In some ways I found this book challenging as some of the arguments run counter to highly dominant cultural understandings of who we are as humans… but once I leaned in to that challenge I found this book uplifting, joyful and endlessly quotable.

Ayesha Saran, programme manager, Barrow Cadbury Trust (and LU board member) – My recommendation would be to (re)discover Seamus Heaney, as I did after a visit to the centre dedicated to his work in his Irish hometown this summer, almost exactly ten years after his death. 100 Poems is a concise and mesmerising anthology spanning his decades of work. Alongside deeply personal reflections on family, love and death there are verses that resonate with the year that we’ve just been through. From the Republic of Conscience depicts a parallel universe in which public leaders must “weep to atone for their presumption to hold office” and The Cure at Troy invites “hope for a great sea-change on the far side of revenge.” To me, Heaney’s work both challenges and comforts, and delivers history and politics at their most elemental.

George Marshall, climate change communications specialist and founder of Climate OutreachThe Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World by Jonathan Freedland.  Yes, there are already many excellent books on the Holocaust, and sometimes better writers (Gita Sereny, Primo Levi), but what is fascinating here are the multiple levels of personal, institutional and governmental denial that blocked Rudolf Vrba when he presented his meticulous testimony of the killing factory. As a climate activist I feel there are lots of horrible lessons here of how information struggles to overcome hope and people can know yet not believe. And it’s an extraordinary and pageturning story of a powerful, flawed and deeply troubled man.

Liz Slade, chief officer, the UnitariansInheritance by Jasmine Cooray. A book of poems that somehow deliver themselves directly into your heart, as though they are showing you things you have always known, and yet surprise you as they arrive. They walk through daily beauty and heartbreak with precision, exploring grief and loss with no holds barred, but in a way that leaves your heart tender with joy.

Jon Alexander, co-founder, New Citizenship ProjectTogether by Ece Temelkuran, the writer who has arguably stared hardest at the rise of the far right around the world. This book is her response to the challenge of finding hope in our times, and she responds with a challenge of her own: that the reimagination of our societies is not going to happen for us, without us. We will not be served the solutions to the crises of inequality, isolation, and ecological catastrophe that are the lot of our generation. The fundamental shifts we are tasked with making demand more of all of us. Together. And what we must not do is tune out – even as doing so starts to seem more tempting, more rational.

Peter Tavernise, climate impact and regeneration lead, the Cisco Foundation – To Speak for the Trees by Diana Beresford-Kroeger. This book arrived at just the right time in my own healing journey and expanding awareness of ways of being that are rooted in deep reciprocity with and as our lived environments. The way the author, as an orphan, was held within the matrix of an entire Irish village, enabled her to be with all within her that needed to be witnessed and healed. The weaving and reweaving of her child-self into the deepest somatic knowing of belonging has enabled her as an adult to forge new paths of remembering for all of us. The story of trees and their relationship to Ogham script that fills the second half of this book is a direct transmission from her Irish elders to our current world, a prescription to assist us with all that still needs to be witnessed, held, and healed.

And finally, we had two contributors recommend the same book – so it must be essential reading! It’s The Flowering Wand: Rewilding the Sacred Masculine by Sophie Strand – here’s what our two contributors had to say about it…

Anthea Lawson, author, The Entangled Activist – I was transported by this collection of luminous essays that draw on forgotten aspects of ancient stories to do a serious deep-narrative reframing number on our ideas about masculinity. Her always-ecological thinking weaves the myths of Dionysus and Orpheus, the Gnostics’ telling of Jesus’s ministry, and the troubadour stories of Tristan and Merlin into a fungal network that mushrooms with generous, provocative questions whose implications are practical as well as spiritual, and not only for men. There are questions here, too, for how we think about changing the world: how trauma can look like heroism, and how the individualistic hero’s journey that has so shaped our idea of story since the Middle Ages might be composted to grow more plural and collective possibilities.

Ivor Williams, founder, Mortals, and honorary practice fellow, Imperial College London – . After becoming a father in early 2021, I’d been thinking about how mascunlinity today seems to fall into two polarised camps: a sort of modern metrosexual liberal type, or hyper toxic right wing type. There seems to be very little in the middle. Sophie Strand – aside from having the most poetic way of writing that just oozes feeling and atmosphere – has done a fascinating job of uncovering an ancient mythical set of stories that illuminates and manages to somehow bind the polarising aspects of masculinity. Men can be, she says, both caring and powerful. Just look at Merlin, or Gandalf, or Dionysus. I recommend this book to any man that I think would enjoy cracking open old myths and finding something new to define themselves by.

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