Thursday, December 14, 2006

Favorite Do-Good Books of 2006

If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. ~Toni Morrison

Here's my list of Favorite Books of 2006, in the order I read them. You can check out my 2005 list here.

A Beginner's Guide to Changing the World by Isabel Losada.
A Beginner's Guide to Changing the World describes Losada's journey from navel gazer to activist. What starts as an Ask Jeeves query, "What can I do about Tibet?" lead her to demonstrate outside the Chinese embassy in London, travel to Tibet, jump out of a plane to raise money, organize a 50-foot banner of the Dalai Lama to be unfurled from Nelson's column, and meet the Dalai Lama. You learn more about Isabel on her web site.

Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama.
Everything about Barack Obama gives me hope and makes me smile. I had planned to include his newest book, The Audacity of Hope, in this year's list, but now that I work from home and commute less, I have less time to read on the bus and BART. Both books are crazily well-written. Dreams is his personal story, while Audacity is more of a reflection on American politics and culture. If you need a little of drop of hope each week, his podcast is always inspiring (and you don't need an iPod to listen to it).

End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs.
Ok. I'll admit it. I am an Angelina Jolie fan, so after watching The Diary of Angelina Jolie and Dr. Jeffrey Sachs in Africa on MTV, I wanted to read his book. I know that his ideas are not the only solution to ending poverty, but when you learn about what a difference a $10 bednet can make, it sure sounds reasonable. You can learn more about Jeffrey Sachs' work with the UN Millenium Project here.

Paradigm Found by Anne Firth Murray.
Whether you are starting your own nonprofit, or simply interested in how a person can take a seed of an idea for positive change and make it into reality, you'll find some nuggets of wisdom in this book from the founder of the Global Fund for Women who wrote, "Believing that social change is possible is the beginning. Realizing that you yourself can effect such change will lead you to clarify your vision and identify the skills you need to prepare the ground and plant the seeds of change."

Grub by Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry.
This year I had the pleasure of meeting both Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry. I met Bryant, who created all the recipes for the book, just last week at a fundraiser for the Oakland-based food justice nonprofit, People's Grocery. My friend, Ilyse Hogue, introduced me to Anna this summer, and I had the privilege of interviewing her for my podcast. I've posted this quote by her before, but I think of it often, "“People often say they feel like just a ‘drop in the bucket', with the sense of futileness that the idea conveys. But it’s probably more accurate to say people feel they’re a drop in the desert—their drop dissipates before even touching ground. If you think about the idea of a bucket as a container that holds all of our drops, you’d sense how fast a bucket can fill and that--you never know--you could even be the one drop that pushes the water over the edge.” You can read Anna and Bryant's blog here.

Hope's Edge by Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe.
After reading Grub, I went straight to Hope's Edge, which Anna wrote with her mother in 2002. The book documents mother and daughter's trip around the world to meet worldchanging activists. They created the Small Planet Fund to support the people and organizations that they met on their trip. Since the book's publication, and the Fund's creation, two of their grantees have won the Nobel Peace Prize--Muhammad Yunus and Wangari Maathai. You can learn more about Frances and Anna's work on the Small Planet Institute web site. *This was my favorite book of the year.*

With All Our Strength by Anne Brodsky.
Good things come from hiding in the kitchen during a party. About a year ago I was at a party at a friend's house, I wasn't feeling very social, so I went into the kitchen to see if I could help with anything. A woman was in there putting the final touches on dinner. It was Anne Brodsky. We got to talking, and she told me about a book she wrote about the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, an underground organization working for women's rights in Afghanistan. Brodsky was one of the few writers given access to RAWA's inner world. With All Our Strength is an amazing story of social change organizing against incredible obstacles.

Unbowed by Wangari Maathai.
In early October, Marsha Wallace, the founder of Dining for Women, contacted me after reading some of the posts I had written about Dining for Women, and invited me to be her guest at an African Millennium Foundation fundraiser. When she told me that Wangari Maathai would be speaking, I rushed to read her new memoir before the event. Unbowed is the kind of book that you put down every 50 pages and say to whomever is listening, "You're not going to believe what happened next." I've already given this book as a gift to several people because her persistence, and her focus on solutions are skills we can all cultivate to create positive change.

I hope to finish The Audacity of Hope by the early 2007, and to read The Omnivore's Dilemma next. Let me know what do-good books you recommend, and remember, when you buy your do-good books, support your local, independent bookstores when you can.

All book cover images are from Powells Books, except the cover of With All Our Strength which came from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.

social change


  1. Probably my favorite activist book this year is "Lost Prophet," a biography of Bayard Rustin. For those who don't know him, Rustin was a tremendous organizer who, due to his homosexuality, was underplayed in both the peace and civil rights movements. He ended up running the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a black labor institution.

    I also read "Union Dues," a novel from the 60s by filmmaker John Sayles, that I recommend.

  2. Great book ideas Britt and thanks for the links! Much Appreciated.

  3. Glad to be of help, Matt.

    Thanks for the book recommendations, Landismom!

  4. Anonymous8:21 AM

    Thanks for sharing your book list!

  5. Hey Britt,

    A belated thanks for these recommendations. Clipped it, and a couple of other year-end best of book lists, and have been using them when going to my local library. Just finished Paradigm Found. Loved it, even quote a bit on my blog.

    Previous to that I have checked out both Grub and End of Poverty on your suggestion. Next up, Unbowed. Can't wait.


  6. Hi Gayle, I'm so glad you are enjoying, and making use of the list. I'm on page 400 (whew) of WorldChanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century, which I am loving.

  7. Anonymous8:00 PM

    Thanks so much! This is helping me come up with a book to give as an award for college students who have been volunteering at public schools!


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