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10 books about making the world a better place

By Kobo • July 30, 2020The Bookish Life

Looking out at everything wrong with the world, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and wonder why so many problems linger. But we need to remember that change does happen, and it’s happening now. What ends up looking inevitable in the rear-view mirror is the result of immense efforts by visionary leaders and their supporters who rolled up their sleeves to get the job done.

Here are 10 eBooks by and about people working to make positive change, and each in their own way calls out to you to take action.


Canadian readers can access all of these eBooks by subscribing to Kobo Plus Read. Start your FREE 30-day trial.

The Time Has Come by Michael Kaufman

In 1991 Michael Kaufman founded the White Ribbon Campaign as a means for men to express their support for ending violence against women. In the age of #MeToo, Kaufman sees opportunities for men to liberate themselves from toxic masculinity and join with women against domestic violence and workplace harassment, as well as advocating for things like parental leave. He draws on a mountain of research to make the case that the problem we’re facing was created by and is sustained by men, and it’s not going to be solved without men at the forefront of change.

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Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough

Educator Geoffrey Canada wondered how to improve the lives of poor Black children living in Harlem without dependence on heroic interventions or the fleeting attention of philanthropists. By examining the problem minutely, he developed a theory of schools, neighbourhoods, and even parenting practices that give poor children their best chances at success. This is the story of the experimentation that led him to that theory, and what it could mean for other disadvantaged communities.

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The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy

When Pat Conroy arrived in the late 1960s to teach elementary school on Yamacraw Island off of South Carolina, he found a community suffering acutely under the lingering effects of slavery while the Civil Rights movement marched forward on the mainland. In this memoir he exposes inequities that shocked him at the time and drove him to do what he could to better the lives of his students and their island community.

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Ten Days in a Mad-House by Nellie Bly

Journalist Nellie Bly gave 19th century readers their first glimpse into the workings of a “lunatic asylum,” where inmates were fed garbage, tortured, with no counselling or aid of any kind or hope of release. When she published her findings (which are compiled in this book) it led to a grand jury investigation of the asylum and numerous reforms. Additionally Bly inspired a new kind of first-hand journalism that brings us front-line accounts to this day.

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Take Back the Tray by Joshna Maharaj

There’s no substitute for the sense of well-being a good meal can bring, but in places where we don’t get to choose what to eat -- in hospitals, schools, and prisons -- mealtime often leaves people feeling unwell. Activist and chef Joshna Maharaj shares her experience of working on the front lines of institutional food, struggling to balance shrinking budgets against human needs. Here she lays out a plan for making the humble cafeteria tray the site of a nourishing revolution.

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Born to Walk by Dan Rubinstein

It’s easy to take basic bipedalism for granted. But Dan Rubinstein argues that there’s no more widely accessible form of exercise that benefits both body and mind than getting outside and putting one foot in front of the other. To the extent that those steps displace carbon-emitting motorized travel, so much the better. Moreover, he observes in his extensive research, a lot of the good people do for other people comes about through walking, in everything from strolling conversations that connect us with loved ones to marches for social causes.

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The Urban Cycling Survival Guide by Yvonne Bambrick

Cities around the world are rolling out kilometre after kilometre of bike lanes, ranging from mere painted lines to concrete barriers. For people looking to leave the car at home, avoid crowded transit, or reduce their carbon footprint, cycling is an attractive option -- though it can be difficult to know where to start. Urban cycling advocate Yvonne Bambrick lays it all out, from how to choose a bike, to how to get along with other cyclists through implicit and explicit rules. Numerous illustrations help novice cyclists envision what kinds of situations to expect and how to safely navigate them.

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How to Cool the Planet by Jeff Goodell

As we’ve observed recently, even huge disruptions to our commuting behaviours won’t make enough of a dent in carbon emissions to avoid climate catastrophe. In this book, journalist Jeff Goodell studies the world of geoengineering: technologies designed to impact the climate globally, including machines that suck carbon from the air or mirrors in the upper atmosphere that deflect sunlight from the earth. Goodell weighs the risks against the benefits and concludes that there’s merit to these marvelous machines.

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The Optimistic Environmentalist by David R. Boyd

David Boyd thinks we have a shot. He looks back on the last couple of decades at the number of species we’ve pulled back from the brink of extinction, the sweeping changes we’ve made in environmental protection, toxic chemicals banned globally, advancements in renewable energy, and he sees the will and the potential to solve the problems we face. It’s going to be hard and it won’t happen without sacrifice and effort, but he argues that based on what we’ve achieved so far, we can win the fight against global climate change.

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The Participation Revolution by Neil Gibb

Neil Gibb is a lifelong advocate for change, and in this book he argues that the time has never been better for getting involved in creating the kind of change you want to see. He sees opportunities for individuals to exert influence everywhere, from marching in the streets to simple acts of consumerism. And he wants everyone to appreciate how much power they actually hold in times of turbulence and upheaval.

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Canadian readers can read any of these and 500,000 other eBooks with a Kobo Plus Read subscription.

Photo by Liam Edwards on Unsplash

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