There’s nothing like a new year to inspire good vibes, productivity, and positive change. (Even if Mercury is in retrograde for the next few weeks.) From the gun control debate and the refugee crisis, to fresh election seasons kicking off all over the world and the possibility of the United States electing its first female president, our world has experienced quite a mix of tragedies and successes over the past 12 months. So now is a great time to think about how YOU want to make the world a better place in 2016. (Because you totally can, you know.) And if there’s anything that inspires me to try to better myself, my community, and the world, it’s definitely the books that I read.
You’ve probably heard some adaptation of the mantra “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” attributed to the Chinese philosopher Laozi — this year, maybe your first “single step” is actually a single book . Like one of the great titles on this list of inspirational books, for example. Here are 10 books that will inspire you to make the world a better place this year. Cheers to 2016 becoming the very best year yet.
1. Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist by Sunil Yapa
Forget those “best of the year” lists — Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist might be the book of my decade. The novel tells the story of a single day — the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle — in the life of seven alternating narrators. At the center of it all is Victor, a 19-year-old homeless teen in search of family, country, and self, who is swept up into the heart of this explosive protest and forever changed by what he witnesses there.
2. The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution by Micah White
From Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street, our generation has witnessed (or participated in) some of the largest protests of all time — but have these movements really changed the world, as their organizers hoped? Micah White asks this question and others in his book The End Of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution, and expresses hope for the evolution of collective action and mass mobilization.
3. Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family by Anne-Marie Slaughter
From working as the first female director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department to leaving that illustrious career to spend more time with her children, Anne-Marie Slaughter has thought a lot about whether or not women can really “have it all.” (And sparked a lot of buzz around exactly that question in The Atlantic back in 2012.) Her book, Unfinished Business, explores what true equality between men and women would look like, and what we still have to do to get there.
4. Ghettoside: The True Story of Murder in America Jill Leovy
With the ever-present gun control debate heating up even more than usual this year, Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside is a must-read. The book tells the true story of a single murder in South Los Angeles — an act of violence that is all too typical on the streets where it occurred — and takes readers from the moment of the shooting through the search for justice in a city where murderers often simply disappear back into their neighborhoods.
5. Hope, Human and Wild: Living Lightly on the Earth by Bill McKibben
Bill McKibben believes there’s hope for a cleaner, more environmentally sustainable future for the world — and his book, Hope, Human and Wild offers some ideas about how to get there. Filled with stories of places in the United States and around the world where residents are living more mindfully, and in greater community with nature, this book offers a blueprint for ways in which every single one of us can rethink how we exist within our environment every day.
6. Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy
If you’ve ever struggled with bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges (as the subtitle of Amy Cuddy’s Presence suggests) then this book is for you. Filled with stories about achieving greater mindfulness, successfully coping with stress, and being present to our immediate moments, Presence will help you direct all your competing energies more effectively. The first step in any great journey of change is into the self, after all.
7. The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys' Club by Eileen Pollack
We all know that women in the sciences totally rock, but what you might not know is the struggle that some women still face getting there. Eileen Pollack’s The Only Woman in the Room compiles interviews and statistical data of women working in science, technology, engineering, and math, and explores why more women still haven’t managed to break through the glass ceiling of the hard sciences.
8. The Last Two Seconds: Poems by Mary Jo Bang
I don’t know about you, but sometimes a little poetry is just the kick in the butt I need to go out and do some good in the world. The Last Two Seconds, by Mary Jo Bang, offers exactly that, in a beautifully poetic package. Exploring all the challenges of our modern lives — from technology and poverty to war and the ever-collapsing environment — this collection of poems will definitely inspire you to do something good for the world this year.
9. Invisible Hands edited by Corinne Goria
If you haven’t thought about the journey taken by, say, your cell phone or your favorite sweater, before you’re sliding it across the checkout counter, then this book is a definite must-read. Digging deep into the human rights abuses hidden behind the global economy — through narratives shared by those experiences these abuses directly — Invisible Hands: Voices from the Global Economy will take you behind the scenes of factories, sweatshops, and farms around the world, shedding light on how all our coveted purchases really get from point A to point B.
10. Climate Changed by Philippe Squarzoni
So, first things first: Philippe Squarzoni’s Climate Changed practices what it preaches — the book is printed on FSC-certified paper from a responsibly-managed, environmentally-sound source. Part graphic novel, part work of investigative journalism, Climate Changed looks at the environment from an individual level, showing how every single individual can make a difference in the health of our planet.